Evanston’s Levy Center was hopping with young football fans.
They turned out to meet Chicago Bears’ safety Major Wright, who threw a pizza party to launch his “It’s the Wright Thing To Do” campaign.
The late-September event drew a capacity crowd and raised money for two local football teams, the High Ridge Chargers, and the Junior Wildkits.
“The money helps us put up a travel club,” said Chargers coach Tyrone Wilson, whose Rogers Park-based team draws kids ages 5-15 from Chicago, Evanston, and further north on the North Shore. “We’ve been lucky enough to win our conference for the past five years, but it costs about $800 per kid to travel to the national championships, and we take about 25 players.”
Wright brought along teammate and friend, wide receiver Johnny Knox.
“We hit it off real cool,” said Wright about Knox. “We’re both from down South. I took one look at him (Knox) and said, I can take this dude any time,” he laughed.
The two sat on stage and fielded questions from hundreds of kids – many of whom wanted to know how these two young men managed to succeed against tough odds, to make it as a professional athlete.
“People said I was too little to play ball,” said Knox, who is 6 feet tall and weighs 185 pounds. “But I stayed confident.”
“I was only the second person in my family to go to college,” said Wright. “I stayed focused and motivated myself. I’d ask my mom, why didn’t anyone else go to college in our family? In the end, it made me want to go harder.”
Wright wound up winning a national championship with the University of Florida Gators.
The men told the kids to do the little things right now: Do your homework. Go to class.
“If your grades aren’t right, you can’t play ball,” Knox told the kids.
“I hated studying, but my mom used to tell me, `Boy, get in there and get at your work. You don’t study, you don’t go to football practice,’” Wright said.
The kids answered questions about football to win autographed footballs, and certificates to Dave and Buster’s. There was even a dance contest that Major Wright participated in – and he just about brought down the house with his moves.
Jon Quel Bentley, an eighth grader from Chicago and defensive end for the Chargers, said “These guys are a big motivation for me, and are giving me the confidence to succeed.”