Wednesday, May 28, 2008

CHEN Friend Honored by New England Patriots with 2008 Community MVP Award

As a Boston Celtics multiple-game ticket holder a few years ago, I was introduced to Heroes Among Us, a community outreach program which honors individuals who have made an overwhelming impact on the lives of others. Honorees are recognized during each home game for their “unique commitment and humanitarian spirit, and for the exceptional and lasting contributions to the community.” Rising above the confluence of blaring rock n’ roll, fans posturing for jumbotron face time, and people positioning themselves in order to be the lucky recipient of a t-shirt during stoppages of play, I believe that this was, and still is, one of the truly excellent community outreach programs.

In fact, I always wanted to nominate one of my good friends, Rob Weissman, for consideration. But as it somehow always does, life – and admittedly, my own procrastination – got in the way. (Isn’t there an adage about good intentions and a road leading somewhere?)

For several years, Rob has been the head coach of a team called the Boston Renegades. Governed by the Association of Blind Citizens, and making its home in Watertown, the team plays beep baseball – “beep ball” for short – an adaptive form of baseball for blind and visually impaired athletes.

Players range in age from their early twenties to early fifties, and participate in a competitive league called the National Beep Baseball Association (NBBA). The season runs during the spring and summer, with the lion’s share of practices and all NBBA tournament games occupying the months of May, June and July.

Rob will readily admit – without resorting to hyperbole – that being head coach is a year-round, (second) full-time job. Developing practice plans and drills, helping with fundraising, writing letters for players’ grant applications, creating and updating the team web site, communicating with the NBBA and other teams around tournaments, coordinating travel, creating scouting reports, fielding calls from players, and writing weekly team update emails are among his many duties.

Though he will often deflect praise citing the dedication of a deep assistant coaching staff – which includes and extends well beyond me – Rob is the driving force behind the team. And yesterday, he was recognized for it.

During a luncheon and ceremony inside Gillette Stadium, the New England Patriots feted their 2008 Community MVPs. Part of the team’s Charitable Foundation, the program honored 21 volunteers from all six New England states – including Rob – who “demonstrate leadership, dedication and a commitment to bettering the community in which they live.”

Presented by the Kraft family, all honorees were awarded football-shaped wooden trophies and grants for their respective non-profit organizations. And each earned a welcome handshake and thank you from Pro Football Hall of Fame Linebacker Andre Tippett.

Other notable – and equally deserving – recipients included: Evan Heller, an impressive 14-year-old who has volunteered with the Attleboro Special Olympics team “Heller’s Angels” since he was nine; Jill Hrubes who has spearheaded events and programs to raise awareness of, and funds for, the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center; 73-year-old Anthony Hayter, who despite being diagnosed with lung cancer last year, has continued to volunteer as the head coach of the Tidal Waves swim team at the Boys & Girls Club of East Providence; and grand prize winner Cheryl Opper, the founder and executive director of School on Wheels of Massachusetts, the only Massachusetts organization to provide tutoring and academic support exclusively for homeless children.

As a sports fan, it’s refreshing to see professional franchises acknowledge these and other community members for their philanthropic endeavors. And I was honored to see a friend earn well-deserved (and long overdue) recognition.

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