It is not often this columnist becomes “star-struck,” during a return trip to central Ohio. This visit has been the trifecta of exceptions.
As most of you readers know, this Delaware native became a “Georgia Peach” after completing Journalism School at The Ohio State University several decades ago. Thankfully so far, acquiring the twangy accent has been avoided.
This columnist’s Atlanta tenure has not been without several residency detours. There was a stint in Washington, D.C., but the unrelenting political focus, professional snobbery, traffic gridlock and astronomical housing prices were stifling. More recently, a four-year return to Delaware occurred for reasons that were addressed in prior columns.
Usually this author’s visits home are without notoriety. The annual Delaware County Fair party after The Juggette, sponsored by a variety of hosts, including the Delaware County Bank, is a favorite activity of this columnist.
Reuniting with locals is expected. Meeting two national celebrities was a complete surprise. One has four legs while the other turned age 12 on Sept. 29.
Breana Carsey might not be a recognizable name, but her unlikely story of racing success with a gangly trotter she owns and named MJB GotFaith, captured national attention. CBS News Reporter Steve Hartman profiled this now 12-year-old and her horse during one of his “On the Road” segments in October 2015 after MJB Got Faith had just won $100,000 in the Ohio Sire Stakes at Scioto Downs.
This columnist wrote about Breana and her beloved MJB Got Faith in an Oct. 25, 2015 entry. Never was there the expectation one year later that Breana would walk by this writer at the annual Wednesday party during Delaware County Fair week. This 57-year-old suddenly became star-struck and tongue-tied by a now 12-year-old.
After an introduction to Breana’s parents and several hours of conversation, lightening hit a second time. This columnist was led to an obscure stall at the Delaware County Fairgrounds and introduced to MJB Got Faith. This “wonder horse has captured the heart of your author with his lovable temperament and photo geniality.
While tearfully viewing Hartman’s touching segment back in Atlanta approximately 330 days ago, which spotlighted Breana and MJB Got Faith, never did this writer expect for our paths to cross almost a year later. It was a chance meeting that will last a lifetime.
The third celebrity encounter was with less fanfare at a Rotary Club luncheon Tuesday, Sept, 27, in Marion County. Mistakenly touted as “Law Day” by a Rotary member who invited this columnist and knew of her volunteer work with Veterans Treatment Court back in Atlanta, instead the focus of the program was “Local Athletes’ Day.”
After the introduction of outstanding high school athletes within Marion County, Deryck Toles took the stage. As a Warren, Ohio native, this former NFL stand-out told his riveting story of childhood challenges, parental addiction issues, and his decision to exit his boyhood home in an attempt to re-direct a potentially disastrous future.
Toles gives credit for his life success to now-Marion Superintendent of Schools, Gary Barber, who was Toles’ first football coach back in Warren. Toles exemplifies what can be achieved through the benefits of mentoring and “paying forward.”
If then-coach Barber had not intervened, Toles is unsure whether he would be alive today or could have graduated near the top of his high school class. Toles attended Penn State on both academic and football scholarships, graduated with a 3.89 GPA, played in the NFL, and now has returned to his hometown of Warren to redirect other troubled youth.
Founder and CEO of “Inspiring Minds,” Toles provides after- school tutoring and yearly summer programs to approximately 400 Mahoning Valley students. His non-profit focuses on educational opportunities via college trips to visit campuses nationwide and granting scholarship money.
Celebrating his tenth year since establishing Inspiring Minds, this former Atlanta Falcon, Cleveland Brown, Indianapolis Colt, and Nittany Lion, was the 1999 recipient of the Franklin D. Watkins Award, given annually to the nation’s top African American Student Athlete.
After recognizing Toles’ name from his career with the Atlanta Falcons, this author met and was photographed with Toles. He was a superstar on football field, but it is his work away from the gridiron that is having the most impact. Toles truly exemplifies the positive changes that can occur from a chance encounter with a caring adult.
Thank you Marion Schools Superintendent Gary Barber for being that “agent of change” in Toles’ life and for the thousands of others he has now positively mentored due to your intervention.