Last Night, I Took Hines Ward Back to His Hotel Room

What a sweet smile!

What a sweet smile!

Last night, I took Hines Edward Ward, Jr. back to his hotel room, but that’s jumping ahead in the story. Let me back up.

Every year the York County Youth Development Center (YDC) holds their annual fundraiser and secures a speaker that will draw a crowd. This year the keynote speaker was professional football player for the Steelers from 1998 to 2012, winner of Dancing with the Stars in 2011, and current NBC studio analyst, Hines Ward.

My fiance Brian, Ward and I

My fiance Brian, Ward and I

The fundraiser began with a private meet and greet with Ward in the upstairs portion of York City’s Valencia Ballroom. There, fans were able to meet Ward, have their photo taken and get his autograph. Ward was gracious, chatting with individuals and never rushing anyone along in line.

Before dinner was served the audience heard from Mayor Kim Bracey, YDC director, Rodney Wagner, Secretary of the Department of Welfare, Beverly Mackereth, former YDC resident, Chris Wilhelm and art teacher at YDC, Ophilea Chambliss.

Kim Bracey Mayor of York City

Kim Bracey
Mayor of York City

Rodney Wagner Director of the York County Youth Development Center

Rodney Wagner
Director of the York County Youth Development Center

Beverly Mackenreth Secretary of The Department of Welfare

Beverly Mackereth
Secretary of The Department of Welfare

Chris Wilhelm Former YDC resident

Chris Wilhelm
Former YDC resident

Ophelia Chambliss Art instructor at YDC

Ophelia Chambliss
Art instructor at YDC

Wilhelm gave a moving speech about his life and experiences at YDC. At 13 years old, he found himself kicked out of his father’s home with nowhere to live. He was taken in at YDC for his first of many stays at the center. He is the first and only child that ever rode his bicycle to and from his part time job while residing at YDC. At twenty years old and nearly at the age where kids max out for assistance at YDC, Wilhelm began experiencing pain in his ankle and thought he had sprained it playing basketball with other YDC residents. In the middle of a vicious snowstorm in 2010, Chris called for an ambulance to pick him up. After many tests, the doctors told Chris it wasn’t a sprained ankle, it was cancer and if he wanted to live longer than two more years, he would need to have his leg amputated from below the knee down.

Wilhelm

Wilhelm

Chris wanted to live and went forward with the surgery, meanwhile the youth residents raised money to help pay for his medical bills, something Chris will never forget and can’t thank them enough for doing. Now he is going to school to be an EMT so that someday when someone calls for an ambulance in the middle of a snowstorm, he will be the one to answer the call. Chris received a standing ovation following his speech, touching the heart of every person in the audience with his bravery and perseverance.

YDC Streetbeats

YDC Streetbeats

2014-09-23 19.20.24

YDC Streetbeats were a hit with the crowd.

YDC Streetbeats were a hit with the crowd.

Following dinner, the YDC Streetbeats performed their junkyard drumming. The audience loved the driving beat and I overheard people stating how amazing it was to make music from five gallon buckets and frying pans. The kids were nervous before going onstage before nearly 400 people, but once they began playing they got their groove on and all nervousness was beaten away.

2014-09-23 19.25.40

2014-09-23 19.28.20

Finally it was time for Ward to speak. He was nattily dressed and looking very handsome. He took his place behind the podium and everyone was ready to hang on his every word. He began by giving his background, born in Seoul, South Korea, to a Korean mother and an African American father and the difficulties that alone brought into his life. The American children didn’t want anything to do with him and neither did the Korean. His father divorced his mother when Ward was 2 years old and he was sent to live with his paternal grandmother after his father convinced the courts that his mother was unfit to raise him on her own. Ward Sr. was not involved in his son’s life other than to tear him from his mother. At age 7 he was reunited with her and never reconciled with his father. This portion of Wards speech really touched me on a personal level. It was at that point that I suddenly wanted to privately talk to Ward, and I knew I could make that happen because I was riding in the car that was taking him back to his hotel room. Call it luck, or call it fate, I was going to chat with Ward and tell him how I could relate to his story.

Dancing at the Valencia

Dancing at the Valencia

Huge fans  Samantha & Sherry Ward

Huge fans
Samantha & Sherry Ward

Ward spoke for 45 minutes, taking the time for a question and answer session following his speech and even allowing people to come up on stage for a dance pose and photos. I couldn’t get over how genuine a person Ward was and how well he handled the audience questions. He was asked anything from his most memorable play to why people referred to him as a dirty player. Also the topic of domestic violence came up, all which he answered with insight and honesty. When he finished with the last question he was ushered out the back door of the Valencia and next thing I knew, I had my private moment to chat with the man that had my friends extremely jealous of me.

First thing I said was how his story as a child really touched me personally. He smiled and I told him how I had been involved in a long divorce and that my ex-husband had been given majority physical custody of our daughter because he was still living in the marital home. In 2010 I was on state assistance for food and medical insurance and decided to go to college. I graduated in May and now have a great job and two weeks ago I took my now ex-husband to court, representing myself and was awarded joint custody. My daughter, now 8 years old, will spend a week with her father and a week with my fiancé Brian (a supervisor at YDC) and me.

I said, “I know people came to hear you talk about football and Dancing with the Stars, but honestly, your personal story is what really made the biggest impact on me.” He thanked me for sharing my story and said, “I want people to relate to me and my story. You could have just given up when you were going through the divorce and needed assistance from the state but you didn’t. You pushed for more and used the system for how it was intended. You persevered through adversity and made your life better instead of throwing your hands up in the air in defeat. That’s what I want people to get from my story. I don’t expect people to recognize me on the street. I don’t think of myself as a celebrity. I’m just a guy who had a rough childhood but was determined to be successful at football and I made it happen. Too many kids think things should just be given to them and they don’t want to work. The young man who spoke tonight, that’s the type of kid I want to help by doing events like this. He got cancer and didn’t let it stop him.”

I agreed with Ward and mentioned that I had gone to India with my college, seeing and experiencing the poverty and nearly unbelievable living conditions. When I came home I spoke at YDC, sharing what I had seen and learned and the youth at the center were very interested in my story. Ward said growing up in South Korea as a child he had to make the decision to do the right thing and live a clean life or turn to drugs and fighting. He said some kids never get the opportunity to see how other horrible the conditions are for those living outside the USA and that’s a shame. Maybe seeing how bad others have life would make them strive to better their own as they have many more opportunities in the U.S. than outside. Ward, who is a newlywed as of July this year, feels blessed. He has a supportive wife who misses him when he travels, but understands the demands of his speaking engagements. He loved his time with the Steelers and gained a whole new fan base participating in Dancing with the Starts. I asked him if he would appear on The Amazing Race if asked and he said he would love to. At this point his promoter spoke for the first time saying they had been approached, but because The Amazing Race broadcasts on a competing station they were unable to accept. I said, “Awww, that’s a shame! It would be great to get to travel around the world but it would be hard because you’d want to take in the sights even though it is a race.” Ward replied, “I took in the sights when I was in the Ironman competition, but I also realized I wasn’t going to win that. If I was in The Amazing Race the competitive side of me would kick in and I wouldn’t want to even sleep. I’d be too focused on taking first place, but I’d still take the time to look around as I raced.”

The trip from the Valencia to the Marriott went quickly and before I knew it, my private chat with Ward had come to an end. I had accomplished my goal, to let him know it was his personal story that made the biggest impact on me that night, not how many Pro Bowls he had been in or how many touchdowns he made or even how nimble a dancer he is. He genuinely seemed to appreciate that my interest in his life had nothing to do with his fame and I think that is what makes Ward such a likeable guy. His life wasn’t about becoming famous; it was about overcoming adversity and coming out on top.

It was great to support YDC and meet Hines Ward. A win, win for everyone!

~P.

Supporters of YDC

Supporters of YDC

Silent auction items

Silent auction items

 

Go ahead...take a swing. I'll duck and listen.

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