Linebacker LaMarr Woodley knows what the kids running around at the Boys & Girls Club in Lawrenceville on Tuesday afternoon are all about. That is because he was once just like them.
Woodley spent many afternoons at the Boys & Girls Club in Saginaw, Michigan while growing up, taking advantage of after school programs that ranged from basketball games to study sessions. When he made it in the NFL, he never forgot those days, making a commitment to the Boys & Girls Club that gets stronger every year.
Woodley hosted the fifth annual LaMarr Woodley Foundation Sack Attack Kickoff event on Tuesday, with 200 excited kids enjoying fun and games, with a serious message behind it. Woodley also launched his second Literacy Initiative, providing each of the kids with two new books to start them on his educational challenge, which includes prizes for top reading participants in the program.
"The reading program is important all around, because no matter what you do in life you have to read," said Woodley. "Whether it's academics or sports you have to read. In certain communities that focus on reading is lacking. If you can't read, you can't understand things around you and it's hard to move forward in life."
Woodley also delivered another important message, one of anti-bullying, a hot button topic in today's society. Woodley challenged the kids to participate in an essay contest with anti-bullying as the theme. The winners in different age groups will be rewarded with tickets to a Steelers home game.
"Bullying is not the answer for anything," said Woodley. "When you are a bully you lose friends, people don't want to play with you, hang around you or talk to you. You don't have to bully people, just become friends with people and you will have more fun out of life."
Woodley initially created the Sack Attack as a way to help the Boys & Girls Club financially, with pledges for each sack going to the organization in Pittsburgh and Saginaw. The more he was around the kids, the more he wanted to be involved and the program continued to grow to be more interactive.
"He has really dedicated a lot of his off the field time to the Boys & Girls Club and is so sincere about it," said Mike Hepler, President and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania. "This year focusing on bullying and preventing it in the schools is a key. He is going to have a huge impact, coming from someone like him. He can motivate the kids to be positive and not have that kind of behavior.
"He has a passion for getting the message out. He cares about the lives of the young people. These kids need someone to reach into their lives and grab a hold of them and LaMarr is the man. The kids listen to him, they respect him. He just wants the kids to succeed. He knows the values and morals that are keys for the childhood years. That is what LaMarr is all about."