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SportsRavensJonathan Ogden

Jonathan Ogden Club helps student-athletes succeed

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Jonathan Ogden parted ways with the NFL more than three years ago, but the retired Ravens offensive tackle remains an active presence in the Baltimore community.

During the past 15 years, Ogden has helped more than 500 students from disadvantaged neighborhoods get their diplomas and prepare for college through participation in the Jonathan Ogden Club, an academic support program formed specifically for student-athletes at Patterson High School in 1997.

"I saw a lot of kids ... especially when I moved to this city, where the academics wasn't impressed upon them," Ogden said. "They didn't have that person to show them how to take the SAT."

The Jonathan Ogden Club aims to provide Patterson student-athletes who maintain a GPA of 3.25 or higher with the support to help them keep their grades up, the resources to get them ready for college and assistance with applications.

"It's made a huge impact," Patterson principal Vance Benton said. "Anytime you can get anyone, let alone a [potential future pro football] Hall of Famer, to take interest in students, it's huge."

On Thursday, the foundation will host its sixth annual "An Evening Ringside" boxing fundraiser at Martin's Valley Mansion in Cockeysville. The event will include a cocktail hour, a dinner and a sports memorabilia silent auction. All proceeds will benefit the Jonathan Ogden Foundation.

The Jonathan Ogden Club is the main project of the foundation, a charitable organization established in 1996 with the goal of helping "young people in disadvantaged communities develop self-esteem through athletics and education," according to the website.

"I went to St. Albans School [in Washington], where education is obviously paramount and I did athletics, obviously, and the combination can take you to college," Ogden said. "Kids who love athletics don't always love academics, and I wanted them to understand that athletics and academics can go hand-in-hand and that you can actually use what you learn out here on the field to succeed in the classroom and vice versa."

During its early years, the club focused on rewarding students with Ravens tickets and photo opportunities with players, rather than support and resources. But in 2000, the Jonathan Ogden Foundation partnered with the Play It Smart program, which places academic counselors in schools where student grades are low, and selected Patterson as a school in need.

Play It Smart hired Kelley Bagdasarian as Patterson's academic coach in 2000, and she has held the position since. Her job, among other duties, is to help the members of the Jonathan Ogden Club set personal goals and to direct them to the appropriate resources.

Ogden said Bagdasarian is the person "who's there every day," responsible for coordinating the club's activities, which include SAT prep courses, tutoring, study halls, college visits, a spring ropes course and application assistance.

"It's evolved in that we know what we're trying to do now, as a foundation, we have programs in place," Ogden said. "[During the first few years], I don't want to say it was piecemeal, but we were just trying to find ourselves [as an organization] back then, and now everything is pretty much a well-oiled machine around here. ... Kelley, she just keeps the machine turning."

The academic counselor is also responsible for budgeting the club's money, which is generated through a series of fundraising events by the Jonathan Ogden Foundation. All the events are organized and hosted by Wendy Herr, who is in charge of marketing for the foundation.

In addition to the cost of the academic services and activities, Ravens tickets and employee salaries, the club sponsors an annual Christmas party for the students, an event Ogden said he especially enjoys.

"When we bring the kids out ... we've had them at the Ravens [practice] facilities and we've had them at [M&T Bank Stadium] ... and you give them the gifts that they get and it's just amazing how much they appreciate the opportunity. ... They love it," Ogden said. "I do enjoy their faces. ... They're like, 'Where's Ray Lewis' locker?' That's a question I get a lot at every Christmas party."

Ogden said he is specifically interested in helping student-athletes from disadvantaged communities because growing up in Washington, he noticed many of his student-athlete peers getting into trouble without structure and guidance.

"I used to see so many kids, especially growing up in the D.C. area - great basketball players and great football players, but never had the push to get them to that next level and they end up just running the streets of D.C. or whatnot," Ogden said. "Just to see them take the chance and get a chance to go on with their lives - I just wanted to see that."

Rick Hyde, Ogden's lawyer and the foundation trustee, said the player's motivations for starting his namesake foundation and club were selfless and admirable.

"He's given a lot to the foundation, and he does it because he loves the Baltimore community; he embraces the Baltimore community," Hyde said.

The Patterson community is grateful for Ogden's support.

"We just really appreciate the time he's put in and the commitment he has made," Benton said. "We look forward to a continued relationship with him in the future."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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