Former Ohio State Buckeyes Curt Lukens, Devin Jordan, and Brian Hartline talk at Jerzee's Sportss Grille in Jackson Township on Saturday, July 8, 2017. Jordan is President of "Beyond The Game" a charity that assists young student athletes and helps them understand that sports can be used as a platform towards achieving a higher education and reaching their potential as adults. (CantonRep.com / Scott Heckel)
Mike Doss, Brian Hartline, Chris “Beanie” Wells and other former Ohio State Buckeye football players signed autographs and took pictures with fans at a fundraiser at Jerzee’s Sports Grille on Dressler Road NW for a charity started by former Buckeye Devin Jordan to help finance the summer sports camps for local indigent youths.
JACKSON TWP Jeff and Jennifer Craddock may have been the luckiest Ohio State Buckeye football fans on Saturday.
Visiting family from out of town, they made a routine stop at Jerzee’s Sports Grille in the afternoon and stumbled onto an incredible surprise.
The sports bar at 5252 Dressler Road NW was hosting a charity fundraising event dubbed “A Day with the Buckeyes,” organized by former Buckeye and former Massillon Tiger wide receiver Devin Jordan to support young student-athletes, featuring appearances by several former Ohio State football players including former McKinley star Mike Doss, Brian Hartline of GlenOak and Chris “Beanie” Wells.
Jeff Craddock, a high school championship head football coach in Tarboro, N.C., said he had no idea in advance that the event was going to take place there. Then he said he saw former wideout Corey Brown. And former Buckeye player Nick Patterson was guest-tending bar.
Craddock, a native of Wayne County and a former University of Mount Union football player, happened to be wearing his red Ohio State cap and red Ohio State T-shirt where the word “THE” appears over a map of Ohio. He excitingly began mingling with the former players. Craddock said he coached current Ohio State standout and defensive end Tyquan Lewis, who played for him at Tarboro High School.
“Are you kidding me?” Craddock said he was thinking. “We were just coming in for a quick drink. ... my whole house is an Ohio State Buckeye shrine.”
Seeing a need
Jordan, a Walsh University assistant football coach, said he founded the not-for-profit Beyond the Game in March 2016 to help pay the expenses of Stark County-area underprivileged student-athletes, boys and girls, up to the age of high school seniors to attend sports camps including Walsh’s week of sports camps in the summer for grades K through 8. He said he realized while recruiting for Walsh that these children were having a difficult time coming up with the money to pay to attend the camps.
The camps often play a crucial role in getting the youths noticed by college coaches and increase their chances of being offered athletic scholarships.
“It’s one of your first chances to get your foot in the door to be seen by coaches,” said former Buckeye backup linebacker Grant Dziak, who also attended the event.
Jordan said before Saturday, Beyond the Game had raised $11,000 and had disbursed $2,600 in assistance for 76 student-athletes. For successful applicants who are high school juniors or seniors, they are required to have at least a 2.8 grade-point average or show sufficient academic improvement on top of four hours of community service. Jordan said his goal is to help 200 get funding for camps in 2018 and eventually help a thousand young students a year.
Jordan said his Massillon Tiger coach, who was then Rick Shepas, helped raise the money to get him to a football camp when his family was not in a position to afford it. He said he wanted to help the young student-athletes of today have the same chance.
“I want to make sure every kid has the opportunity and the resources to get to college just like I did,” Jordan said.
Organizing the event
Jordan asked former teammates and former Buckeye football players who’d played before and after, many who lived hours away, to attend and support the event. They all wore “Beyond the Game” t-shirts, which were being sold to benefit the charity.
Jerzee’s agreed to contribute 20 percent of food sales from “A Day with the Buckeyes,” plus all bartender tips from the event to the nonprofit. Ohio State memorabilia was sold in silent auctions with proceeds going to Beyond the Game in addition to a share of raffle proceeds also supporting the charity. Kenny Roda, the WHBC radio host, played master of ceremonies and helped run the auctions. Jordan said the goal was to raise $10,000 from “A Day with the Buckeyes,” but as of Saturday night said he had not yet heard from his treasurer whether the event had reached that goal.
Besides mingling with past Buckeyes, fans could play corn hole in the parking lot behind the sports bar restaurant and buy doughnuts and ice cream in a mini-carnival atmosphere as music played. Children jumped up and down in an inflatable bounce house and played a large version of Connect Four.
Fans were lining up for autographs from former Buckeye running back “Beanie” Wells, who stood by the outdoor bar in the rear patio. Women asked him eagerly to autograph the back of their shirts.
Talking about the sports camps, Wells, now a radio host for 97.1 The Fan in Columbus after a few years of playing in the NFL, said, “I think the most important thing that kids get the opportunity to learn when they go to these camps is leadership, the chance to learn from the guys who’ve been in those positions before and teach them how to be leaders.”
Longtime Buckeye fans Tom Simon, 53, of Wooster and his 21-year-old son Austin, both clad in red Buckeye apparel, were in Buckeye heaven.
Tom Simon said Doss and Hartline were very friendly and approachable.
“I think this is awesome,” said Tom Simon, who added that he attends four Buckeye games a year. “It’s great the players are coming, talking with the crowd, doing pictures and signing autographs. ... With the Buckeyes, they’re always a popular draw. So it’s just nice to see the players take a little bit of extra time out of their lives to help out this charity.”