What It Takes panel needed no quarterback

Andre Iguodala (center) sits with area students before serving on a panel during the What It Takes event at the Franklin Institute.
Andre Iguodala (center) sits with area students before serving on a panel during the What It Takes event at the Franklin Institute.
Posted: March 01, 2011

ANDRE IGUODALA sat on a stage at the Franklin Institute. African-American success stories from the worlds of business and the media and the military were on either side of him. Two-hundred high school-aged boys were arrayed in the audience before him. The fifth symposium sponsored by the What It Takes Foundation was under way, and somebody wanted to know what kind of grades Iguodala earned in high school.

He smiled at the memory.

"I had really good grades in high school," he said. "I wasn't allowed to bring C's home. My mom, she wasn't playing any games."

He told them that the NBA was actually his backup plan, that he was never sure he was good enough, that a high school calculus teacher named Miss White put the bug in his ear, about how few African-American male math teachers there were in the country. As a result, education became his college major at Arizona, before the NBA called following his sophomore season.

Iguodala had their attention - but so did the discussion leader, Fox sports commentator James Brown, as well as the rest of the panelists. Many related stories from their youth, where they were told by people in authority what they couldn't do, and then they figured out a way to do it anyway. Kids love stories like that, stories that are about possibilities.

It is a good program that Anthony Martin founded with his wife, Michelle - a program that has taken its message to other cities and universities and also to the U.S. Congress. Anthony hints at a major funding donation that is in the works as he says, "The goal is mentorship - helping kids, really helping them to graduate from high school, to go on to college, to make a success of themselves."

It is too good a program to be caught up in a controversy about why Michael Vick didn't show up to be on the panel yesterday. But when you advertise that he is coming, and he isn't there, the questions are unavoidable.

According to Chris Shigas, a spokesman for Vick, "He was in Philadelphia at an event on Sunday night for the Volunteers of America Delaware Valley. But we notified [What It Takes] last week that he had to go back to Virginia to be with his son."

The foundation acknowledged receiving a call, but characterized it not so much as a definite cancellation and more of a he's-not-sure kind of a situation. At a certain point, Vick's name was removed from one version of the press release announcing the event, but the organizers said they were still hopeful he would show up.

"He's spoken to our kids before," Anthony Martin said. "He was excellent because when he spoke to the kids, he spoke from the heart. When he spoke, I saw tears in the eyes of a lot of kids in the audience.

"Obviously, I'm disappointed that he's not here. But if he's not here, there's a reason. He loves What It Takes. I was with him, a week before the Super Bowl. He actually came to my office and talked about what we have planned and the whole nine yards."

Michelle Martin said that Vick did two panels on Sept. 15, which represented 2 hours of questions and answers with another group of 200 high school boys. It was the same day that Eagles coach Andy Reid named Vick the starting quarterback.

"We're disappointed, but we know this is where his heart is," Michelle Martin said. "When he was here the last time, you could see that they idolize Michael, but they more identify with somebody like the command sergeant major who is on the panel - because he is somebody they think they can be. Vick is like a pie in the sky."

Yesterday, he wasn't there. The kids were undoubtedly disappointed - such is the lure of celebrity, and of this particular celebrity. But men of accomplishment still told their stories to boys at risk. The program carried on, whatever the miscommunications. That's kind of the point.

Send e-mail to hofmanr@phillynews.com, or read his blog, The Idle Rich, at www.philly.com/TheIdleRich.

For recent columns go to www.philly.com/RichHofmann.

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