Taking a stand against youth violence


St. Ignatius running back Kevin Johson was one of the first Wildcats players to get involved in combating youth violence

On Sept. 5, Cleveland Rhodes senior Justin Winemiller was brutally beaten by a group of teens while walking home on the Westside of the city.

The Cleveland St. Ignatius football team has fought back – in its own way.

At Cleveland St. Ignatius, as is the case at all Jesuit
educational institutions, the maxim  ‘Men for Others’ or ‘Men and Women for
Others’ is more than a motto – it is a mission statement of service to those in

And following a recent violent incident involving a
Cleveland-area teen, several Ignatius football players decided it was their mission to stand up against youth violence.

On Sept. 5, Cleveland Rhodes senior Justin Winemiller was
brutally beaten by a group of teens on the Westside of the city. Winemiller suffered a broken jaw and was forced to have it wired shut to heal properly.

Ignatius senior running back Christian Sanders approached
Wildcats defensive backs coach Tyrone White about what could be done. White, who authored the book Parenting a Winner: Eight Proven Strategies to Help Your Child Win in Sports and in Life, is an authority
on youth violence prevention programs and trains professionals that work with
young people.

“(Sanders) came to me and said the things that are
happening to young people are just tragic and we need to do something to stop
it,” said White, a 14-year veteran of the Ignatius coaching staff. “I asked him
if he meant it when he said that to me. He said he did and I asked him if he
would be willing to roll up his sleeves and make a stand and he said he was.

“That is how it started. It was not my initiative. I have
just supported them in something they are passionate about.”

White put Sanders and senior running back and Louisville recruit Kevin Johnson,
senior defensive back Markus Primes, junior linebacker Ryan Gibbons and junior
running back Robert Grebenc in touch with the service organization Rotary

In conjunction with Rotary International, the players gave
a presentation to Whitney Young High School in Cleveland on youth

Then they turned their attention to Winemiller.

More Ignatius players and students joined the cause raising money for
Winemiller and presenting him with some Ignatius football gear last week. He was also the
guest of honor at last week’s 49-20 win over Inkster (Mich.).

Prior to the game, both teams held a moment of silence and
the Ignatius players presented Winemiller the game ball after the win.

Ignatius head coach Chuck Kyle, a 27-year veteran at the
helm of the Wildcats and an Ignatius alum, was in full support of his players’
actions, according to White.

“I have to give all credit to Chuck Kyle,” White said.
“When the players brought this idea to him, he did not back up at all and was
full-throttle about it.”

But in the wake of the celebration last Saturday, news
broke early Sunday morning that University of Connecticut cornerback back Jasper
Howard had been stabbed to death in an altercation after an on-campus dance, according to the Associated Press report.

Howard, 20, was an expectant father.  

“(His death) just furthered fueled our passion to speak out
against this so that people are working within their communities to sensitize
people,” White said. “I feel like we have been desensitized with all the violent
rhetoric, violent music and violent movies.”

The Connecticut players will wear decals on their helmets
with Howard’s initials on them for this week’s game against West Virginia and
the Mountaineers will wear decals dawning Howards No. 6. There will also be a
moment of silence before the game.

Ignatius, ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 22 in the country by USA Today, will follow suit.

Jesuit counterpart Cincinnati St. Xavier is set to travel to Cleveland this week to play Ignatius for the annual rivalry matchup and both the teams will
honor a moment of silence for the families and victims of youth violence before the game as well. The players will also wear No. 6
decals, donated by Rotary International, on their helmets.

“I think it’s important that any young man that plays the
game of football realizes it’s just a game,” St. Xavier head coach Steve Specht
said. “I think we teach a lot of values and it’s about competing and
understanding we’re part of something bigger than ourselves.”

Inkster quarterback Devin Garner, a Michigan recruit, has taken the mission across state borders by lobbying to get the Wolverines to wear the helmet decals this week against Penn
State, according to White, and the movement is beginning to gain national attention as ABC’s Good Morning America and ESPN have contacted Ignatius, according to White.

The Ignatius players have two more presentations planned in the Cleveland area for November.

“By spearheading an effort like Ignatius is doing, it goes
to show there are more important things in the world than the game of football.”

Steve Specht (left) and
Chuck Kyle coached the United States to a gold medal last summer

Specht and Kyle coached together last summer in the
football Junior World Championship winning a gold medal for the United States.
Specht, who has won two Division I state titles at St. Xavier, was the defensive
coordinator and Kyle, who has won an unprecedented 10 state titles, was the head

“If I learned anything from Coach Kyle this summer, it’s a
game played for kids,” Specht said. “We’d rather take a backseat and we want it to be
about the kids.”

Ignatius (8-0) and St. Xavier (7-1) have won the last two
Division I state championships but Specht understands the similarities between
the two schools extends far beyond the lines of competition.

Similarities that are deeply rooted in the vocation upon
which both institutions were founded – as evidenced by the efforts planned to
raise awareness for youth violence at this weekend’s game and in the future. 

“We’re both preaching the same mission,” said Specht. “The
kids are being taught the same things, they believe in the same things, the core
values are the same and we’ve both been successful in the past and that makes it
so much more refreshing.”

St. Xavier is ranked No. 5 in the state and No. 12 in the country by USA Today.

“We want to bang heads on the playing field and we’re going
to work like heck to beat each other up in the football game but, ultimately,
that is not why we’re here. We’re here to serve others and do better things for
the community.

“There aren’t going to be any cheap shots and there isn’t
going to be any taunting on the field. It will be a clean, hard-played football
game as they always are. After the game, our kids are going to shake hands with each other win
or lose.

“It has always been like that and I am really looking forward to it.”


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