Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Ted Ginn Sr. returns more inspired than ever to save kids

Ted Ginn, right, poses with former Glenville football player Willie Henry on the day Henry signed with Michigan in February 2012. Ginn says graduating kids is winning, and sending them to college is "dominating.'' (John Kuntz, The Plain Dealer)

By Tim Warsinskey, The Plain Dealer

May 6, 2013

CLEVELAND, Ohio – This will seem weird, but it's the way my mind works sometimes.

When I look at Ted Ginn Sr., I think of Ted Kennedy.

Specifically, I recall Kennedy's speech to the 1980 Democratic convention, which ended:

“For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.''

That was Kennedy's concession speech upon losing the presidential nomination to Jimmy Carter, the point being Kennedy wasn't conceding his life's purpose.

Ginn has been to the brink and back this school year, having survived pancreatic cancer, and he sounded Monday like a guy who isn't conceding anything, much less his mission.

With a clean bill of health, Ginn returned to work full-time April 25 as executive director at the all-boys public school he founded six years ago, Ginn Academy in Collinwood. He plans to be back on the sidelines as head football coach at Glenville this fall after missing all of last season.

“I missed the relationships with the kids and just being around people,'' Ginn said. “When you're incarcerated in a place like that (the hospital), you miss the simple things about life.''

Three surgeries and a long hospital stay took a toll. He walks gingerly, but he's regaining his strength. He made it through a long track meet in Austintown on Saturday without any problems. He's lost more than 50 pounds.

During his treatment and recovery, Ginn was urged to retire by those close to him, including his son, Carolina Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. He wanted his father to kick back and enjoy life.

Ginn, 57, will not hear of it. His cause endures and his work goes on.

“This is my life. This is my calling. This is what I do. What am I going to retire to? This is what kept me alive,'' he said, emphasizing alive.

Ginn firmly believes had it not been for his mission to “save lives” of his students, cancer would have claimed his. He said retiring from a life devoted to at-risk, inner-city kids would have been selfish.

“I'd only be thinking about myself. If I didn't have purpose and love and understanding, then God wouldn't have kept me here,'' he said.

Ginn always speaks more like a mentor and preacher than a coach, and he sounded more inspired than ever about his job and his students, which might explain the approach he's taking to the coming football season.

Glenville missed the playoffs in 2011 and 2012, going 1-5 in nonleague games. This year, in the new seven-division playoff format, Glenville is expected to drop to Division II and presumably does not need a demanding nonleague schedule to make the playoffs. But the Tarblooders open 2013 with road games against Division I powers St. Edward, Solon and Cleveland Heights. Glenville's roster is stocked with its usual assortment of highly regarded college recruits.

“We aren't ducking nobody,'' Ginn said. “It's not a duck situation. We're striving to represent our community. We're just trying to compete on the highest level we can no matter what kind of talent people think we have.''

Glenville should be in the discussion for its first state championship, but you won't hear Ginn talking about it. When Ginn says compete, he's never talking about wins and losses, let alone state glory.

“I'm not going to wake up every morning and say, 'I'm going to win a state tile,''' he said. “I don't care we didn't make the playoffs. We had a great season. I engaged the kids.

“This is why I don't care: When you graduate a kid in high school, you win. You're talking about football and winning games and going to playoffs. When you graduate a kid out of Glenville or Ginn Academy, you're winning. When you have one who goes to college, you're dominating.''

Ginn said his academy graduates about 95 percent of its students, which this year includes 62 seniors.

I pressed Ginn to discuss his team's prospects this fall, telling him Glenville football fans want to know. Ginn countered with his constant worry about kids who are lost to jail, death and unproductive lives, making my questions seem irrelevant. It prompted him to say, “I don't like sports.''

Sports, he said, skew some people's perspective of his mission.

“This is Glenville football; this is what Glenville football is about: You can look at the scoreboard all you want, and you never get the answer,'' he said.

In 2008, stricken with cancer that eventually would take Kennedy's life, the Senator addressed another Democratic convention and put a different spin on his famous 1980 speech, ending with a line that makes me think of Ginn even more today.

“The dream lives on.''

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