Armand Cann is Marvin Lewis’ kind of guy.
If Cann were 6-2, 240 and ran the 40 quicker than a Mark Twain sentence, Lewis would be trying to find a place for him on the Bengals roster. Now he’s just trying to find an extra 20 grand.
Cann didn’t play football at Walnut Hills High School. But he played golf, another reason Lewis likes him. Throw in solid-state ACT scores. A transcript loaded with AP courses at an A-No. 1 school. Extracurriculars that include volunteering. A plan to be a surgeon. About halfway through the interview Lewis knew he had to come up with an extra college scholarship.
So the kid is smart, unselfish, and likes to tee it up. At a muni course, no less. Avon Fields, right near his Avondale home. What’s not to like?
But there is something else Lewis likes about Cann.
Lewis just can’t resist a good overcoming story. Whether it’s because he had a hell-hill to climb himself to become one of the few African-American head coaches in the NFL, or because he coached defense, or because the Bengals always seem to be underdogs, he’s got an eye for it.
And the fact that Cann was also diagnosed with dyslexia in second grade and ended up getting through Walnut with a 3.6 weighted grade point average is, well, definitely eye-catching. The kid whose parents helped him along by reading Harry Potter to him plowed through this past senior year in AP English reading Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, Hamlet, King Oedipus, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
“I enjoyed reading Huck Finn and the concept of how he left (Missouri) with Jim because he didn’t like the traditional way slaves were treated,” Cann says Friday, a day after graduation. “And how he and Jim went on their adventures and he found out Jim was just like any other person.”
After nurturing their oldest through his disability well enough to watch him attend Xavier University next year in pre-med, Monica and David Cann are coping with job loss and seeking full-time positions with two other children either in high school or on the way. David is a graphic artist and Monica is an administrative assistant who is now substitute teaching in the Cincinnati Public Schools.
“I look at him and how far he’s come and I’m just amazed, really, at how well he’s adjusted,” David says of his son, and Monica admitted she never thought it possible as she watched graduation.
“Pre-med. Xavier. AP classes,” she says. “It’s quite an accomplishment.”
That’s the force behind Lewis’ community fund, that non-profit conglomerate that has poured more than $5 million into the Tri-State area in the seven years he’s been the head coach. The idea is to lift the talent buried under the rubble of circumstance.
The centerpiece has to be the scholarships. The fund’s flagship event, the Marvin Lewis Golf Classic Presented by Cincinnati Bell, is Sunday at Shaker Run Golf Course in Lebanon, Ohio, and endows the five $20,000 scholarships, good for $5,000 per year.
Make that six.
Cann got Lewis with words that used to give him so many problems.
“We’ll write a check if we have to. We can endow the scholarship, that’s not our problem,” Lewis says. “Whether we do it through the foundation or someone personally, we’re going to get it taken care of. We just have to work harder. Raise more money.”
Not as easy as it sounds in a recession that claimed Cann’s parents and never seems to complete the fourth-quarter comeback. Lewis smiles when he says he exceeded the Bengals offseason budget in the acquisition of talent with his powers of persuasion with the powers. But he knows it is a tough time for number-crunching in any business, particularly non-profits.
Not too long ago this weekend would take in as much as $400,000-$500,000 and they’re trying to get back to $400,000 again.
“We’ve made a comeback,” Lewis says and, as always, they’ve got a full field of 244 players.
If they didn’t cut it to 14 holes everyone would be a week late to training camp.
That says something in an era when spending of any kind is viewed as being downright un-American. Lewis's sponsors have had to cut back some, but they are hanging in there and Lewis says MLCF has also had to cut back “and be more efficient.”
But the good deeds and the events roll on. The Learning is Cool program that recognizes academic achievement in Cincinnati Public Schools has seen a huge spike in good grades. Football 101 and Pink Out at Paul Brown raise money to raise breast cancer awareness. Lewis believes enough in the kids and the underdogs that he said this week even if he doesn’t sign a contract extension to coach a ninth season next year, MLCF is going to stay in town.
He says the reason the money keeps coming from the sponsors is because, like Lewis, they believe in the kids and Cincinnati, too. He thinks it goes beyond contact language.
“Our board and our sponsors are 100 percent committed,” he said the other day. “It’s not me. It’s what we’re doing. I think that’s the important thing.”
The important thing is a kid like Cann. Like all MLCF scholarship winners, they have to have good grades, community service, and a varsity letter. But they better have something else because after executive director Barbara Dundee cuts it down to 30 applications or so, she gives them to Lewis and he narrows it down for the interviews.
What Cann had was dyslexia and a 26 on the ACTs, and a 30 on the match and science portion.
“He’d been a good student, but he has an excellent composite test score on the ACT so I think he’ll do really very, very well in college,” Lewis said. “You look at, some of the kids who go to a high school that is very strong academically and some them aren’t 4.0, 4.123, 4.125 students. Some of them are in the three range but they have a very high test score.”
At the moment, Cann must live at home because of Xavier’s cost. But the hope is the Lewis scholarship can get him over the top so he can live on campus.
“We’ve found that living at college is the best way to experience it and have success,” Dundee says.
“Maybe not this year, but we’re hoping next year,” David says.
Lewis says Armand Cann wouldn’t strike you as a golfer and he kind of likes that, too. But Cann has been golfing ever since he was seven. Ever since his parents heard from a couple at church about The Tony Yates Junior Golf Academy at Reeves Golf Course.
“It was a program where they not only learned golf, but they talked about respect, responsibility, sportsmanship,” Monica says. ”He loved it. Every summer he kept asking to sign up.”
Cann loved it so much that when he turned 18, he became a volunteer for the program and now helps out at Reeves teaching the kids, or whatever they ask him to do. His parents had a lot of good ideas and they’ll tell you they had a lot of help once he was diagnosed at North Avondale Montessori Elementary.
In the third grade he went into a literacy program and then he got a tutor. From grades four to six his parents saw the change. But they had the most to do with it. Whatever was in their bookshelf, they took it out and read to him and sometimes he would read to them. A lot of Harry Potter and Magic Tree House.
“I could read the words, but I couldn’t pronounce them,” Armand says. “I was very good in math and science, but I just didn’t like reading. Once I was able to pronounce them and understand it, I started to enjoy it.”
David says it was “a matter of clarity,” and helping him to learn how words fit together. Armand says he was 11 when he read his first book to himself all the way through, Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone. With a wave of a wand, Armand kept improving at Clark Montessori and he was ready for the big leagues and Huck Finn at Walnut, as AP classes in everything from German, statistics and science.
His path to medicine was a lot easier.
“My grandpa,” he says of Dr. Braxton Cann Jr., still a practicing ear, nose and throat specialist at age 76. “The family history has a lot of doctors and that’s interesting to me. I’ve seen some surgeries and I think it’s something I can do. I’ve got good hands.”
He’ll be going to school not far from a big chunk of that history in Madisonville, home of the Braxton F. Cann Memorial Medical Center.
“That was my grandfather. He was one of those doctors who did house calls,” David says.”I knew Armand was getting interested in the medical profession in the ninth grade. I’ve got diabetes and he was worried about me. He kept asking me about my diet and telling me what I should and shouldn’t eat. The doctors in our family skipped a generation, but they’re going to be back in this one.”
Which is why Lewis figures the money has to keep coming.