Thursday, February 07, 2002

Potential brought into focus

Guardians help UC-bound Vample

        Someone had to save him. Thin, sad-eyed kid, always staring at his feet, never smiling, drifting through his days saying and thinking, “whatever.” Nice kid, they all said. No trouble. But poor student, couldn't focus, didn't care, had no one behind him nudging his aspirations.

        “We had to give him a little push,” says his aunt, Sylvia Bailey.

        “I gave him a big shove,” says her husband, Brad.

        Someone had to save Charlie Vample. “He'd been through some bad stuff,” Sylvia says. She requests those details be omitted, and so be it. Lots of kids come from jumbled families and it messes them up forever. That could have been Charlie Vample, but for the Baileys, who became his legal guardians.

        If they didn't save Charlie's life, they bent it 90 degrees, so now it points to the sky.

        At noon Wednesday, he sits at a long conference table in the media center at Reading High, a fine young man in a red, collared shirt and matching tie. With the pen in his right hand, Charlie signs a letter of intent to play football at the University of Cincinnati.

        “Done deal?” asks Pete Muehlenkamp, the Reading athletic director. Charlie looks up, puts the pen down. Smiles. Done deal. Sylvia Bailey starts to cry.

        Usually, we think not much of the NCAA, its hypocrisy and its oversized book of silly rules, but not Wednesday, signing day for high school football players.

        On this day, the schools of the NCAA give away a priceless opportunity to lots of kids who might not get it otherwise. Charlie Vample, saved and redeemed, now gets an education's chance.

        “He's on his way now, boy,” says Brad Bailey.

        Talk to enough kids, you realize they're the same in most respects. Love them, respect them, discipline them, show them the way and you won't be disappointed. The Baileys took in Charlie before his sophomore year at Deer Park High, where he was going nowhere.

        “One of those borderline kids,” says Mike Morgan, now the AD at Anderson, who was Charlie's coach and science teacher at Deer Park. “Could have gone either way academically.”

        He'd have gone politely, though, says Morgan. “Charlie was always yes-sir, no-sir.”

        Charlie would spend weekends in Reading with the Baileys. When things got rough, they took him in. Eventually, they made it legal. It wasn't immediately successful.

        “I'm not going back there,” Charlie said of Reading High, every day for at least the first week of his sophomore year.

        “I believe you are,” said Brad.

        The Baileys had rules. They were strict. They kept Charlie from playing basketball even when he was eligible. His grades weren't good enough for their standards.

        They made him do his own laundry, cut the grass, clean house. “Everyone has to have a program. He had no program,” says Brad.

        “He had a curfew. He didn't come home, he didn't call, I went out and got him. We butted heads. I always told him, "My head's harder than yours,'” Brad Bailey says.

        Charlie thrived. Bailey, father of five, himself from a Lincoln Heights family of 16 kids, figured he might. “He knew he had some people he could depend on, probably for the first time in his life.”

        Reading coach Ken Minor took one look at Vample in summer practice and knew Charlie was special. Last year, every time Minor sent a tape of his stud running back, DeShawn Wynn, to a college recruiter, he sent a note along with it: “Take a look at Number One, the receiver. He's Division I material, too.”

        Minor helped Charlie with other things when the recruiters came to Reading: eye contact, firm handshakes, grace. The rest Charlie did himself. Kids can be blessed with parents or guardians who make them feel secure. At some point, they need to reach for their own sky.

        There were lots of Charlie Vamples out there Wednesday, good kids rescued from the pile by people who cared. Now the NCAA is giving them a priceless education, for free.

        “We gave Charlie the right tools,” says Brad. “Does he know how to use them? Ask him.”

        Charlie is asked.

        “Yes, sir,” he says.

        “We gave him a chance,” Sylvia Bailey says. “That's all we did.”

        Charlie Vample, UC's newest wide receiver, is posing for pictures, cradling a football in his right arm. All smiles now.

        “Proudest moment of my life,” Brad Bailey says.

        Contact Paul Daugherty at 768-8454; fax: 768-8550; e-mail:


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Roundup: Ohio boys basketball