Dan Bailey was pleased. The crowd of 450 gathered at Dallas’ Statler hotel on Tuesday, April 23, for the 9th annual fundraiser for Just Say YES — a Dallas education nonprofit that Dan founded and serves as president — was the largest in the nonprofit’s history. Why did he think that was? “Having Tony Dungy as the keynote speaker,” Dan replied without hesitation. “We’ve also matured as an organization, so people are more aware of us. Plus, the four leaders of the organization are the best we’ve ever had.”
Besides Dungy, a Pro Football Hall of Fame coach and New York Times best-selling author, Just Say YES (short for Youth Equipped to Succeed) had some other heavyweight names on the evening’s roster as well. Tavia and Clark Hunt, for example, were serving as honorary chairs for the event. Former Dallas Mavericks head coach Avery Johnson would show up to present the 5th annual Coach Avery Johnson Youth Impact Award to Jane and Josh Huffman. And former Dallas Cowboy Tony Casillas was the evening’s emcee.
Tony, who helped Dallas to back-to-back Super Bowl wins and now hosts a podcast called “Blogging the Boys,” kicked off the program by thanking the packed crowd, which included the likes of former Cowboy Bob Breunig, Dan’s wife Sue Bailey, Glenn Callison, Lori Kuykendall, Lynn Gibson, Lisa Roossien, Diane Beckett, Cathy Sisk, Linda Dixon, Ann Carruth, Barbara Washburn, Patrick Stevens, Randy Alligood, Mark Merrill and John Townsend. After Avery presented the Youth Impact award to the Huffmans, David Ackel presided over a live auction that included a couple of “staycations” (one at Legacy West brought in $1,500), an Argentine dove hunt (it sold three times for $4,500 each), a Tampa, Florida, lunch with Tony Dungy ($12,000), and a round of golf with Tony Casillas at the Dallas Cowboys Golf Club ($3,000).
Following the screening of a Just Say YES video, Dan took the stage to point out that the organization has now reached 1 million students, educators, and parents in 42 states through its assemblies, peer-to-peer mentoring, and adult influence education programs. He also announced three “brand-new initiatives” for the nonprofit that will unfold over the next three years. They are: development of a new digital curriculum for its peer-to-peer mentoring effort, an imminent merger with the Dallas-based Aim for Success nonprofit, and development and distribution of a new adult and adolescent wellness curriculum.
“We’ll need $1.4 million over the next three years” for such efforts, Dan said. “Or, $500,000 a year. That’s why we’re here tonight.”
Then it was time to hear from Clark Hunt, the son of Lamar Hunt, the Dallas legend who founded the American Football League, which merged with the NFL in 1966. Clark pointed out that the very first meeting of AFL owners was held right here at The Statler in 1959, when his father was appointed president of the fledgling league. Clark introduced the evening’s keynote speaker by saying, “I don’t know if I’ve ever met a finer man than Tony Dungy.”
Tony is an NBC football analyst and former NFL player and head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (from 1996 to 2001) and the Indianapolis Colts (2002 to 2008). “Dan told me, please don’t go over 20 minutes,” Tony began his talk. “I’m a football coach. I’ve never spoken more than 12 minutes at a time!” Recalling when his Colts were on the brink of winning Super Bowl 41 against the Chicago Bears —the final score would be Colts 29, Bears 17 — Tony remembered thinking back over his life and wondering, “How did I get here?”
Born in Jackson, Michigan, Dungy said that while he had “great parents and 20 aunts and uncles” growing up, “some of the most important mentors were peers you’ve never heard of.” These unsung heroes took him to football games, for example, encouraged him to complete his college education, and set an example of “on-fire” Christian leadership. They “made me understand that life was more than sports,” Tony told the crowd, “and that you have to give back.”
During his NFL career, he went on, “helping people be the best they could be was my calling.” At Tampa Bay, he encouraged and supported one particular player named Derrick Brooks, who started a group called the “Brooks Bunch.” Derrick’s group provided free inspirational, educational trips for Tampa Bay kids to places like Atlanta, Washington D.C., and even South Africa. “The moral of the story is, one of the girls who was on the first trip is now a graduate of medical school,” Tony said, adding that, in a similar manner, “Just Say YES is trying to turn the light bulb on for someone, too.”
Tony concluded by saying thanks to the JSY mentors, and “thanks to all of you for filling up this room … We’ve all been blessed beyond measure, and we all just need to give a little bit back.” Someone must have been listening. After Tony left the stage, Just Say YES board member Ryan O’Dwyer announced that an anonymous donor had ponied up a $100,000 matching gift.
Unfortunately, a little of the event’s good feeling may have been eroded by the attendees’ end-of-evening experience at the valet line. With rain falling and the Statler valet service seemingly overwhelmed, guests waited for up to nearly an hour for their vehicles to be retrieved. Cracked one frustrated gent: “I’ll take pretty much anything they bring up, now.”
* Photo credit: Lori Wilson Photography