Pay off

Posted: 3:30 p.m.

Marvin Lewis had to smile when they asked Boomer Esiason back to his annual golf tournament and he asked, "Is the last one over?"

You know your gig is big when you have to downsize. The Marvin Lewis Golf Classic presented by Cincinnati Bell is now 14 holes so everyone that wants to play Sunday at Shaker Run can finish before Carson Palmer starts throwing those wedge shots in the voluntaries that begin Tuesday. You also know it has become a holiday on the social-sports-spring calendar when the number reaches sixth annual and it stretches over two days with a Saturday night downtown bash.

But you really know your deal has become a fabric of the community when those college scholarships you gave away are coming back with degrees.

And a lot more than that when you start talking about changing lives and living through change.

That's the way Josh Jasensky sees it. Dominos. Action and reaction. Fate and free will.

The $20,000 scholarship he received from Lewis' foundation put him over the top to attend Miami University and "because I was able to go to Miami and study in that kind of program, that allowed me to apply to Michigan and continue my education," Jasensky says. "For me, it made the difference."

Four years later he returns Sunday to Shaker Run to watch the new class receive their scholarships as a member of the first graduating class. Jasensky, of Walton, Ky., graduates with a degree in physics and begins working on his doctorate in Ann Arbor.

He joins Dennison's Tiffany Allen, on her way to Case Western's law school, and University of Cincinnati's Sharita Legette, a member of UC's five-year nursing program who already has a job lined up. Four years ago they were on a list in front of Lewis and wife Peggy. After all the fundraisers and the raffles for 50-yard line seats and the silent Hall of Fame auctions and all the money, it comes down to the screenings and interviews and Lewis asking questions like, "What do you want to be doing in 10 years?"

It is always an intriguing weekend. Where else but at Lewis' tournament can you find an autographed item from the Bengals' arch enemy, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and his coach, Ken Anderson, defending his closest-to-the-pin title?

But this is a weekend Jasensky should be signing your program.

A big reason he targeted Miami is because he wanted to help his older brother David cope with Common Variable Immune Deficiency, a disorder in which the body is sapped of antibodies and prone to infections.

"If I could be with David, I thought we could really help each other," Jasensky says. "We're roommates, so when he's sick I can help him with school and help him get around if he needs it. Right now, he's just as healthy as me, but there are other times he needs help. But he also helps me. We're close. We help each other."

A heck of a weekend. You get a guy a like Paul Warfield kibitzing with a fellow Browns Hall of Fame receiver Ozzie Newsome and at the next table might be Isaac Curtis, the old Bengals receiver who always seemed to put up Canton numbers against the Browns. 

But it is also a weekend Waly Reyes should be your celebrity partner on the tee box. He won't be there this weekend because he's probably both working and studying at Ohio State. He's got another year left before he gets his degree in accounting (he'll do an internship this summer), but the fact he's already got three years in the books is a testament to his brains and grit, as well as the kindness of strangers and friends.

After living in the home of a Reading High School football teammate, Reyes eyed college knowing he had to pay his own way. He did get most of it through scholarship, but the Lewis grant offers a guy with no margin of error some breathing room.

"I've been responsible for my finances so it means no loans and it means I don't have to work more than 10 to 15 hours a week," says Reyes, who makes pizzas at Marizio's, right near the Ohio State Medical Center."That helps when it comes to studying. It's still the same plan. Graduate and get in the work force as soon as possible."

Lewis likes to hear the stories. It appeals to his "One Play at A Time" mentality. If Reyes can use the $20,000 to get more study time, then it has impact. If Jasensky used it to get his doctorate, then Lewis will be the first to call him "Doctor."

"A lot of these kids get aid, but this is beyond that. They need that just as much," Lewis says. "If you saw some of the incomes, well, you just wouldn't believe it."

Jaymon Ballew, who ought to have BOTH his Princeton High School football and basketball jerseys signed and auctioned off this weekend, knows he's luckier than most of the kids on the list. He has two parents and while both are working (mother Lori at the downtown post office and father Ronald on the docks at Tote's Isotoner in Westchester) it gets them nowhere near the $52,000 annual price of ivy at Columbia.

The New York City school called late in the application process last year and went hard for a kid with a 4.0 grade point average that was a wide receiver on the Vikings playoff team and their point guard on a run to the basketball regionals.

He got $38,000 in aid, plus Lewis' $5,000 per year and another scholarship. That left loans that he must begin paying six months after graduation.

"It means my parents don't have to take out a loan," Ballew says. "They've got three coming behind me (17, 13, and nine) and they've got to have something for them."

Making an impact? His siblings are the ripples in the pond and they watched their brother make quite a splash in his freshman year.

From the walks up 125th street to view Harlem and the Apollo Theatre, to the night when everyone spilled into the streets to celebrate the election of a fellow alum to the Oval Office, to the subway ride to Queens to check out a St. John's hoop game, Ballew can only say, "New York City is the one place in the world where it is exactly how it is in the movies or TV."

Ballew wants to go into business, but the economic major didn't exactly fit into what he had in mind so he's switching to political science.

"It's the one thing where I can keep my options open," says Ballew, who won't rule out becoming a doctor, lawyer or NFL general manager as he begins a summer internship at Fairfield Mercy Hospital.

The one thing the Lewis kids seem to have in common is the closest they came to getting back on the field again in college is intramurals. And Lewis nods. It's not big on his list either, although a recipient has to have a varsity letter in a sport.

But the way Lewis lists the qualifications is "Community service, academics, need, and sports. Need is huge."

Yet they miss sports, too. Ballew has some Princeton stuff hanging on his dorm room wall and Reyes has been in the OSU intramural playoffs for football, basketball and softball, "but we're still looking for that first win," he said.

"I really respect the people who play sports in college because of the time commitment," Ballew says. "I thought about walking on to the football team, but I'm studying about five hours a day."

Both Reyes and Ballew miss the same thing. Reyes, a defensive end, misses the bonding of football. Ballew calls it "being with the guys and competing. There is nothing like high school sports."

In the history of Cincinnati sports, there has been nothing quite like this weekend. About 250 golfers teeing it up. But the last shot comes from one of the weekend's three biggest celebrities.

"I'd like to thank him for the opportunity," says Jasensky of what he might say to Lewis. "I'm grateful."

The Marvin Lewis Scholarship Fund will award three students with $20,000 college scholarships at the "Welcome to Our Jungle" post-play party on Sunday. LeAnn Clark (Franklin High School), Christopher Crowder (Lakota West High School) and LeeAnn Lanzarotta (Franklin High School) are this year's recipients. A fourth student, Nevin Heard (St. Xavier High School) will receive a $30,000 college scholarship with the monies raised from the "Pink Out" event in memory of Sharon Thomas.

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