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Hard work and kindness:

Former NFL player and bestselling author visits Solon Middle School with a message about the importance of reading
Former NFL player and current bestselling author Tim Green urges students from Lakeview Elementary and Solon Middle School to work hard at being a good person. (photos by Doug Lindner)

SOLON– Former NFL player and current young adult novelist Tim Green sometimes speaks in CAPITAL letters.
Green, a former defensive end for the Atlanta Falcons from 1986 to 1993, used his interest in sports and reading to weave together a message about the importance of books and hard work for a packed audience of students and teachers in the Solon Middle School gymnasium Oct. 28.
The dynamic speaker and author stressed to his audience the importance of books as a gateway to other worlds and experiences, and as the training room for their minds.
He shared his own story, infusing his words with the passion he attempted to describe.
“I had two things I was passionate about. PASSIONATE. EXCITEMENT. ENERGY. DESIRE. PASSION,” Green told the students.
“I was passionate about sports and I played every sport I could play,” Green said, with his vocal volume turned up, pounding the words through the microphone he was holding.
While he played every sport, one held a special place in his heart.
“I’m going to be honest with you, I LOVED football, because I like to knock people down,” Green said to a cascade of laughter.
“I say it with a tone of apology in my voice because I KNOW I HAD SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME,” Green shouted. “I know in my brain there’s a spring that’s been wound up too tight.”
When he saw someone walking toward him down the hallway at school, he said, he could envision with joy taking a forearm to the person and “BAM! Knocking ‘em off their feet, books and papers flying in the air like snowflakes, FLAT ON THEIR BACK.
“I knew that you can’t just go walking around school, knocking people off their feet in the hallway for fun,” he added, his voice trailing off. “But I wanted to.”
And that’s when Green discovered football, where not only could he knock people down, but he was actually supposed to knock people down.
“And if I smashed them into the dirt, people cheered,” he said. “And I said, ‘Oh, love this.’”
But as much as Green loved football, there was a second passion just as strong.
Green acknowledged that not everyone in the audience feels the same way.
“I understand that,” he said. “Because you’re not going to love books until you read that one book that takes you away, that one book that’s so good you can’t stop turning the pages until you’re done.”
It can happen, he assured the middle schoolers.
The former All-American said he regularly receives Facebook postings or other communications from students who have picked up a book after hearing him speak.
“I have so many kids who tell me they’ve never read a book before and then they picked up one of my books and they read it in a day,” he said. “That makes me feel great.”
While he hoped the students would pick up one of his books and give it a try, it may not be for everyone’s tastes. Read five chapters, he suggested, and if it doesn’t spark something, put it down and give another book a chance.
“Don’t stop,” he said. “Everyone’s a reader. You just have to find that one book.” He rattled off titles– “Maniac Magee,” “Ella Enchanted,” “Holes” and “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH” among them.
“Keep trying,” he said. “Listen, I’ve read thousands of books– thousands. But I put down more books than I read.”
Green said he was serious about his passion for books. When he was on the bus, he was reading a book. After finishing lunch, he read books. Waiting for football practice to begin, he would read a book.
“I loved the way books would take you away to another time and another place,” he said. “Books were magic for me and I dreamed of one day becoming a writer.”
Green’s passion grew into dedication, for both sports and writing. In training, he worked as hard as he possibly could, running and lifting weights with a zeal that caused his teammates to question his sanity.
And he applied the same ethic to school.
“I was never the smartest person, but I wanted to be the best I could be,” Green said.
His enthusiasm bordered on the manic; he related that his classmates would encourage him not to be so serious, and he would growl back at them for distracting him during class. Green knew innately that if he paid attention and took copious notes, the teacher would appreciate his effort and be happy to help him when he didn’t understand.
“I want to be the best that I can be, so I do my homework every night, even though I can’t stand it, and I study for a test, even though it’s painful, and I re-write my paper several times because that’s what writing is,” he said.
“I don’t just write something down and turn it in. That’s garbage.”
Write it and read it and write it again, he encouraged.
It was a successful formula for Green.
By the time he was a senior in high school, Green was being recruited by colleges all over the nation he said, including Harvard and Yale, because he was an excellent football player with an “A” average.
“It wasn’t because I was the smartest guy, it was because I worked,” Green said.
He chose Syracuse University because it had one of the top writing programs in the nation (though he considered Iowa as well) and went on to become a two-time All-American defensive end for the Orangemen and a Rhodes Scholar who was selected in the first round of the NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons.
“Dream come true,” he recalled.
And even though he was having fun tackling great professional football players like Joe Montana and Phil Simms and Dan Marino and John Elway, Green spent his off-season working toward his other goals. He went back to school to obtain a law degree.
“Education is power, education is freedom, education is choices, education is a paint box in a black and white world,” he said. “Education is unbelievable. It opens the doors, it opens your eyes it takes you to other levels of people and experiences in this life.”
And it all starts right now, he told the Solon students.
“The time you spend in this school, in this building, with these teachers, it’s so valuable,” he said. “Don’t waste it.”
After starting his first book and obtaining his law degree, he embarked on the best, most important thing he had ever done– convincing the nicest person he had ever met to marry him and begin a family.
“All the other stuff means nothing compared to that,” he said. “But that, too, requires work.” Just like sports and education take work, he said, and just like being a good person.
A lot of things go into developing character, but Green believes it all starts with kindness. In Green’s philosophy, you’re not the best person you can be until you are proactively kind.
“Not only do you not sit there and not do harm to other people, you give out kindness like candy at Halloween.” Not just to your friends and teachers, but to people who aren’t like you, he added.
“I want you to do or say something kind to someone who is different,” he charged the students, for kindness is a chain reaction.
“When you do it, you’ll feel the power,” said Green. “You’ll feel the power of doing or saying something kind to someone.”
To be the best athlete, you have to train your body, Green said. To make yourself as smart as you can be and as kind as you can be, books are the weight room. If you read 20 to 30 minutes a day, he promised, you will do better in school and you’ll be a kinder person.
Because books, he said, allow you to see the world through someone else’s eyes.
“You can be other people in other places,” he said. “You can have those experiences. And you feel the injustice done to people and the unkindnesses visited upon people because they’re different, and it makes you mad, and it makes you determined that in your own life you’re not going to be that way.”
Green started his presentation by reading the first chapter of “Kid Owner,” his first attempt at writing in first-person. The book follows Ryan, a young boy who never knew his dad or that he owned a professional football team. When his absentee father dies unexpectedly, Ryan gets the opportunity to change his life forever.
Sixth grader William Wittich had not read any of Green’s novels before, but was motivated to pick up “Kid Owner,” and gave it his endorsement.
“I wanted to read it because he was really funny when he was talking,” said Wittich. “I thought that would show up in his writing. It’s pretty good so far.”
Sixth grader Jacob Timmons is also reading “Kid Owner,” and said he was a fan of Green’s work even before the author’s visit.
“I had read four of his books before, but after his speech I wanted to read more,” said Timmons. “He inspired me to read more, and to be a better kid.”
Green’s stories portray real-life, relatable situations, Timmons said.
“In his books, he has a lot of life skills. When some situation happens, his characters handle it really well,” Timmons added.
“Kid Owner” is the 16th book in a series of sports-themed young adult novels Green has authored, with advice from his kids.
He’s also written over a dozen adult novels and parlayed his football success and legal background into opportunities in broadcasting, at FOX NFL Sunday and other television shows, including “Battlebots,” “Good Morning America,” “Court TV,” “A Current Affair,” and most recently, “Find My Family.”
Green’s appearance in Solon was sponsored by the Lakeview and Middle School PTO, along with Solon Women’s Club. According to Principal Mike Herdliska, former media specialist Kathy Kaldenberg began organizing the event last year and then passed the ball to new district media specialist Miranda Kral and middle school media specialist Shari Butterfield.
See more about Tim Green at: http://timgreenbooks.com.