Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Former 49er great inspires the boys at Orin Allen Youth Rehabilitation Facility

Mr. Cacciaroni (left) with Keena Turner.
As he stood alone, in front of an audience of 100 boys at the Orin Allen Youth Rehabilitation Facility, quietly nodding and smiling back to the audience who were settling into their chairs, former San Francisco 49er football star Keena Turner patiently waited for his introduction.  These moments of anticipation were followed by an impressive hour and a half of speaker and audience engagement.  This past Tuesday’s presentation was so successful, everyone was shocked by how fast the time flew by.

Now at age 53, Turner still looked like he could make the key tackles on Sundays like he did back in the 1980s.  Though speaking in a gentle and positive manner, it was obvious his words meant quite a bit to the young men, as well as the facility’s attending guards, teachers, and administrators.  The former All-Pro linebacker told the boys, “Life is about chasing goals, and I know many of you have goals right now, here in this facility.  Just remember, there will be challenges that act as roadblocks to you achieving your positive goals, but you need to break through them.  You are all at the beginning of your life journey, and that journey starts with you—right now.”

Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE) teacher Allan “Mr. C” Cacciaroni, who teaches at Delta Vista High School, a CCCOE school that provides state-accredited education to the resident youth inside the rehabilitation facility, brought Turner out to give the boys the inspirational presentation.  “The boys really love hearing from these speakers.”  It was obvious, the way Turner had the entire audience’s attention.  “They showed Mr. Turner lots of respect by listening so intently.”  Through the years, “Mr. C” has brought in additional inspirational presenters to speak to the boys, including other grid-iron greats, such as Ronnie Lott, Eason Ramson, and Bennie Blades. 

Turner, who earned four Super Bowl rings during his eleven seasons with the 49ers, was kind enough to hand out two of them for all the boys to hold, try on, and marvel at.  “I am very happy to have those rings and other accolades that my team and I accomplished, but I’m more proud of the college degree I earned,” said Turner.  Before his pro career, Turner attended Perdue University, where he majored in physical education – though he did not finish his degree.  “After my playing days, I went straight back to college, and earned my BS degree in organizational behavior, at the University of San Francisco.  “Let me tell you guys, I keep my Super Bowl rings in my sock drawer, but I have my college diploma hanging up on a wall in my house.”

Turner talked about his current life: father of three, an active volunteer for the Boys & Girls Club, and his job as vice president of football affairs with the San Francisco 49ers.  He also talked about his younger days, before the 49ers, his childhood, high school football, growing up in Chicago, and attending Perdue University.

Throughout the majority of the morning, Turner answered numerous diverse questions: How much money did he make while playing?  Who was the hardest hitter on the team? Did he get in trouble as a young man?  Who was the most difficult player to tackle?  Did he do drugs?  Was he related to Tina Turner?  It was interesting how many questions were asked about players that Turner played with or against whose careers were well over before these young men were even born.

Before leaving, Turner reminded the boys to set and achieve their goals for a better life, and to start their positive journeys immediately.  It was certainly heartening to the popular speaker as many of the boys nodded back in agreement.