Marvin Lewis looks for them all the time. In the frozen images of video. In between the Xs and Os. Under the nooks of the playbook. Through the crannies of the draft board.
And for 10 years he's also been doing it in the hearts and minds of Greater Cincinnati, alternately tapping schools and CEOs, running camps and auctions, raising money and awareness. Communities thrive on difference-makers.
Kids like Ryan Reid.
Even though he had already been named a Mentor Hall of Famer at Sycamore High School, Reid could still feel his knees melt into his ankles as walked into the scholarship interview with Lewis back in the spring.
"Yeah, I'd say he was the most famous person I ever met," Reid says. "I've been a Bengals fan since I was in fifth or sixth grade."
Early on Reid noticed that the Bengals head coach had switched off his trademark light-bulb of a smile in between perusing his résumé and shooting him questions. He looked rather grim, Reid thought. In fact, he was pretty sure he had seen that look somewhere before.
"When he's on the sidelines during a game and one of his players does something wrong," Reid says. "I started to smile more. I've been told that's one of my better qualities. I wanted him to see more than what was on the paper."
Which is probably why he ended up getting one of the 50 or so $20,000 college scholarships that have been handed out by the Marvin Lewis Community Fund during its remarkable decade of giving that has made Lewis Cincinnati's $6 Million Man to a new generation of viewers.
That's how much MLCF has poured into the region, a feat to be celebrated at Kerry Automotive's 1st & 10 Block Party this Sunday morning at the Schmidlapp Event Lawn at Smale Riverfront Park next to the Christian Moerlein Lager House before the Bengals 1 p.m. game against the Dolphins.
Complete with the rollout of a 10th anniversary logo and news availability Wednesday at Paul Brown Stadium, the party continues later in the month during the Bengals bye week when Lewis hosts his annual wildly-popular Football 101 for ladies. That's the night The Pink Football Award is presented by MLCF, Oxford Physical Therapy, and the Bengals as part of the fund's annual fall fundraiser where an outstanding breast cancer survivor is recognized for her strength, courage and perseverance. It also serves as a memorial for Sharon Thomas, the first executive director of Lewis's foundation who died of the disease.
According to MLCF, of the 122 active head coaches or managers in the four major professional sports leagues Lewis is the only one to serve as chairman of the Board of Directors for a charity or foundation in his name in the same community for a decade.
Reid is going to miss the bash, but he's a reason it's being held. One of the 450,000 or so that Lewis's people figure have been impacted by the fund since it was founded Oct. 9, 2003 during his first bye week as head coach of the Bengals.
Where to start?
Since the Bengals took a break that October between an overtime loss in Buffalo and Lewis's first PBS win behind Jon Kitna's three touchdown passes against Baltimore, the foundation has reached out to so many community staples (The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati, Boys Hope Girls Hope Cincinnati, Cruisin’ for a Cure, Minorities in Mathematics, Science & Engineering M2SE, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, ProScan Pink Ribbon Center in Over-the-Rhine, Success By 6, Youth, Incorporated) that MLCF has become a community staple itself.
So start with Reid. Lewis must have like Reid's own flash-drive of a smile.
"Part of the reason our scholarship recipients have been so successful is their ability to matriculate on campus as an engaged person, not a recluse," Lewis says. "We want them to be an outgoing person."
Meet Reid, 18, a freshman in Ohio State's Exploration Program looking for a major after devoting more than 250 hours in Sycamore's Fast Track mentoring program for at-risk students while he juggled honors courses, soccer and a job selling concessions at the Blue Ash Rec Center.
"I have never encountered a more outstanding student than Ryan Reid," is how Beth LeBlanc, a Sycamore English teacher and the Fast Track supervisor, started her college recommendation letter.
"Ryan is the most gifted mentor that has ever worked in the program. I assigned him the most difficult mentees in the program and he has led, without exception, each and every one of them to great success. ... Ryan's work has been so phenomenal that he has been selected to be a Lead Mentor for two years ... responsible for 12 mentors and 12 mentees one of bell of each school day."
About five minutes after he left the interview with Lewis, Reid walked back into the offices and handed the staff LeBlanc's letter.
"It was almost as if he was embarrassed," says Barbara Dundee, MLCF's omnipresent executive director. "What a special young man he is."
Lewis's kind of kid. The kind of kid he had in mind when his board of directors wanted to go in a different direction about four years ago.
"Our partners said, 'Let's foster, let's develop, let's coordinate our own programs,' " Lewis recalls. "We were being supportive of other local non-profits, so we tried to fashion our own programs. (The idea) was not to have a corporate partner donate so much money to us a year and then also be asked by that same agency to donate so much money to them. Not be a pass-through, but basically develop our own programs and our own outreach."
The two signature outlets with the biggest impact have turned out to be the Marvin Lewis College Scholarship Fund and Learning is Cool, the program in the Cincinnati public schools, as well as North College Hill, Middletown and Covington, Ky., that honors honor roll students with prizes, banquets and other benefits.
By the time MLCF received the Steve Patterson Award for excellence in Sports Philanthropy in 2009, the first class of scholarships were nearing college graduation and the Learning is Cool kids were going to their first end-of-year celebration where they were honored by Lewis and some Bengals players.
When Lewis greeted each of the 1,000 winners this past spring on stage for a quick photo, it marked a 110 percent increase in the number of "A" Honor Roll achievements in CPS since the program started four years ago.
But the college scholarships have always had the best MLCF stories. The annual rite of spring is Lewis leafing through the stack of applications narrowed down by a committee and grilling kids from Ripley to Reading before coming up with a class of needy, bright, inexhaustible kids more amazing than the last.
"(The $5,000 per year) is the difference whether they go to community college or go to Ohio State. Or living on campus at Xavier or living at home. That's what the scholarship has meant to them," Lewis says. "Maybe they don't need a work study job so they can adjust to their academics, and that's what you have to feel good about."
Take Ryan Reid.
"Because of the scholarship we broke even," Reid says. "I've got loans, but this means I could go to Ohio State and not have to put more on my mom. I was looking at some other private schools like Dayton, but it was just too much money. And now I can get acclimated to school my first semester while I'm looking for a work study job next semester."
Like most of them, Reid's essay is riveting stuff. His single parent, mom Mary Reid, has been a principal for seven years in Cincinnati's Head Start program, about the time they moved back from Chicago after she got her degree from John Marshall Law School.
"It's just me and my mom and after we moved back and I was in the fifth grade, I was going down the wrong road," Ryan Reid says the other night from the campus of The Ohio State University. "I had a lot of anger. I had no friends. I left them all back in Oak Park. I put on a lot of weight and I was just mad all the time. Then in the seventh grade I started wrestling and I was able to do something with my anger and it helped me with my weight. I would say that wrestling helped turn it around for me."
Or, as he wrote in his essay, "as I slimmed down, my attitude and behavior got much better."
By the time he got to high school, soccer and helping others had become his passions. Another fortuitous turn came at Sycamore when he was the one selected from 500 students to compete in the sophomore debate championship and the chairman of the department approached him after the tournament to talk him into taking AP English to go with accelerated physics and honor pre-calculus.
"I am the first black male to take this class at my school," he wrote almost as an aside in the essay.
College always seemed to be a natural decision for Ryan Reid. His grandfather is a college graduate, so he's third generation.
"I've been talking to him about taking the law and psychology," says Mary Reid, who has degrees in both and did her undergrad and grad work at Howard University. "He can certainly argue his points and he's a good thinker. But we’ll see. I just know that Ohio State seems to be such a good fit."
The Lewis scholarship finds all kinds, but Dundee thinks his two top criteria remain the same: Need and community service.
And so it was that Waly Reyes ended up in that first class. When he graduated from Ohio State he became the first in his family to graduate from college after an incredible senior year at Reading High School.
After moving in with his best friend when his mother needed to go home to the Dominican Republic, he pulled a 4.35 GPA while playing football, immersing himself in community events, and working in the Burger King where he often closed late at night or opened early in the morning a half-hour away in West Chester, Ohio, where he used to live.
If there had been no scholarship …
"I have a great job with Deloitte and now I own my own home," Reyes wrote in a testimonial for the 10th-year anniversary. "I can even help out my family. I know this: I would not be where I am today without Coach Lewis’s support. It has had a greater impact on my life than he will ever know.”
"We hear from Waly," Lewis says with the light-bulb smile. "He got married this summer. He's been a CPA forever."
Reid and Reyes won't be around Wednesday, but it's fitting the 10-year kickoff is at PBS, the site of many MLCF events.
"The Bengals are one of our most prominent corporate partners through the use of the facility as well as monetarily," Lewis says. "We couldn't do the things we do without them. The Bengals, Fifth Third, Cincinnati Bell, Baker Concrete. Those are our four big guns."
They also make possible the year's flagship event, the Marvin Lewis Golf Classic, which has joined Bengals Hall of Famer Anthony Muñoz's extravaganza as the must-go on Cincinnati's social sports calendar. Between the pre-party and the post-party, this is red carpet stuff with the only thing missing TMZ.
"It's kind of hard to find and my mom and I were a little late," Reid says of the scholarship ceremonies at Shaker Run Golf Club in Lebanon, Ohio. "But he was great. Coach Lewis came over to shake our hands and tell us, 'glad you could make it.' That was really a fun day."
Two things you don't know. What can happen on an NFL Sunday and what can happen at an MLCF auction. Ryan and Mary weren't even really listening, but the next thing they knew they had tickets to the party deck for a game at Great American Ball Park.
The thing was up for auction and two MLCF board members, Jack Cassidy of Cincinnati Bell and Michael Schneider of Baker, not only bought it, but they gave the tickets to the five scholarship winners and their families.
"Ryan took me and some of his friends and I think it had to be the best day of his life," Mary says. "Obviously they never get a chance to do something like that or even go to many Reds games."
"The view was unbelievable," Ryan says. "What a place to watch a game. We had so much fun that day. I'll never forget it."
The view from 10 years is just as good for Lewis. To think it began even before he had a home win and now MLCF has to be mentioned among the community icons and the calendar staples that mean so much to a town's soul. Muñoz. Ruth Lyons. Race For The Cure.
Now there are School is Cool kids who have known no other coach of the Bengals than Lewis. One mom wrote the foundation that her daughter came home one day vowing to get an A to get to the celebration and announcing, "Daddy, I’m working at school to take you to meet the Bengals and Marvin Lewis. I know you love the Bengals and I can take you to meet them."
Lewis has to laugh. What could possibly be tougher? Staying in the same town running the same foundation or coaching the same NFL team for a decade.
"One couldn't happen without the other," Lewis says. "No question about that."
And there's no question that Lewis is now no longer the most famous person that Ryan Reid has sat across from in a conversation. On his third day at OSU sitting with some friends at Sloopy's in the student union, the President of the United States joined them.
"I couldn't believe it," Reid says of Barack Obama's campus visit. "It was so random. He sat down at the table and asked us our names and talked to us about school. He spent about five minutes with us and he did that at every table. It must have taken about an hour and a half.
"And, yeah, if you think about it, I might not be here if I didn't get the scholarship."
Ten year later and Lewis is still looking.