Meyer, Buckeyes ‘Pay Forward’ at Special Olympics
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Fans rose to their feet as the Olympic Torch came around the bend and down the home stretch.
The man next to me leaned over the fence as far as he could without falling onto the grass below. He stretched out his neck, holding his hand over his eyes to shield his vision from the sun that was slowly creeping into the sky above.
It was a beautiful Ohio morning, the perfect setting for the Columbus City Schools Special Olympics, which took place at Whetstone High School, a Columbus City School near Clintonville.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Gahanna native Amber Stokes was one of the many who volunteered to help carry the torch Saturday morning, as it made its way around the track during the opening ceremonies.
The daughter of former OSU basketball player Ron Stokes is also a key player for Jim Foster’s women’s team, which helped out with the nonprofit event that raised more than $16,000 in donations for special needs programs.
As the torch came around the final bend, there was a surprise group of supporters gathered along the edge of the track inside Whetstone’s football stadium. They were not decked out in their usual Scarlet and Gray attire, but there was no mistaking this group.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Surrounded by a handful of his players was Ohio State’s head football coach, Urban Meyer, and his wife Shelley Meyer. The two had surprised the event’s director with a mid-week commitment to show support for the 732 athletes in this year’s Special Olympics.
“I asked him to be here for the athletes,” Sherrie Andrus said while introducing Meyer to a packed crowd.
“There will never be another event that will mean as much as this means to the athletes as to have him here today.”
It truly was a unique and special moment to watch these young athletes react with pure, unadulterated joy as Meyer was introduced Saturday morning. There were ‘OH-IO’ cheers aplenty, and the jubilation on the faces of those kids was enough to make it all worthwhile.
A few even had to be quieted down by their coaches as Meyer began to speak over the microphone.
“My wife Shelley and I are honored to be here,” Meyer said, dressed in a white Ohio State polo and shorts.
“At the Ohio State University, giving back is a big part of what we do. The late, great Woody Hayes started the phrase ‘Pay it Forward.’ It was carried on by a great football coach by the name of Earle Bruce, and then by John Cooper.
“Coach Jim Tressel and his staff did a great job getting involved in the community, and I’m proud to say we have a bunch of Buckeyes here today.”
Photo by Jim Davidson
Meyer turned to the group of players behind him, which included OSU offensive tackle Jack Mewhort and both Boren brothers, along with linebackers Ryan Shazier and Curtis Grant. Defensive back Ron Tanner was also in attendance, along with defensive linemen Chase Farris and Chris Carter.
Freshman linebacker Josh Perry and kicker Kyle Clinton rounded out the group, but there was only one person who received a louder cheer than Ohio State’s football coach.
The first lady of Ohio State football was all smiles in front of the crowd, which seemed to enjoy getting a chance to meet Mrs. Meyer for the first time. She didn’t address the crowd, other than a wave, but her husband made sure to thank the people who really made this event possible.
“Along with some of the best athletes in the state of Ohio, there’s another group—I’m a part of that group—but I’d like to congratulate some of the best parents in the state of Ohio for coming out here to watch your kids compete,” he said.
“I get to go watch my son play in a double-header after this, and there is nothing like the experience of watching your son or daughter compete in athletics.”
It was Hayes, best remembered for winning five national titles and 13 Big Ten championships in 28 years at Ohio State, who reminded OSU graduates in 1986 of the words of American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (sort of).
“Emerson had something to say about that: ‘You can pay back only seldom,’ ” Hayes said during his commencement speech.
“But he said, ‘You can always pay forward, and you must pay line for line, deed for deed, and cent for cent.’”
That’s not exactly how Emerson said it—or more accurately wrote it—but Meyer is still taking those words to heart more than a quarter-century after the passing of Ohio State’s most beloved head football coach.
“Our mission is no different than these young athletes here today. Our job is to make this great state of Ohio proud,” Meyer said in closing.
“That’s what we’re going to do and that’s what these athletes are going to do here today. Have a great day, God bless you and Go Bucks.”
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