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 Former Student-Athletes Giving Back Prove We’re Heading in Right Direction

10/29/2018 8:00 AM

​Six years ago, I wrote a guest column for the Rockford Register Star that focused on community involvement in our co-curricular activities. I challenged Rockford to support our student-athletes, using the phrase "It takes a village to raise a child" to remind people that it also takes a community to raise a student-athlete. The community responded.

We've seen amazing growth and success in our programs. Attendance at games is up. Our student sections rock! We have a great relationship with the Rockford Sports Coalition, which continues to donate to our programs every year. And we're seeing more families return to the public schools after attending private schools for years.

Rockford has embraced our philosophies, helped build first-class facilities​, sponsored our events and cheered on our athletes. But perhaps the biggest gauge of our success is how much we're seeing former student-athletes moving on to the next level of academia, athletics and beginning to be philanthropists and productive citizens. 

Fred VanVleet is now a household name in Rockford because of his success with Wichita State University and the Toronto Raptors. He could be taking his time and efforts anywhere during the off-season, but he c​hooses to come home and live in his hometown. VanVleet hands out backpacks at the start of school year, distributes turkeys at Thanksgiving, and works with young players on the court every year in his basketball camp and Fan Festival. Recently, he committed to purchasing a new set of uniforms for every RPS 205 boys and girls varsity basketball team. He is supporting our Tip-Off Classic tournament breakfast celebration and Thanksgiving meal in November. With everything he's doing, he's investing in our athletes and young students.

Madi Hecox has received numerous Division I and II offers after being named a 2017-18 Women's Basketball All-American this last summer. But she is returning to Rock Valley College to finish her associate's degree. Madi spends significant time volunteering to help coach 12U (12 and under) girls softball, working youth basketball camps, helping with the Riverside Road trash clean-up and being a big sister for several families around the community. Madi's RVC jersey is on display at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn.

Vederian Lowe is a 6'5" 315-pound sophomore offensive lineman for the University of Illinois Football team, the Fighting Illini. Vederian was a key figure in helping transform Auburn High School's football team from struggling to prominent. It is rare not to see Vederian – a gentle spirit – with a big smile. When he's home, Vederian helps with his church and Rockford Park District NFL youth training camps. On campus Vederian helps with various charities – most recently doing road cleanup around U of I.

Marcus Hayes is making a name at the University of New Mexico and was recently named the Mountain West Conference defensive player of the week. Marcus has volunteered at the Rockford Park District NFL youth training camps, has done road cleanups and was often the first to volunteer to help with East High School football daily work, such as laundry detail. His public expressions of how much he appreciates and loves his mom are inspiring and show an emotional maturity that is unique for 20-year-olds. 

These examples are just the beginning. We have hundreds of student-athletes who are beyond prepared for the next level – either in athletics, academics, philanthropy or all three. I encourage you, along with the rest of the community, to continue showing your support. Continue to volunteer​. Continue to attend events. Continue to give back.

If that happens, I can't wait to see what I'll be writing about in another six years and what our young people will be doing as productive adult citizens in our community.

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(L-R) Mat Parker, former AHS head football coach Dan Appino, Auburn grad Vederian Lowe, University of Illinois football coach Lovie Smith
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