Durran Bates stood next to a football legend, rapt not by boastful tales of personal glory, but by an empowering message of hard work, character and taking advantage of perhaps the most gracious of public gifts: an education.
“I have the ability to make good choices,” Bates said after listening to Alan Page, one of the greatest defensive players in the history of pro football who is now a justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Whether it was North Central High School football players like Bates, or bankers, attorneys, business owners and students, Page’s words resonated during his visit to Spokane on Thursday.
He headlined RiverBank’s Fall Forum, an event the Spokane bank has offered the past three years to highlight issues of importance to business and the community.
Page may be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he began building a far greater legacy once he left the field.
When asked by a student to name his greatest memory in a storied NFL career, Page quipped: “My last day there.”
This from a man who sacked the likes of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach and stuffed legendary Chicago running back Walter Payton.
Page grew up in football-worshipping Canton, Ohio, during the 1950s and early 1960s. Yet Page never put on pads until the ninth grade. He was encouraged by his parents to pursue his own interests – intellectual and athletic. They embedded the importance of education in their son.
He was a natural on the field and earned a scholarship to Notre Dame, where he starred to become a first-round draft choice of the National Football League’s Minnesota Vikings.
By 1971 he had established himself as an elite player and earned the Associated Press’ Most Valuable Player award. He wore No. 88 and lined up as part of a four-man thunderclap that wrecked offensive schemes and earned the nickname Purple People Eaters. The Vikings of the 1970s would go to the Super Bowl four times.
While playing he attended law school. When he left football, a rewarding legal career was waiting. But he has accomplished something more. He has constructed an elegant mission of educational charity from his success in a brutal sport.
The Page Foundation is based on the principle that “everyone has the ability and opportunity to make this world a better place.”
Since 1988 his foundation has helped about 5,000 students in Minnesota pay for higher education. It awards $2,500 grants to students – especially inner-city kids – to pursue their educational or vocational aspirations.
What makes the scholarship program so successful are the requirements. Rather than providing an escape route for recipients, students taking the money must return to their communities and volunteer.
Page is the one who is awed.
“These students are my heroes,” he said.
The scholarships are given to students of all abilities, not just the best and brightest.
“Our goal is to lift people up, not to sort them out,” he said.
After speaking with the business community in the morning, Page went to North Central High School, where he urged students to embrace their educational opportunities with hard work in the classroom. He has four children and four grandchildren and said his family’s future is linked to the success of society.
Those words stuck with student Brad Pelton. Many students studied Page’s football and legal career and peppered him with questions.
“I just think it is so cool to have someone like Alan Page care enough to come and talk to us about education,” Pelton said.