On March 6, 2020, retired NFL player Michael “Scooter” McGruder walked into Noble and then Oxford Elementary School in Cleveland Heights full of energy and enthusiasm. As part of NFL Tackles Reading in partnership with Church on the Heights and Reaching Heights, McGruder shared his story and encouraged students to dream big and take their education seriously.
“I grew up right here in Cleveland Heights like you,” McGruder explained to the young students, “I always dreamed of playing in the NFL and my dream came true.” Then he asked them, “Which one of you has a big dream? Who wants to be a doctor, a lawyer, a football player, or something else?”
He asked the students to lean in so he could share his “secrets” to success: 1) Read, read, read. Successful people are readers. 2) Surround yourself with people who will lift you up and won’t pull you down. 3) Don’t do drugs. People who get involved in illegal drugs lose all of their money. 4) Believe in yourself and dream big.
McGruder then read a short story about retired NFL player Dion Foxx from the book Tackle Reading by Kathryn Starke that described how Foxx overcame stuttering through practice and perseverance. To another group of students, he read, Dream Big: Michael Jordan and the Pursuit of Excellence written by Deloris Jordan, Michael Jordan’s mother. After reading each book, McGruder asked the students to share something they remembered from the story and he tied their comments back to his secrets of success.
He brought his jersey from playing in a Superbowl with the New England Patriots, footballs from the championship game, his collection of superbowl rings, and a few signed photos. Then he joined each group of students for a group photo. One young man walked away saying “This is a great day!”
He ended his engaging presentation by answering questions and finally said, “I graduated from Cleveland Heights High School and I got to play in the NFL like Jason and Travis Kelce who both played for teams that won a Super Bowl. The next successful person from Heights High could be you or you or you!”
Kevin Mc Intyre, Pastor of Church on the Heights, grew up with McGruder and invited him to visit these elementary schools located close to his church. “We played football together at Heights High and I followed his professional football career in Canada and the US.” Pastor Mc Intyre is also a member of the Board of Directors for the non-profit Reaching Heights which supports public education in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District.