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Watkins Athletes Excel in Classroom and on Field!

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By Leland Stein III

Far too often African-American youth that achieve mightily in the classroom and o­n the athletic fields are not recognized for their efforts.

I'm not saying it is intentional, but it does appear that way.

Yes, we in Detroit, especially the Detroit Public School League (PSL), are always reminded of the things we do not do right and the obvious ills that affect our youth, and for that matter youth in every urban city in America.

Have no fear though, there is a civic minded organization - the National Alliance of African American Athletes (NAAAA) - that has stated as o­ne of its missions: "We endeavor to bring balance to what appears to many to be a negative slant in relation to covering African-American student athletes."

The NAAAA saw a need to project a different and positive image of our youth in athletics. The Alliance founders set out to recognize outstanding achievement in athletics, academics and community service by an African American male high school senior athlete.

The coveted Franklin D. Watkins Memorial Trophy Award, which was first awarded in 1992, is the NAAAA's signature event. It has become the premier African-American high school scholar/athlete award in America and each year - primarily through the Black media - it has taken o­n added stature and significance.

Not o­nly are the Watkins men All-America athletes, they all have a 3.5 GPA or higher.

Through a national selection process of over a hundred youth, the Watkins award winners are paired down to a Final Five. o­n February 24 and 25, 2006 at the Beverly Hills Crowne Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, California, the new collection of Watkins Award winners will be feted.

Oh yeah, the media highlight and revel in African-American males leading their universities to national recognition and BCS bowl games. Many gain fame and notoriety for their athletic prowess, and that is fine, but the same zeal in reporting should also be extended to those that excel in the classroom and o­n the fields of play, too.

The Alliance, a non-profit organization, was established in 1989 and boast an athlete advisory board consisting of the John Salley - Radio/TV Host, NBA Champion and the new Chairman of the Athletes Advisory Board, taking the place of the late-great NFL Hall of Famer Reggie White. Teyo Johnson, Raiders; Clyde Simmons, Eagles (Retired); Warren Moon, NFL (Retired) Chiefs and Oilers; Frank Thomas, White Sox; Mario Elie and Charlie Ward-NBA (retired) and others.
Watkins Award Alumni include: Darnell Dinkins, Ravens; Ronald Curry, Raiders; Robert Tate, Cardinals; Shane Battier, Memphis- NBA; Deryck Toles, Colts; Lorenzo Alexander, Panthers; Chris Lewis, Cardinals; La Var Arrington, Redskins; Grant Irons, Raiders; Nick Mattox, Panthers, and others.

Current Watkins Athletes are playing and achieving in the classroom at colleges like Texas (Justin Blalock), Stanford (JR Lemon, Michael Craven, Jason Evans, Emeka Nnoli, Allen Smith and Emeka Udofia), UCLA (Marcedes Lewis), Washington (Shelton Sampson), Tennessee (Cody Douglas), Georgia (Mohammed Massaquoi and Mario Riley), Florida State (Ernie Sims III), Virginia (Kai Parham), Duke (Vincent Oghabaase), Notre Dame (Darius Walker), Northwestern (Sam Cheatham), Ohio State (Ted Ginn Jr.) and Michigan (Douglas  Dutch).

Recently, when Michigan played Notre Dame, being a Board Member, I felt a strong sense of pride, when two of the Watkins award winners, sophomores Walker (Notre Dame) and Dutch, Jr. (U-M) lined up o­n the field.

"My faith is strong, my family is supportive," said Walker, who was a 4.0 student in high school and is the Irish's starting running back, "and my own determination with discipline has brought me to where I am today. Whether it is hard work in the classroom, running the football, playing against a hard opponent or serving my community; I put in the effort."

Added Dutch, who had 3.8 in high school and is now getting major playing time as the slot receiver: "It is important the people recognize our academics along with our athletic ability; I value education. Being in the Watkins Family it's a brotherhood, because we all have the same zest for education and athletics. I look around the country and I see our guys achieving and it's cool."

Walker noted that the reason the Watkins Award is so special is that it is the o­nly award he's "gotten from African-American males" and the NAAAA stressing academics makes the award "very special to him and his family."

Visit www.naaaa.com o­nline for more information.

Former Black Voice Sports Editor Leland Stein can be heard o­n 107.5 every Sunday from 11 p.m. to midnight in Detroit. He can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com.

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