April 16, 2014

Lasting Lessons In Character From The Pro Football Hall Of Fame

Maple Hill Students

Working in the education market has many, often unexpected, rewards. Not only can we have an impact on the next generation of our country, but we have a front-row seat to watch them develop. And we get to work with some truly innovative and inspiring partners along the way. The Heart of a Hall of Famer program is one such opportunity.

The purpose of The Heart of a HoFer, put on by the Pro Football Hall of Fame and sponsored by Extreme Networks, is to teach 7th-12th grade students important lessons about character, overcoming hardship, and achieving success in life. Each session is anchored by an iconic Hall of Famer and delivered interactively to an in-person student audience and also by video conference to several remote schools across the country.

At the start of the session, a Hall of Famer, such as Mel Blount, Thurman Thomas, Marv Levy, Andre Tippett, or Jan Stenerud, is introduced to the students as someone whose success was due to much than athletic skills alone. Their success required athleticism and talent, but more importantly, character. And character means trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.

Hall of Famer Charlie Joiner

Hall of Famer Charlie Joyner

Last Friday, Charlie Joyner spoke with students at Washington Schools, Hanford, CA; Maple Hill Middle School, Castleton, NY; Piedmont Elementary, Piedmont, AL; and Bridges Academy, Lemoore, CA. Whether participating in person or by video it was impossible not to be awed by the presence of a best-of-the-best HoFer like Joyner, who overcame adversity to achieve his accomplishments. Jerry Csaki, manager of youth programs at the HoF, began the session by noting Joyner’s amazing stats including 750 catches, 12,146 yards, and 65 touchdowns.

Joyner described to the kids how a football coach had fortuitously spotted him playing neighborhood football and encouraged him to join the high school team in Lake Charles, LA. This became his means to attend college, the first from his family to do so. When early in his career he broke his collar bone, he was left wondering if it was time to pursue his backup plan: accounting. Little did he know at the time that this would be his last football injury and that he would go on to have the longest career of any professional football player, 18 years.

How do you build and develop character? The key according to Joyner is finding a hero and role model, whether it be a parent, a coach, someone in town, or even a movie character. Joyner shared that one of his heroes is Johnny Depp – who is known for extensive dedicated preparation for every role.

Student at Walnut Creek School

Student at Walnut Creek School asks Marv Levy a question during Heart of a HoFer event.

Students at the participating schools are encouraged to ask questions, which also gives them a quick introduction to public speaking. For example, a Maple Hill Middle Schooler asked if there had ever been a time when Joyner had been told he wasn’t good enough. Indeed Joyner had been chided for being “too small”, but he took pride in proving those people wrong. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it,” he answered.

The HoFers like Charlie Joyner leave the students with parting lessons about facing hardships (“it will get better”), the importance of character (what is it, how you build it), and the importance of role models. To drive these points home, participating schools make use of HoF-provided worksheets and lesson plans.


CANTON, Ohio, April 15, 2014 — At 10:45 am, from a room at the Pro Football Hall of Fame and surrounded by football memorabilia, Jerry Csaki, host and master of ceremonies for the Heart of a Hall of Famer program, checks in with each of five schools participating in the day’s session (Loyola Academy, Wilmette, IL; Buckeye Trail Elementary School, Lore City, OH; Ford Middle School, Berea, OH; Rankin County Schools, Brandon, MS; and Walnut Creek Elementary School, Raleigh, NC). Moments later Jerry introduces Hall of Famer Marv Levy (four consecutive Super Bowls, 154-120 record, eight playoff appearances in 11 seasons). After brief introductory remarks, during which Levy shares some moments from his early career, the floor is turned over to the students who stand before a camera and bravely pose well-formulated questions to Levy, including, “How did you prepare differently after losing four consecutive Super Bowls?” (ouch). His answers are laced with words like “perseverance”, “work ethic”, and “preparation”. “It’s not so much the ‘will to win’ as it is the ‘will to prepare'”. How did you motivate your team members? “By carefully selecting well-motivated players for our team in the first place.”

Hall of Famer Marv Levy

Hall of Famer Marv Levy

During the course of the session, Marv shares behind-the-scenes anecdotes, poetry from his forthcoming book, imagery (walking up the tunnel into 0⁰ game-time weather), and personal philosophy to impart his message of character, honesty, resilience, and citizenship. To tie it all together and reinforce these messages, each school makes use of a follow-up lesson plan provided by the HoF. 

Jerry Csaki

Jerry Csaki (pronounced “Shockey”) does an outstanding job of overseeing the youth and educational programs at the hall and serves as the master of ceremonies for each Heart of a HoFer event.

Upcoming Heart of a Hall of Famer Program Schedule (more at Heart of a Hall of Famer site)


Andre TippettAt Hall of Fame


Jan StenerudKansas City School District


Mike HaynesSan Diego Community College District


James LoftonSan Diego Community College District
About The Contributor:
Bob NilssonDirector of Vertical Solutions Marketing

Bob Nilsson is the director of vertical solutions marketing at Extreme Networks. In this role, Mr. Nilsson leads the Extreme Networks strategy and programs for vertical markets including Healthcare, Higher Education, K-12 Education, Federal Government, and Hospitality. He has over 30 years of experience in marketing IT systems to Global 1000 companies worldwide. Before joining Extreme Networks Bob was VP Marketing at Clear Methods. Prior to that Bob held senior marketing positions at Digital Equipment and HP. Bob holds an SB degree in EE from MIT and MBA from Columbia Business School.

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