It's more than a collection of football players in front of a huge banquet audience. This is about children, the kind that can't help themselves and have been abused physically, sexually and emotionally. For them it's despair and dejection, and there is attendant pain for responsible citizens even remotely conversant with their plight.
But once more the Ed Block Courage Awards has held another gathering, its 17th in a series of annual fund-raising dinners at Martin's West where the man who conceived of the idea, one Sam Lamantia, has a sincerity and quiet drive that allows him to inspire others to contribute to one of the most critical of humane causes.
The total raised to date is an imposing $2.47 million. All this comes from a once-a-year fund-raiser where the tickets are priced at $75 but such companies as American Airlines, the Tremont Hotel and Rusty Scupper Restaurant are so concerned with what's happening they, and others of the same perspective, donate expensive services to the overall success of the effort.
The beneficiary is the St. Vincent's Center, which offers a protective environment for the victims while providing psychological, psychiatric and medical assistance. Corporations and individuals write checks and buy advertisements in the program. The National Football League applauds its purpose and offers cooperation.
A player from each of the 28 NFL teams, voted by their teammates as the most courageous of the year, is invited to Baltimore, The trainers from the league have lent momentous support, for not only the purpose that's represented but also the respect they hold for the late Ed Block, legendary trainer for the Baltimore Colts. They, in turn, encourage the players to be here.
Three Pro Football Hall of Fame members were present for the dinner at Martin's West last night, namely Raymond Berry and John Mackey of the Baltimore Colts and Bobby Mitchell of the Washington Redskins. The general manager of the New York Giants, George Young, left his desk to make another appearance, which underlines the importance he personally associates with the Baltimore function.
Mary Maffezzoli, director of the St. Vincent's Center, told the players at a breakfast yesterday, where the honorees met and mingled with the youngsters, that "we live in a society where violence toward children has become an epidemic." She went on to relate shocking details.
"One out of every three girls is sexually abused before she reaches 18," commented Mary. "One out of every 11 boys is sexually abused. One of every 10 children will be beaten badly enough during the course of his or her first 16 years to require medical help.
"What does it mean?
"It means, for one thing, that the chances of a girl being abused are greater than her chances of going to college. For a boy, it means he's more likely to be abused than to play a varsity sport in high school. Child abuse knows no bounds, not socioeconomic, not religion, not race."
Bringing the community together, with a football theme, has become important to Baltimore and to St. Vincent's Center. Berry, with his wife Sally, in attendance at the breakfast and banquet, said, "It's sad. It's reality. But the encouraging thing is that this Baltimore endeavor brings attention to the problem. I can't think of anything that might be considered more worthwhile than this."
The Ed Block Courage Awards, along with focusing on the players, instituted its first humanitarian award, named for the late Angelo D'Anna, founder of the Mars Super Markets, who believed so much in what Lamantia and his committee are doing. The first recipient is Frank Culotta, who has provided longevity and devotion to the premise of the evening.
Scott Garceau, sports director of WMAR-TV, the master of ceremonies with assistance from Joe Knight and Wayne Gruehn, told the NFL players that "all of you have given freely of your time and what you'll take home are memories from an experience that will live forever."
Lamantia, the force for all this good coming about, insists the speaking part of the program be brief. The audience turns out to enjoy the festivities and doesn't deserve to be subjected to boredom, which is why Lamantia is a hands-on organizer.
"We are elated that we have directly kept the NFL alive in Baltimore," said Lamantia. "The trainers, through their respect for Ed Block, have made us feel we are an NFL connection. Other NFL cities have come to see what it is we are doing and have picked up the cause. What more could we ask? I just believe a higher element is at work in all of this."
Similar Courage Houses, with NFL involvement, have been created in Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Miami and Dallas.
Yes, the concept is so good others are copying what has evolved in Baltimore.
The market is glutted with sports banquets, but the Ed Block Courage Awards show is in a league of its own.