Get an education and work hard, and some day you could end up running the New York Giants.
That was the message of Jerry Reese, who spoke to a group of about 20 Schenectady middle school students on Thursday at Giants’ training camp at the University at Albany.
Reese said he grew up in a small town in Tennessee in a single-parent family. He was a star quarterback on his high school state championship team. He then played football at a small college. He said he learned leadership skills.
“I still use those skills now as the general manager of the New York Giants — the World Champion New York Giants,” he said.
He said he was not a great student, but a “try-hard student” and he obtained a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education and a master’s degree in educational administration. He said life can be very difficult without an education.
“You close so many doors,” he said.
He worked as a football coach for the University of Tennessee at Martin. In 1994, he started with the Giants as a scout and then moved up through the ranks to become the first black general manager in Giants’ history and only the third black general manager in the National Football League.
The students also got to meet two members of the Giants’ marketing team.
Public relations manager Avis Roper said his office is the contact point for the community.
“Everything you read in the newspaper, hear on the radio, see on the TV, goes through our department,” he said, referring to official Giants’ publicity.
He loved football growing up. However, when he got to high school, he realized it was not going to be a career for him.
“I realized there were kids much faster, much stronger, much better than I was,” he said.
He realized that he could not get by with just playing sports and he had to improve his grades, which he urged others to do. “No employer is going to think of you if there is somebody they can take that has better grades,” he said.
Ethan Medley, assistant director of community relations, said a guidance counselor took him under his wing and said that he had an interest in sports and said he should consider a career in the field.
After meeting with front-office officials, the children got to stay and watch practice. The visit to the camp was part of the Schenectady City School District’s “Little Patriots’ ” Sport Education camp.
This is the second year for the program, which allows summer school students the opportunity to learn various aspects of sports careers including score keeping, officiating, facility management and sports journalism.
Physical education instructor Maurice “Bud” Watson, who is the site manager for the program, said they are averaging about 20 students per day.
Watson said many of these summer school students take part in classes in the morning. In the afternoon, they do a variety of activities including tutoring sessions, swimming lessons at the Schenectady High School pool and hearing guest speakers about sports officiating and management.
“We had a basketball referee come in and teach the students how to officiate a basketball game,” he said.
They also take field trips. Watson said they have visited the Times Union Center to see the preparations for an Albany Conquest arenafootball2 game and met the staff. They also got to see a Tri-City ValleyCats minor league baseball game.
The students also take notes about their activities so they can write it up for their newsletter to learn about sports journalism.
Twelve-year-old Jerome Jackson, who is going into eighth grade this year, said he is enjoying the program. “I’m learning about how to do basketball, football, baseball. Coming to the Giants is kind of amazing,” he said.
Tykim Smith, 14, who is going into ninth grade, said he enjoys all the activities in the program.
“I got to meet the owner of the Albany Conquest,” he said.
He had previously failed classes and he said his grades have improved. Smith has ambitious goals. “I want to own my own team,” he said.
Eighth-grader Mahogany Gadson, 13, said she also enjoyed going to the Conquest game and being able to go on the field and get some autographs.
The program is funded by a federal 21st Century Community Learning Center grant and is run in partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Schenectady. Watson said the grant runs out next year, but the district is reapplying and he hoped they would get funded again.
Watson said this after-school program is good because it touches on so many subjects, for example writing with their sports reports; or science by learning about how they make ice in the Times Union Center.
He likened it to a Chinese buffet.
“It’s a little bit of everything … the students are learning but they don’t even realize they’re learning,” he said.