All the right moves
EAGLE – Reggie Rivers came to Eagle right on schedule.While most have gladly forgotten the Kobe Bryant trial, public opinion of the professional athlete definitely suffered during that ordeal.Then along comes Reggie Rivers and the negative stereotypes go flying right out the window. The former Bronco running back, in the valley late last month for a series of speaking engagements, is the very antithesis of the overpaid, arrogant, and untouchable demagogues that many pro athletes have become.Rivers’ message of goal setting, hard work and giving back resonated with all of the groups he spoke with during his visit to Eagle County.Literacy through sportsGypsum Elementary School Spanish teacher Kim Chambers invited Rivers to visit after meeting him at a Latino Outreach Day hosted by the Broncos in Denver last summer. She knew instantly the kind of effect he could have on her kids, she said. “His motivational speech might be the kind of thing that keeps kids in school,” said Chambers, who developed the Literacy Through Sports program with Eagle Valley High School Spanish teacher Robert Cuevas. The goal for that program is to keep Latino students in school by getting them more involved in learning and academics using sports.”Competing in sports makes kids feel like they are a part of something,” Cuevas said. “They have an easier time learning the language, and are more likely to stay in school if they feel like they are a part of something.”
Goals and desiresRivers first spoke to the Eagle Valley Chamber of Commerce. His speech, inter-laced with anecdotes and vignettes from his life, was aimed at getting the audience to differentiate between their goals and desires. Desires, he said, are things we want but have no control over. Goals are the things we can control, and reaching them will help fulfill our desires.”Focus on what you can do and control,” said Rivers. “Don’t let fear of failure prevent you from taking the simple steps to achieve your goals.”Finally, Rivers stressed the importance of hard work.”People will notice you if you are working hard,” he said.There are many lessons to be learned from sports, Rivers said”The outcome of a situation does not depend entirely on you,” said Rivers. “If you make a mistake, it’s all right. Don’t define yourself by your lowest point. It’s something we humans often do that is silly.”Working with kidsRivers is funny and intelligent. He speaks with a booming voice – no microphone necessary here – and regularly flashes his broad smile to punctuate the humor in his stories.He speaks some Spanish, and he incorporated that into his second and third speeches of the day, which took place at Gypsum Elementary and Eagle Valley High School. With many in the audience of Latino descent, the fact that he could speak their language, and that he is a former Bronco, had an obvious effect on the elementary school kids. He had the whole gymnasium, filled with students, parents and teachers, laughing and hanging on his every word. He told the kids about his two greatest passions, neither of which are football.
“I love to read and write,” said Rivers. “They are two things I do every day.”In his introductory lesson on journalism he revealed the six essential questions to answer in any story: who, what, when, where, why, and how?Rivers stressed the importance of education, even if a student’s career goal is professional athletics. “I always tell people, if you want to play in the NFL, there is one thing you have to do,” he said. “You have to go to college.”Rivers wants kids to understand that being able to read and write are crucial to success no matter what you do, he said. The early-afternoon session ended with Rivers signing autographs on hats, posters, books, and whatever else people come up to him with, always taking the time to introduce himself and talk to the autograph seekers.English as a second languageRivers’ tone with the high school students is more serious. However, the effect of his message is still very evident. Staying in school is his strongest theme, the focal point of his talk with English language students at Eagle Valley High. The message has relevance in Eagle County where the drop-out rate among Hispanic students is high. Between 1995 and 1999, the drop-out rate for Hispanics was 6.7 percent. That figure was only 2.7 percent for white students.Rivers sees sports as a viable way to keep kids in school and to help them learn the language.”One of the things about sports is it crosses all barriers,” said Rivers. “It unites people that are rich, poor, black, white or Hispanic. It takes something they already know, and uses it to teach them about something new.”Just staying in school is not enough though, Rivers said. “I always stress to the Hispanic kids that they have to learn English,” said Rivers. “They can’t just rely on other people to know Spanish, they have to learn the language.”Chambers said getting kids and their parents involved with sports has had a positive impact on drop-out numbers in recent years. “We have seen it working already,” said Chambers. “We still have a long way to go, but the early results are encouraging.”
One of the emphases of the Literacy Through Sports program is to get kids to read fiction and non-fiction books about sports. This will eventually lead to a greater understanding of the vocabulary and concepts they are trying to learn.Fiction fanaticRivers is a story teller. That comes from his mom, a librarian, who encouraged Rivers to stick his nose in a book. His roots are in journalism, but his heart is in fiction writing.”When I write books, I get to be the master of the universe,” Rivers said. “It gives you the freedom to make up anything you want to make up.”His first book, “Power Shift,” was published in 2000. But it is his newest novel, “Fourth and Fixed,” that is his pride.”I definitely think this is my best work yet,” he told the third and fourth graders in Gypsum. “It’s about a crime family that gets involved in fixing NFL games.”The book has a number of intriguing characters, many of whom are based on the real-life characters he crossed paths with in his playing days. One brash and silver-tongued character in the book is a literary facsimile of River’s Broncos teammate Shannon Sharpe.”They say at first that you should write what you know,” said Rivers. “So I started with football.”Rivers is a graduate student at Denver University, where he is majoring in International Studies. He hopes this will help him reach his goal of writing political satire, he said.”I’m starting to branch out a little,” said Rivers. “I am working on a couple of things right now that are not sports related.”Whatever the subject, Rivers’ message to young and old is a breath of fresh air. His visit with the adults and students of Eagle County showed all that can be good about professional athletes.In a world where athletes regularly seem out of step with the rest of society, Rivers has made all the right moves.Vail Colorado