During the 2016 football season, I was doing an interview with a handicapper from Las Vegas on my radio show. Typically handicappers will buy time on air across the country to promote their services as they give picks to major sporting events for you to bet on. This one came on every Monday before the Monday Night Football game and gave his lock for the night. On this particular night, he said that he would tell me his pick off the air (as to not give it out for free) and then on the air he said that he was laying a ton of money down on the game out in Las Vegas and that if his pick was right, he’d write a $500 check to my charity.

After the interview, he gave me his pick off the air and asked what the name of my charity was so he knew who to make the check out to. I had no idea what what to say, I didn’t have my own charitable organization. Each show on our airwaves have charities they help promote, but we didn’t and I wasn’t necessarily attached to anything. Sure, I know plenty of charities, and I was able to give him one to play it off, but it got me thinking.

I told him The Bright House Foundation, which is a non-profit organization founded by fellow Jox host Tony Kurre with his wife Nancy that supports services provided for children and adults with special needs. However, it got me thinking – I have worked with my church, I have worked with my former schools, I have done so many things throughout my life, but I didn’t have that one project that I could fully dedicate myself to that helps others. I always made myself available if help was needed, but I didn’t actively seek out the opportunity to help people daily.

I enjoy what I do every day, but I’ve had the urge to do more. All my life, I’ve wanted to work behind the scenes to help others succeed. For instance, ever since I quit playing, I’ve always wanted to be a football assistant coach. Never the head coach, just an assistant. I’ve always wanted to be that person that succeeds in life by helping others succeed, much in the way a coach or mentor does. So I stepped back and looked at how I could make that happen.

After that incident with the handicapper, I started looking into certain ideas that would help me do more with my life. After the 2016 football season, I saw a story in the spring on the news about Ramsay High School, who had just won the 6A state championship here in Alabama. It was a great story about a football program that went away for a long time, then came back and a few years later, through hard work, ended up winning the state title.

The story caught my attention because it featured Larry Weygand, a man I go to church with and who helped support me as a football player when I was at Homewood High School. I didn’t realize that Larry had gone to Ramsay and played football there back in the 60’s. My mother also went to Ramsay back in the 70’s. The reason there was a story on the news wasn’t because Ramsay had won the state title, but rather because of what the players went through to get to that point.

Ramsay didn’t have a practice field.

Each afternoon, after the bus drivers had taken all of the other students home from Ramsay, they returned and carried the football players to Lawson Field, which was 20 minutes away, for practice. Players wouldn’t get home until 8:30 each evening. They also had to take their pads home each night, wash their practice clothes and bring them back the next morning, plus then they would share a locker room with the rest of the school.

That’s not all, there is only one small field adjacent to the school that is being shared by over 400 PE students, soccer teams, track teams, the marching band, and more. Larry and his classmates decided to start raising the funds to build a nice practice field with synthetic turf that would hold up better with all of the foot traffic, and a locker room for the championship football team. The project went from a $7,000 make over of the small field that was already there to a $400,000 project that would help more than just the football program.

I started looking into it and Ramsay is not alone. I was fortunate growing up in Homewood to be able to play for a team that had a nice locker room, washed my clothes for me, and I had a family that could afford to get me fancy cleats and other gear for football. We had multiple practice fields, the nicest equipment and plenty of money to spare.

On the fine arts side, I remember when schools would come to show choir competitions and it was the only one they could afford to go to all year. However, they only had one uniform, had to perform to a track and had with no backdrop. I was fortunate to be able to participate in show choir every year, where we had multiple uniforms, sets, a live band and a large choir room to rehearse in with a theater to perform in.

Not every school is that lucky, and not every student is that fortunate either.

That gave me an idea.

I’ve seen plenty of opportunities come and go for students for different reasons. As a kid gets older, the opportunities for them to be a part of certain teams and organizations start to dwindle, and to be a part of the teams and organizations that do exist, there are fees and commitments that sometimes the kids and their families can’t commit to. There is no reason that everyone can’t keep participating in extracurricular activities as they get older. This includes more than sports. Show choir, marching band and other fine arts plus academic teams and more. None of these opportunities should be restricted to the privileged and gifted.

I started thinking of what I could to help kids continue to participate in sports, fine arts and other extracurricular activities, and that led me to create the Under The Lights Foundation.

The Under The Lights Foundation is a new non-profit organization that I have started with help from friends and family that will look to ensure that everyone has the chance to participate in athletics, fine arts and other extracurricular activities regardless of financial status or any other issue that might hinder them from participating in an activity that they love.

How will we accomplish that? As a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, we will raise money to help provide scholarships for players and performers who need help paying fees to their school to participate in whatever activity they choose, and also raise money to help students pay for other needs such as equipment, travel costs, uniforms and more. Under The Lights will also help to fund the creation of new programs through schools, churches and other means to allow students to participate in activities that either aren’t offered by their school or are an alternative to the serious, competitive nature of programs within their school.

Under The Lights is more than just getting students involved in extracurricular activities too. We also aim to help students meet both personal and academic goals through a system of accountability when they register with our foundation. For a student to be provided with financial help, they must also set academic goals and continue to work hard to meet those goals to continue to receive funding.

The Under The Lights Foundation is an ambitious project. I understand that raising money isn’t easy, and that helping to fund students and programs will come with a lot of work. However, I’ve felt called to put my heart and soul into this project. Nothing would make me prouder than to be able to attend a major sporting event or show choir competition or whatever it may be, and watch a student be able to participate because we were able to help get them there.

I’ve worked on the plan for this foundation for over a year, molding it and using input from trusted members of various communities and from our board of directors. We’ve gone through the paperwork, but now it’s time to get down to business. We will look to hold our first fundraiser sometime this spring/summer and more information will come out about that soon.

For now, feel free to visit our website at UnderTheLights.org to learn more. We will continue to update you on the status of things with the foundation as we get closer to our first major fundraiser. If you know students who could utilize our services or programs that would like to apply for grants from the foundation, please feel free to put them in contact with us via email at connect@underthelights.org and we will work with them moving forward. We are looking to start funding students and programs heading into the 2018-19 school year.

If you have any ideas for the foundation when it comes to fundraisers or programs we could potentially work with or if you’d like to volunteer to help with the foundation, feel free to contact us at the above email as well.

We are looking forward to the potential great things we can do with the foundation in the future. Thank you in advance for your support whether financially or by just spreading the word!

The Under the Lights Foundation – giving kids everywhere a chance to find the spotlight.