Saturday, May 29, 1999

Breeden turns out to be extra cool for school

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Louis Breeden made his confession on one condition. No one is supposed to tell his dad about the day he cut class in high school.

        It was one day, and it was one class, and it was a very long time ago. Yet the former Bengals cornerback is still not sure how well the old man might take the news.

        “I didn't have perfect attendance,” Breeden said Friday morning, “but you had to be sick and almost dying with my parents if you weren't going to school. I skipped one class in my entire life and I didn't enjoy it, because I was afraid my father would find out.”

        Breeden bagged American history one morning at Hamlet (N.C.) High School on account of the munchies, and the memory still gnaws at him more than a quarter of a century later. From an early age, he has understood the value of education and the consequences of slackerhood. Breeden's post-football success is surely attributable in large part to the premium his parents placed on schooling.

        The difference between a useful life and a wasted one often can be traced to a child's tendency toward truancy and the amount of pressure parents apply to prevent it. Where parents are negligent, overmatched or invisible, it's nice to know people like Louis Breeden are prepared to pick up the ball and run.

Sparkling results
        Breeden and Isaac Curtis, the retired pass receiver, will stage their ninth annual charity golf tournament June 7 at Kings Island. Beneficiaries include the United Negro College Fund, the Cincinnati Scholarship Fund, and, primarily, Rothenberg Elementary School in Over-the-Rhine.

        More than $1 million has been raised by this event, which is sponsored by Bigg's and funded largely by store suppliers eager to share tee times with sports celebrities. Yet even more impressive has been the tournament's impact on Rothenberg's at-risk student body.

        Children formerly cast adrift are being systematically reclaimed because tournament proceeds pay the salary of a case manager, underwrite a mentoring program and provide tangible incentives for students to show up. Attendance has risen at a remarkable rate, from 84 percent to better than 91 percent. Because of an inspired suggestion by Joe Meurer of Bigg's, 13 students are still eligible to win new bicycles as a reward for perfect attendance.

        “Right now we're looking for a lesser prize for no more than two days' absence,” said Sephira Bailey Robinson, the principal. “I had a mother in just the other day whose daughters had missed two days because of a funeral, and she was pleading for the bicycles. I had one student whose parents moved and they just had to have her to help. We had some who lost out to the flu.”

        A new bicycle is always a big deal, but the Rothenberg program also has seen to such basic needs as hats and mittens and school supplies. In October, Bigg's and Family Service collected alarm clocks to help eliminate another excuse for tardiness at Rothenberg.

        Some people — bless their hearts — like to throw money at worthy causes. Others take their charity work to the next level, wrestling with real issues on behalf of real people. The Rothenberg Attendance Program shows directed dollars get results.

Charity begins at home
        Originally, the United Negro College Fund was the sole beneficiary of the Biggs' Curtis-Breeden Celebrity Classic. Later, the founders decided to make their largesse more local.

        In casting about for an appropriate cause, Breeden, Curtis and Bigg's sought the advice of Retired Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge David Grossman. Grossman said the best way to do battle with the dropout rate was to engage students early. Rothenberg Elementary on Clifton Avenue was deemed a good place to start.

        The money has been put to many good uses, encouraging students to show up and making Rothenberg a more inviting environment. The school's auditorium has been extensively refurbished. One day, Breeden appeared with a $6,800 check to replace the school's battered piano.

        His dad should be proud, American history notwithstanding.

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your e-mail at


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