They heard a Heisman Trophy winner speak of the enormous pride he felt in being a scholar.
They listened to a member of the NBA champions who was told that he would never make it, then proved his doubters wrong.
The bleachers in Lake Clifton High School's gymnasium were filled yesterday with an estimated 1,000 youngsters from 70 of the city's recreation centers for the "Believe to Achieve Seminar," sponsored by Nike.
Speakers included Charlie Ward, the New York Knicks' first-round draft pick who won the Heisman Trophy as quarterback of national football champion Florida State.
"A lot of people don't take time out for kids," Ward said, signing autographs in the lobby. "I wanted to come out and help them try to achieve the things that I've achieved and show that it can be done."
Cassell talked about his sometimes difficult experiences growing up in East Baltimore and offered himself as an example of someone who succeeded through hard work, perseverance and faith in God.
Other speakers were former Boston Celtics great Sam Jones; former NBA center Moses Malone; Howard White, who works in basketball relations for Nike and played at the University of Maryland; Judy Holland, vice president of community relations for the Washington Bullets; Sharon Hollard, agent for Miami Heat guard Harold Miner; Bob Wade, the city's superintendent of recreation; WMAR-TV sportscaster Keith Mills; and WBAL-TV reporter Rhonda Overby.
"It was nice to hear all these stars giving out positive messages," said Damon Spells, 15.
"We're hoping that with school right around the corner that the young people will get some self-esteem, some character-building and get energized about taking on the school year and bring some positive work habits into it," said Anthony Lewis, coordinator of Project Reach One Teach One, a division of the Recreation and Parks Department.