Ripken Gala honors difference-makers

Foundation honors sports figures for good works

February 13, 2010|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Art Modell and Joe Ehrmann were honored Friday night as part of the sixth annual Aspire Charity Gala, put on by the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation to recognize those whose "work has made a difference in the lives of others."

"We look for worthy candidates, and when Jackie's name was brought up, we just thought she was perfect," Cal Ripken Jr. said.

The foundation is a nonprofit organization that "works throughout the country with Boys & Girls Clubs, Police Athletic League centers, inner-city schools and other organizations serving America's most distressed communities," according to its Web site.

"When I was approached, I knew of all the great work the Ripken family was doing," said Joyner-Kersee, a three-time Olympic gold medalist in track and field who works with her own foundation to provide opportunities for kids in her native St. Louis. "I was just honored to be selected. I've been teaching, coaching and just trying to inspire kids to be the best they can be."

Modell, the Ravens' former majority owner, was presented with the Charles M. Cawley Legacy Award in recognition of the millions of dollars he and his wife Patricia have donated to various charities, including the SEED School, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Kennedy Krieger Institute, St. Vincent's Center and the House of Ruth.

Ehrmann, a former Baltimore Colt who played in the NFL for 13 years, was the subject of the best-selling book "Season of Life" by Jeffrey Marx. It chronicles the life lessons Ehrmann tries to impart to football players at Gilman, where he is an assistant coach.

The gala, which brought nearly 700 guests to the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel, featured a silent auction for signed baseballs from Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Brooks Robinson, signed jerseys by cyclist Lance Armstrong and Washington Capital Alex Ovechkin ,and a Sports Illustrated cover signed by Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.

The foundation's past honorees include football coach Lou Holtz, baseball Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Earl Weaver and Tony Gwynn, AOL founder Steve Case, Priceline co-founder Jord Poster, Manning and Tim Russert, the late host of NBC's "Meet the Press." The event is the most successful fundraiser the foundation holds each year. In 2009, it raised $1.3 million.

"Over the past few years, we've gathered quite a bit of momentum," said Bill Ripken, former Orioles second baseman and the foundation's vice chairman. "The places we're getting into, the cities, I could have never thought when we came up with this idea that we would be to a point where we are right now. So it's almost overwhelming and amazing to see all these people here. Even though we've grown to a certain point, we still haven't lost sight as to what it's about, and it's about giving kids a chance."

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