Congressman, former coach try to influence game of life

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comFebruary 28, 2012 

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U.S. Rep. Tim Scott says faith turned his life around on Sept. 22, 1983.

But the seeds of change were planted much earlier by his mother, a divorced nursing assistant who raised two boys while working 16-hour days.

"My mama planted the seed," Scott said at a banquet on Hilton Head Island last week. "She had to beat it into the soil. She had to use the switch and the Bible."

Scott said a coach associated with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes brought the seed to life when he was a freshman football player at Presbyterian College.

That kind of thing can do more to turn the country around than politicians can, Scott said at the fundraising banquet for the local FCA chapter.

Les Steckel, the organization's national president and CEO, said young people crave the stability the future congressman found.

Steckel told a full house at the Sea Pines Country Club that because he's on the road 200 days a year, he's often asked what he sees in America's youth.

He said they want "the three A's -- attention, affirmation and affection."

They're looking for heroes.

"They're seeking the truth," he told me after his keynote address. "They're seeking purpose and meaning in life. They're struggling. So many are from broken homes. There's so much alcohol and drugs, and peer pressure to be accepted. Everyone wants to belong to something."

Many of them -- 44 million Americans between the ages of 8 and 18 -- belong to school or community-based athletic teams, the FCA says.

Steckel believes the two most powerful words spoken are, "Coach says."

He used football to take his life beyond the steel mills of home in Pennsylvania. He's a Marine Corps veteran and Golden Gloves champion who was a college football player and coach before becoming the youngest head coach in the NFL in 1984.

His return visit to the island, where in 2005 he was named leader of FCA, was to boost its South Coastal chapter. Its staff of two is attempting to touch the lives of 20,000 students in 28 schools in Beaufort, Jasper and Hampton counties.

Steckel reports growth nationally -- from 600 employees when he started to almost 1,000 today. He said new area director Paul Cifaldi, area representative Aaron Bush and board chairman Mike Brock need more help in influencing the game of life.

Steckel said he's often reminded he could be making $1 million to $2 million a year on an NFL coaching staff.

"My answer is, 'You're in the win-and-lose business every Sunday. I'm in the life and death business every day.' "

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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