What had its origin within the framework of the Eastsid Athletic Club, a gathering of neighborhood athletes, has raised to date an astounding $1.4 million for abused children in Baltimore. The fund-raising banquet tonight, known as the Ed Block Courage Awards, with players from every team in the National Football League, will net another $200,000 in conjunction with the NFL trainers.
For 12 years, the Courage House at St. Vincent's Center has been the recipient of this extraordinary financial assistance. And now the Holy Family Institute in Pittsburgh will have a Courage House named after the late owner of the Steelers, the revered Art Rooney, who gave so much of himself and his money to help men, women and children of all faiths.
His oldest son, Dan, president of the Steelers, will be present to receive the grant, in a spectacular dinner at Martin's West that has as its theme, "The Spirit of the NFL in Baltimore." Gov. William Donald Schaefer will be there to congratulate Rooney.
The Colts' Band, invited to the Pro Football Hall of Fame installation gala this summer, will provide the appropriate musical touch. And, in this connection, recognition also is to be given the Colts' Corrals and Herb Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority.
Frank Deford, a young giant in American journalism, formerly with Sports Illustrated and now editor of The National, a daily sports newspaper, will be enrolled in the group's media hall of JTC fame. It has the promise of being an exceptional program, moving quickly and carrying emotional intensity because it is to benefit children unable to help themselves.
From every perspective, the Ed Block Courage Award Banquet is a winner. The foundation has 50 volunteers. No salaries are paid, which means the entire profit goes to the cause. The concept of honoring Block was a suggestion Larry Harris, assistant sports editor of The Evening Sun, offered the Eastside A.C. when it thought of staging an annual dinner in 1978.
Results have been astounding. Sam Lamantia, the chairman, is the only member of the Eastside A.C. still involved. His performance has been exceptional. Platinum sponsors such as American Airlines, the Tremont Hotel, WMAR-TV and AT&T Network Systems have given contributions and donated services.
Any mention of support also should include the gold sponsors, comprising O'Conor, Piper & Flynn, as chaired by Bob Pollock; USF&G, Quaker Oats, The Baltimore Sun, Merry-Go-Round Enterprises, with help from Isaac Kaufman; Rusty Scupper, Guardian Press, MNC Services of Maryland National Bank, Angelo D'Anna of Mars Super Markets and the Baltimore Colts' Alumni.
And, since the idea expanded to honor courageous representatives from each NFL club, it has become more than "just another sports banquet." The prestige extends nationwide. no-show is a rarity. Most of the NFL players have learned from the previous recipients, teammates and rivals, the quality of the event and -- bottom line -- its profound purpose.
Let's not forget the trainers and the role they, too, play. Because the awards perpetuate the name of Ed Block, late trainer of the Colts, the players are told it is important to be here. The best
friend a player has is a trainer and coming to Baltimore, in a way, shows gratitude for the treatment and encouragement trainers provide when an injury occurs.
In this regard, a single NFL training staff is honored via a vote of all the pro football trainers. The winners this time are Hunter Smith and his assistant, Dave Hammer, of the Indianapolis Colts. Smith, formerly of Salisbury State College, started as an aide to John Lopez and knew Block when he was with the Baltimore Colts in 1983. "The NFL cooperation is unbelievable," said Lamantia. "Don Weiss and Jay Moyer, of the commissioner's office, have been here previously. We hope in the future to have Roger Goodell of NFL Charities. All the clubs know about us and when we call they react enthusiastically."
The players believe in what's being done. For instance, Sean Landetta, the New York Giants' punter from Towson State, is buying a table for $500 and asking nine friends to be his guests. A returning honoree is Brian Tilman of the Cincinnati Bengals, now a professional wrestler who extols the Baltimore experience "as the best honor I ever received."
What Lamantia doesn't point out is the dedication and guidance he offers. Art Rooney would have made Sam his friend had he known him. And, in that, there can be no higher tribute.