By Samantha Mellman
Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest day of the year in sports, and that means a big day of festivities – partying and watching the game from somewhere other than their couches, not worrying about the week ahead and perhaps drinking one too many beers.
But one group of revelers spent the afternoon raising money – while have fun – to support a local organization that’s helping aspiring teenage athletes.
Prep & Sports, Inc, a nonprofit organization that tutors and mentors student-athletes in southern Palm Beach County, held its 3rd annual ‘Big Game Party’ at the Hyatt Place, Delray Beach on Sunday.
The goal of the party was to raise money so the organization can continue providing academic tutoring and sports training for these students.
Several dozen supporters paid $100 for all the food they could eat, an open bar and a chance to hobnob with a few dignitaries.
The highlight for many of the guests was meeting and mingling with current and former NFL players.
The organization was the brainchild of Tavarius (TJ) Jackson a graduate of Olympic Heights Community High School and a former Dallas Cowboys football player.
The Delray Beach native has been giving back to his community since 2005 when he founded the organization along with his cousin, Jamael Stewart and others.
While growing up in Delray Beach, Jackson was a good athlete. He excelled in football. But he struggled with exams including the the college entrance exams.
His childhood dream was to play football at the University of Florida; he was offered a scholarship to play football at Florida with the stipulation of passing the SAT or ACT.
He eventually passed the college entrance exam and was later offered a scholarship to play football at Virginia Tech University, where he played and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in residential property management.
In 2003, Jackson signed as a free agent to play for the Dallas Cowboys and returned home after a stint.
With first-hand experience, his quest was to ensure that his peers in the community especially those who struggled academically were prepared to pass the college entrance exams.
“A lot of the kids throughout Palm Beach County are involved in athletics…. We want to help them put that amount of energy equally into academics,” said Jackson, who recently was named football coach at Atlantic High School.
Prep & Sports provides academic and athletic programs for the youth Monday through Thursday. Trained teachers help students prepare for the SAT, with reading, and honing math skills while on the field, former and current NFL players practice alongside them.
The group runs the annual Brandon Flowers 7-on-7 tournament in the summer and this year started the Florida-Georgia All-Star Game, a postseason showcase Jan. 5 at Boca Raton High. Six current Atlantic High School seniors were selected to play in that game.
Jackson’s personal training company, XPE Sports Florida, trains high school, college and pro athletes at Seacrest Athletic Complex. Players from several different area high schools work with XPE.
“The NFL players involved are really amazing,” said Cal Miller, media consultant for Prep & Sports. “They donate a lot of their time not only at the events, but on the field with the students.”
Co-founder Stewart said as a child growing up in Delray Beach, he wished he had guidance and support from programs such as Prep & Sports.
“A lot of these young men in our program, these kids come from single family homes, they have a lot of obstacles they face in their communities,” said Stewart, vice president of Prep & Sports, Inc. “Our job is to try to keep them off the streets. They probably wouldn’t graduate without this positive mentoring we provide for them.”
One hundred percent of the students who enroll in the program have graduated high school and went on to college, Stewart said.
The overall results of the organization have been impressive. As proof of the program’s success, five former graduates are playing in the national football league, 50 former graduates are in college or have graduated from college and 18 participants graduated from high school last year. Each of them received a scholarship to college (16 athletic and 2 academic scholarships).
Former Olympic Heights student-athlete Jason Reid recalls having only a few people in his life to show him the way as he grew up. He then looked to his high school football coaches as role models.
“If it weren’t for those people, I wouldn’t be the person I am today so it feels good to pay it forward,” said Reid, who played outside linebacker and safety at Illinois State University in Normal, IL., and assistant director of player development for Prep & Sports.