A hand out of the rough


Marvin Lewis

Adam Fangman is a Bengals fan and as a member of the Dixie Heights High School Class of 2012, he can't remember anybody but Marvin Lewis as head coach of the Bengals.

So he can be forgiven for the blitzing butterflies in his stomach as he sat down with Lewis for his scholarship interview last week.

"But his personality put me at ease," Fangman says. "He was smiling and he talked about golf. That settled me down a little bit."

This is what Lewis does. He's a calming influence. In the middle of a youth movement, or in the teeth of free agency, or amid the nerves of a playoff run, or in the heart of the community, Lewis is always there with serene support and self-assuredness against the elements.

And so it is again in May when the centerpiece of his Marvin Lewis Community Fund yields five more college scholarships at $20,000 per student. For those scoring at home, his foundation has been doing this for the life of the average middle school student in becoming one of Cincinnati's more reliable traditions.

Since 2005 the Marvin Lewis Scholarship Fund has awarded 41 scholarships, four Sharon Thomas Memorial Scholarships and one Vikki Zimmer Memorial Scholarship for more than $4.2 million. And Lewis is now working on seven straight years of finding Amazing But True stories hidden in Greater Cincinnati's high schools.

So, of course, Lewis and Fangman would talk golf. The foundation's biggest fundraiser of the year is Sunday at the ninth annual Marvin Lewis Celebrity Golf Classic at Shaker Run Golf Club in Lebanon, Ohio. There's a Tailgate Breakfast, a Celebrity Shootout, a Taste of the Jungle, and 14 holes before Fangman and four others receive their scholarships.

"Adam is Marvin's kind of guy," says former Bengals kicker Doug Pelfrey. "He's that 'get-er-done' kind of guy. I mean, I could talk about the kid for hours. I just don't know where to start."

Start with Pelfrey's Kicks for Kids organization that has also become a community icon reaching out to disadvantaged youth. Fangman has done everything from driving celebrities, folding clothes, wrapping Christmas presents, to tearing down tents.

"A lot of people just want the easy, nice jobs; Adam just wants to do a job," Pelfrey says. "He's rearranged our offices and cleaned them out and with most teenagers it's like with your own kids. You have to go in and clean up after them. But not Adam. He does it right the first time."

Or, you could start with FBLA. Future Business Leaders of America. It's a group designed to educate children on serving their communities and after working with Kicks for Kids, Fangman wondered why there was no vibrant FBLA presence at Dixie Heights. He revived the chapter with the help of Pelfrey's organization, PROPEL, to such an extent that Pelfrey says Fangman's one-person efforts were the main reasons PROPEL was able to do so much good via the Dixie students.

Or, you can start with Fangman's application for the Lewis scholarship.

"He talked about it from the standpoint of what he's accomplished," Pelfrey says. "He didn't even talk about his need."

Fangman's family didn't think there'd be a need. His parents had a plan to send their children to college, but when brother Brady came along a few years after Adam there had to be an adjustment. With his mom staying home to take care of Brady's special needs and his dad continuing to work, Adam had to find a way to pay his own way to Thomas More College, which has what he wants in his efforts to make a career out of radiology.

He received nearly half his tuition from the school on an academic and leadership scholarship, but he needed more. He got a couple from Dixie, but the Lewis scholarship, good for $5,000 per year, is what put it over the top and carved the loans to just about $2,000 for his freshman year.

"I think that's pretty much what did it," says Fangman, who plans to major in biology and minor in business. "Right up until I got it (last week), I didn't know if it was Thomas More or (Northern Kentucky). I really wanted Thomas More because of their science department."

Or, you can start with golf, which Fangman is going to play at Thomas More. Lewis loves the fact that he became one of the top schoolboy golfers in Northern Kentucky after starting his career with a nine-hole 63 at his first meet as a freshman.

"Yeah. It was a bad round. It was the first time I ever played nine holes," he says. "But the coach kept me on the team. He thought I had potential."

His coach also must have seen the work ethic of Vijay Singh, the PGA Tour's leading range rover. After Fangman was the only cut from the baseball team his sophomore year, he threw his heart and soul into golf.

Fangman won't lie. The cut hurt more than his devastating shoulder injury in the first inning of his first baseball game freshman year. Playing left field he ran in for a little looper, caught it, collided with the shortstop and shattered his shoulder when he landed on it.

"I held on to the ball and I finished the inning," he says. "But that was it. I had to have a six-inch plate and seven screws put in."

Despite that opening 63, golf wouldn't be as cruel. He figured the best way to improve was to find a course where he could work in exchange for free golf. Enter World of Golf in Florence, Ky., about two and a half years ago, another place where Adam will do anything asked.

"I guess the worst thing is emptying the garbage, but it's not bad at all and I like doing a little bit of everything," he says. "I clean the carts, work the counter, change the pins."

He usually works 3 to 9 and he'll try to get there right after school so he can hit a bucket of balls before he starts his shift. On his days off, he'll play.

How good is he now? Fangman says his best drives are 270 yards, but he says his strength is his short game. Four years ago he didn't go that far on vacation, but he turned that 63 into an 18-hole 73 when Dixie won the prestigious Beechwood Invitational last August.

And he came tantalizingly close to winning the Region 9 tournament. Two over par ended up winning it and he was two over with four holes to play. But he went five over to finish with a 79, missing qualifying for states by just two shots and Dixie finished third, missing states by one place.

That's more than pretty good.

"One of those at the end was a double bogey. I need to make that double bogey a par," says Fangman, who no doubt will as he takes his improbable golf career to a higher level.

But he's also got other clubs in the bag. He just finished a year-long mentoring stint with Hanner's Heroes with a second-grader at Hinsdale Elementary, which is also in the Kenton County School District.

"I helped him mainly with math, but I also did some reading with him. The most rewarding thing was seeing him smile and light up when I got there," Fangman says. "To have him look forward to it was a great feeling. I thought this was kind of nice. At the end-of-year celebration he gave me a card that said, 'Today is our last day together forever,' so I think he enjoyed me."

Pelfrey doesn't think he's seen the last of Fangman. Fangman is collecting recycled golf equipment so they can help disadvantaged people play. Pelfrey wonders about that $20,000 Lewis scholarship.

"I wouldn't be surprised, "Pelfrey says, "to find out in a few years that he used some of that money to help somebody."

After all, Fangman is the guy that has already proved anything can happen in four years.

From 63 to 73, who knows what's next?

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