CHICAGO -- That mere grain of an idea that occurred to a friendly neighborhood barber in Baltimore, one Sam Lamantia, continues to nurture and to make an impact on the National Football League. It has nothing to do with punts, passes or pitchouts, but, instead, furthering a cause devoted to humanity.
This is a charitable function that brings cheers and commendations from all sides. The compelling function? Abused children. The organization that is addressing the subject with the NFL is known as the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation.
It has only one premise, to use the monies it raises from an annual banquet and bequests by corporations to assist infants and children in recovering from abusive treatment that has scarred their lives. Total contributions during the last 15 years are in excess of $2 million, a result of using NFL players as the catalysts for selling banquet tickets, program advertising and eliciting donations.
In Chicago yesterday, the Baltimore group, headed by Tom Matte, non-paid president of the foundation, presented a check for $10,000 to a center for babies born of cocaine-addicted parents. It's only one part of a diversified program conducted by the Maryville Academy, which had its origin in 1883 after the Chicago Fire resulted in numerous homeless and orphaned children.
The program is run by a remarkable man, the Rev. John P. Smyth, who has the respect of people in high places but, more importantly, in the crying needs of children left on the streets, abandoned and too often abused. Father Smyth graduated from Notre Dame in 1957, after captaining the varsity basketball team and being a first-round draft choice of the St. Louis Hawks in the National Basketball Association.
He wasn't interested in dribbling for dollars. Instead, he enrolled in a seminary, hoping to do the work of the Lord. In the last year, the total number of children cared for under the protection of the Maryville program reached the staggering figure of 9,000 at seven locations in the Chicago area.
The Block group, headed by Matte and executive director Mary Jones, led a Baltimore delegation to Chicago, first for a visit to a Maryville center, a breakfast meeting and then an introduction at Soldier Field before the Bears-Tampa Bay Buccaneers game. A grant of $10,000 was made as a testimonial to Ed McCaskey, board chairman of the Bears and son-in-law of George Halas, who was a founding father of the NFL in 1920.
Lamantia wasn't able to make the trip, but Matte put the effort in perspective when he said, "We are driven by a desire to assist abused children. We're honoring Father Smyth at the recommendation of Ed McCaskey. The Ed Block Courage House program wants to eventually help abused children in all NFL cities, but Baltimore will remain our chief focus."
This is an endeavor that has earned the respect and cooperation of the NFL commissioner's office, club owners, the players association and the alumni. Don Sprague and Phil Stepan of the AT&T; Network Systems, based in Chicago, said the employees of their company made possible its $10,000 contribution to NFL Charities.
Three volunteers from AT&T;, employed in Hunt Valley, Md., namely G.G. Hyle, Rita Allen and Ed Reagen, came at their own expense to participate in the proceedings that Reagen called "a grand event."
The motivation for membership in the Block Foundation is keyed to rescuing abused children in the name of the late Ed Block, who was the Colts' trainer for 23 years.
St. Vincent's Home, located in suburban Baltimore, received $144,000 from the Block group in 1992. Now the thought is to impart the message nationally. Last year, a check to start a similar fund in the memory of the late Art Rooney, founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was made to organizers in the Pittsburgh community.
Now attentions turn to Chicago, using the name of the highly respected McCaskey, who was honored in Baltimore at the Block banquet last spring. Now comes the tangible presentation to the charity.
A plaque in the lobby of the Chicago center describes the purpose with these imposing words: "The center is dedicated to the healing, care and education of children; a sanctuary where love and hope are the guiding lights and hate and despair are scattered into the darkness."
Ed Block would have liked that. And now responsible citizens help to fulfill such a goal.