High Schoolers Learn What It Takes to Succeed

From left, Giulissa Honore, Julia Veloso, and Karina Abadia of Ronald W. Reagan/Doral Senior High School.
By Robert C. Jones, Jr.

From left, Giulissa Honore, Julia Veloso, and Karina Abadia of Ronald W. Reagan/Doral Senior High School.

High Schoolers Learn What It Takes to Succeed

By Robert C. Jones, Jr.
More than 50 youngsters from Miami-Dade and Broward counties listened to advice from community leaders at UHealth's Student Ambassador Seminar.

The man with the baritone voice, signature mustache, and graying hair was surely out his mind. The University of Miami, which hadn’t been to a bowl game in more than a decade and was on the verge of mothballing its football program, would win a national championship within five years, he told a group of 18- and 19-year-old kids.

“Everybody thought he was nuts,” Don Bailey Jr., who was a freshman center for the Miami Hurricanes during the early 1980s, recalled about the talk then-coach Howard Schnellenberger gave to his players. “But that was his goal. He talked about it everyday, and he got everyone else to believe in it.”

Turns out, Schnellenberger was right on the money. Miami would defeat Nebraska 31-30 in the 1984 Orange Bowl Classic to win its first national title—a championship Bailey says “was truly a miracle,” but attainable because one man set a goal and stuck to it.

Goals, Bailey told a group of about 50 high school students from Miami-Dade and Broward counties on Friday, are certainly the first step toward success, but “you need to work towards them every single day.” His advice, while certainly nothing novel, was still good medicine and among the many words of wisdom the students would receive on this day.

With their summer break from high school classes now well underway, they had gathered at UM’s Newman Alumni Center on the Coral Gables campus for the UHealth Sports Performance and Wellness Institute’s 6th annual Student Ambassador Seminar, a half-day event that uses the personal experiences and life stories of influential community leaders to motivate and inspire youngsters.

“We’re living in a community where you guys face problems that we didn’t have to face,” said Lee Kaplan, M.D., chief of UHealth Sports Medicine, who, along with UM head athletic trainer Vinny Scavo, started the seminars  six years ago after two high school  students who they treated as patients got into trouble.

Many of the students at Friday’s seminar were interested in becoming sports medicine physicians. Others were athletes. But what they all shared was a desire, and willingness, to learn what it takes to succeed. There was no shortage of role models to point them in the right direction—starting with Bailey, the longtime Hurricanes football radio analyst for 560 WQAM who stressed the importance of making a good first impression through a bright smile and firm handshake.

“Everybody in here has a million dollars—a million-dollar smile,” he said. “That first impression may change your life.”

Bailey told the students the story of a young man who, one evening, walked into his flooring business looking for a job. Bailey couldn’t offer him one at the time, but when he saw the young man on the street five days later, he hired him. Then, after learning that the young man had no parents, a failing report card, and lived in a house where six mattresses were strewn across the floor, Bailey placed himself “in charge” of the youngster’s life, helping him to graduate from high school and earn a degree from Florida Atlantic University.

The students also heard from Dave Strong, an emergency medicine physician at Boca Raton Regional Hospital and a team doctor for FAU, who recalled how he cried as a 3-year-old when he learned that his mother and father were divorcing. Even at such a tender age, said Strong, he decided to lead, making it his mission to move his mother out of an Ohio inner city.

Strong also recalled the obstacles he faced as a student himself, such as being placed on academic probation and failing a biochemistry class during his first year of medical school. “But I bounced back,” he said. “You’re going to face failure. It humbles you. It teaches you. Look in the mirror and say, ‘Not only am I going to get up, but I’m going to fight stronger.”

UM alumna Dany Garcia, founder and president of the Garcia Companies; Ivette Guttmann, a physician with UHealth Sports Medicine; attorney and entrepreneur Matthew Krieger; sports agent Drew Rosenhaus and his client, Clive Walford, a former Hurricanes football player drafted by the NFL Oakland Raiders; David Wyman, associate athletic director and assistant dean of undergraduate education for UM Athletics; and Ross Wodicka, an orthopaedic surgery resident at UM/Jackson, were among the other speakers.

Briana Killian, a 16-year-old junior at MAST Academy on Key Biscayne who wants to become a physician, said the seminar furnished her with exactly what she needed to know: “That I should never give up,” she said.