Aligned at the head table will be 90 young high school football players . . . bright, alert, resourceful and aware of their responsibilities. Take a look. You'll recognize the future of America. Each one is a winner. Not a loser in the crowd.
It's the annual Scholar-Athlete Awards Dinner tonight at Martin's West, presented by the Baltimore Chapter of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame. Similar banquets are held across the country but this is the largest of its kind and has a legitimate claim to being the best.
Almost half of the 90 are in the top 10 percent of their class, 27 are honor society members and five are national merit scholars. From a football viewpoint, 55 were team captains. It's an impressive array; it always is.
The Baltimore business and industrial community extends enormous support to an event that costs close to $50,000 to produce. Scholarships of $1,500 are awarded to five youngsters in various geographical divisions that take in Baltimore City and County, Frederick, Anne Arundel, Harford, Howard and Carroll counties. The grand winner receives $4,000 that can be applied to an education at the college of his choice.
Each football-playing high school, through its principal, athletic director and coach, makes recommendations. The records, in turn, are evaluated by a committee headed by Darryl Houseman and a five-man panel comprising Arthur Bell, Cal Disney, Joe Carroll, Ed Kennedy and John Schneider.
When they inspect the achievements of the nominees, they are dealing only with a code number. The actual names and schools of the scholar-athletes are not known to them, which eliminates any political possibility in how the final votes are cast.
First and foremost, they are looking for football and academic ability, plus a mix that includes participation in extra-curricular activities, leadership skills and involvement in church and social work. The focus, in the voting process, is directed toward naming the outstanding football players who also demonstrate talent in the classroom.
In 1967, as a for-instance, the selection was Kurt Schmoke, who was the first black student president at City College. He also had never quarterbacked a losing football game. Kurt was to go on to Yale, became a Rhodes Scholar, states attorney, and is now mayor of his city.
The dedication and effort extended by Houseman and the committee, endeavoring at all times to be eminently fair, deserves the highest of respect. It's an important, virtually thankless task that is almost never going to bring a commendation.
"Recipients have a five-year period to avail themselves of the scholarship monies," explained Ed Novak, the banquet's general chairman. "The individuals do not receive the monies. We forward the checks directly to the bursars of the schools. If one of the winners enters a service academy, we permit the scholarship award to be applied to the cost of military uniforms or the buying of a computer for classroom work.
"When the names of the finalists are called and their accomplishments outlined for the benefit of the banquet audience it makes an impact. Some of the achievements of the nominees are incredible. It speaks well for the schools, teachers, coaches and scholar-athletes."
There's always a main speaker, a man with a football past, who has gone on to establish himself in his career. Joe Krivak, the Maryland coach, will be the featured guest for this, the 28th annual event. Some memorable messages have been imparted by such men as Harry Stuhldreher, one of the Notre Dame "Four Horsemen," who gave the initial speech in 1964, and Vice Admiral William Lawrence, of the Naval Academy, reflecting on the six years he spent in an enemy prison during the Vietnam War.
Oh, yes, among the nominees, five are in the top five of their class, three are valedictorians and two have 4.0 grade-point averages. Although the selection committee is faced with inherent pressure in singling out a name, it also is comforted to know that whatever call is made can't miss being right.