WESTFIELD - It is not every day you see a former National Football League player carry a teacher and two students on his back. Shawn Harper did just that, plus rip a phone book in half during an assembly at Westfield Academy and Central School.
Harper is part of Champions For Today lecture series which looks to motivate youth during critical times in their lives. He spoke of the challenges he has gone through in his sports career while giving the students the message to always have confidence and follow your dreams.
Harper told students his story of his high school experiences with his wrestling team. He told students he had an embarrassing accident during his first varsity wrestling match. Following the incident, Harper didn't want to return to the match but his coach insisted.
OBSERVER Photo by Samantha McDonnell
Former NFL player and motivational speaker Shawn Harper (far right) carries special education teacher Marty Oakes on his back during an assembly at Westfield Academy and Central School to show involvement with drugs can be a heavy burden. Also pictured are two students on the left.
"He said, 'Harper, what is the difference between a chunk of coal and a diamond? ... Harper, would you believe me if I told you that it's virtually the same rock. ... Heat and pressure is applied to that rock and over time it transforms ... itself into a rare and priceless diamond,'" Harper explained. "No pressure, no diamond."
Harper told students everyone has to deal with pressure but it is a choice whether to let the pressure break them or to fight through it. He noted famous examples of Martin Luther King Jr. facing racism, Amelia Earhart facing sexism and Nelson Mandela facing apartheid and overcoming the pressure.
"Ordinary people doing extraordinary things because they have a different perspective of pressure," he said. "Adversity will break you ... but it also could make you a record breaker. The difference is perspective."
He also touched on bullying and other problems young students may face such as divorce. Harper asked the students to seek help or someone to talk to if they are going through problems. He also encouraged students to not be ashamed to ask for help or someone to talk to.
"Hurt, bitterness and anger always destroys the container it is held in. Don't let that pressure break you. Let that pressure make you," Harper said.
Harper overcame many academic struggles including repeating the first grade, having four learning disabilities and being kicked out of two schools for behavioral issues. He had a dream of playing in the NFL and was told he would never achieve that dream by his peers. His friends, he said, would support him if he wanted to drink or use drugs however.
Harper went to junior college in Mason City, Iowa where he played football. He sat on the bench the entire first season. When he wanted to quit, his mother encouraged him to stay another year. Harper said he practiced football drills every day and eventually got a full scholarship to Indiana Univ-ersity. He was later picked third in the fourth round of the NFL Draft for the LA Rams. Later he played for the Houston Oilers and Indianapolis Colts.
"Sometimes when you have no one to believe in you, you have to believe in yourself," Harper said, speaking of advice a teacher gave him.
Harper said his biggest accomplishment was graduating from Indiana University as a double major. He told the students in order to achieve their dreams they have to have a choice in life and have a vision.
"You're not born winners. You're not born losers. You're born choosers," he said.
He told students to "lock on to their dreams and triangulate their vision." Students should not do anything to get off the path of that vision, including getting involved with alcohol and drugs. Harper told students about his friend, Troy, who had a scholarship for basketball but got into drugs. He said the problem was easy at first but got heavier as he went on.
"You can have all the focus ... but start making wrong choices, it will destroy your dream, and ultimately destroy you," Harper said.
To illustrate the problem as easy then getting harder, Harper took a sixth-grade student and picked him up on his back. Next, he put a senior on his back to show the problem was getting heavier to maintain. Finally, he put Special Education teacher Marty Oakes on his back to show Troy's problem was eventually too much. Troy is currently sentenced to 25 years in prison for burglary, Harper said.
"This is very important why we start with the end in mind. Nobody starts out ... trying drugs for the first time (saying) 'When I'm 25, I'm going to be in rehab,'" Harper said.
Secondary School Principal Ivana Hite was approached by the Rev. David Herr of Lighthouse Christian Fellowship in Westfield during summer to have Harper speak. She thought it was a great idea but could not afford to pay Harper with budget cuts at the school.
"(Harper) agreed to speak at three schools and to split the costs," Hite said. "(Harper) was really great."
Harper also gave presentations at Brocton Central School and Ripley Central School and held a community rally later in the evening.
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