"(The scholarship) is the most significant thing I ever do," Marvin Lewis says.
Now that the 12th annual Marvin Lewis Golf Classic on Sunday has been around longer than his most senior players, left tackle Andrew Whitworth and nose tackle, Domata Peko, not to mention arriving before his three AFC North titles, The Banks, and Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate, we can officially go Throwback on the Bengals head coach.
Try Waly Reyes, who back in 2006 received one of the first Marvin Lewis College Scholarships.
"Waly. The wrestler. Went to The Ohio State," Lewis is saying the other day with a smile when he hears the name. "Bought a house. Got married."
"He just had a kid," he is told and another smile.
"They did?" Lewis says. "That's a hell of a deal."
A hell of a deal, indeed.
Like it is now, the scholarship was worth $20,000 at $5,000 per year. Back then it meant everything for a kid who had to move in with his best friend's family to stay that senior year at Reading High School when he played two sports and ranked 14th in the class while still keeping his job all the way up at a West Chester Burger King because his bosses didn't want to lose him.
It still does mean everything to the guy who answers the phone the other day at the desk of one of Cincinnati-based Ohio National Financial Service's internal auditors, where Reyes just doesn't crunch numbers but deals with control assessments and risk assessments.
With his family strapped, Reyes was on his own. While everyone wants Lewis' team to get over the hump, here's the real definition of getting over the hump. The $20,000 meant Reyes didn't have to put himself through Ohio State.
"I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for the help of the Marvin Lewis Scholarship," Reyes says. "I still worked here and there for spending money, but I didn't have to work 30-40 hours a week while trying to focus on my studies. I had a cumulative GPA of 3.5 and in my core accounting classes it was 3.7.
"It put me over the top."
Reyes' story and so many others are the reason the Marvin Lewis Community Fund is one of the most successful and long-running foundations in the country when it comes to a sport figure. Whether it is the scholarship program or The Learning is Cool partnership with Cincinnati and Covington, Ky., public schools that provides incentives for honor roll work, the money, more than $10 million, has gone where it is supposed to go.
To kids like Reyes.
The scholarship has crept closer and closer to Lewis' heart because of them. And he has interviewed them all, shaking his head in awe, biting his lip with emotion, smiling in their triumph.
"The wrestler. Went to The Ohio State."
Lewis and wife Peggy each read the essays. Barbara Dundee, the MLCF executive director sits in on the interview and also reads the essays.
But just like fourth-and-one, it is the head coach's call.
"I did it again this year," Lewis says. "Couldn't decide again so we went with six instead of five. I write a check for the sixth one and make a 20,000 additional donation to the fund."
It's always a tough call because just when Lewis has thought he has heard every story imaginable, here comes another one.
He has given scholarships to kids who have virtually nothing but the prom dresses they made and a valedictorian's grades. Or kids who have watched money sapped by a father's car accident. Or a sibling's condition. Or a mother's death. And they just don't quit.
Like Bakari Jones in 2011.
Jones came from a single-parent home. His mother become blinded by a tumor in her eye and she had been out of work for a year in which her son continued to volunteer in soup kitchens, tutor at the Nativity Grade School, and perform community service work for the Alpha Esquires, a group that provides mentors for young people.
Not only that, he ran track and wrestled and played tight end and linebacker for Purcell Marian High School. Jones, who also did ballet, taught himself to draw and paint through reading on his own and became a student of Cedric Cox, a Cincinnati professional artist.
"(The scholarship) is the most significant thing I ever do," Lewis says.
Now the kids are having kids.
Kelsey Ann Reyes is nine months old. Her mother is Kayla, the officer of the Reading High Key Club and Waly's girlfriend who got him involved in community endeavors. Now that she's his wife, not much has changed. They live in Reading, where she's a Girl Scout leader, pre-school teacher and soccer coach.
"We're going to stay here. It's tight-knit,' Reyes says. "She's never going to leave her family and I'm not going to leave her.
"I'd like to be more involved in the community," he says. "Sometimes I help her run soccer practice, but I'm working a lot and now there's a wife and a kid."
Community work is still the main way to get a Marvin Lewis scholarship. There is also a 1,000-word essay, a minimum grade point average of 2.75, financial need, and a varsity letter in any sport. But there are requirements and then there are deal closers.
"A lot of the decision making comes down to the involvement in community service. How much they care about giving back. I think it helps them grow," Lewis says. "There's GPA and academic projection from the (test) scores. But you just have to play a sport or be in an extracurricular. We're very loose with that. That's the minimal part of it."
He remembers all their stories. Stories like Waly Reyes, born in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.
His mother wanted to get him and his two older sisters out of there to get educated, so, with no money, she and a friend snuck on to a barge and jumped out as it neared the Puerto Rican coast. When she was settled in Puerto Rico and had the proper documentation, Reyes says she called for Waly, then 5, and his sisters.
Soon they moved to New York, where Reyes remembers living in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan.
"My mother was working two jobs and New York was just so expensive, we could barely make it," Reyes says. "We had to move a lot of because we just couldn't afford it."
Finally a friend of one of his sisters told them about Cincinnati and how affordable it was and the jobs were plentiful. So in the sixth grade he became a Cincinnatian, but he still bounced around various homes as his mother and sisters tried to get traction in their new city.
As his senior year approached at Reading, his grandfather was ill, his mother was exhausted and homesick and Waly had two options. Go back to the Dominican with her or find arrangements to stay. That's when he asked the family of his good friend Steven Solomon, the Reading High valedictorian, if he could stay in an extra room. Solomon's mother, Vicki, a member of the Reading School Board, was all in, and she's still no stranger. She's been known to stop by the house and act like a grandmother to Kelsey.
"We're still close," Reyes says. "(Steven) is at Ohio State finishing up to become a psychiatrist," and we don't live very far from the house…I love Cincinnati. It's my big small city."
When he was at Reading High, Reyes developed an outstanding rep among the faculty. He was the kind of kid who read Don Quixote in Spanish and would tell you in English why he wanted to challenge windmills. Reyes realized he had yet to leave Reading High because his nephew told him his Spanish teacher often mentioned him in class and pulled him aside once.
"Your uncle is a strong person who had every opportunity in the world to be nothing at all and nobody could blame him," Reyes recalls. "I want to be a good example. It's not easy to be a teen-age boy. I remind them I'm always there for them and they can come to my house anytime they need anything."
Reyes has been invited back by MLCF to some of the golf tournaments and Lewis has always had a smile for him. It's been hard to make it back lately, though, with work. This Sunday at Shaker Run Golf Club in Lebanon, Ohio, nine former scholars wearing line green T-shirts will be selling mulligans and Split the Pot tickets.
That's the nice thing about the tournament It has stayed popular, but it is now also comfortable and familiar. The popularity of it has turned it into 14 holes instead of 18, but no one seems to care because everyone knows it's going to be a blue-chip effort raising about $300,000. After 12 years it has turned into a reunion with the same sponsors and same volunteers.
Take Lindsay Reisert, the assistant director of MLCF whose baby is the tournament. Well, it's her third baby. When she was pregnant with her first two, it didn't stop her from stocking Shaker for the festivities. Now the kids are on the course and her oldest, a six-year-old girl, helps Lewis hand out prizes. Reisert figures between her family and her husband's family, they've got 12 volunteers out there every year all doing the same job. Her mother and father like being on the course, so they drive the photographer around.
The celebrity list has also become reliable. There are always some big names (this year they are Anthony Munoz and Sam Wyche), some former Lewis Steelers and Ravens (this year they are Greg Lloyd and Duane Starks), and big current Bengals (this year they are left tackle Andrew Whitworth and running back Giovani Bernard).
One of these days Reyes is going to make it back. He's got some buddies that kid him. He makes sure he goes to two Bengals games a year ("I love my Bengals") and they kid him, "Marvin Lewis doesn't know you. You're just a number. You're just one of the kids he gave $20,000."
"I don't think so," Reyes says. "I met Marvin a couple of times at the golf outing. He seemed to know who I was. He asked me about Ohio State. His smile is so compassionate, it makes it seem like we're just really good friends."
"Oh yeah." Lewis says. "I always remember Waly."
Hell of a deal.
2015 MARVIN LEWIS COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIPS
Nick Boyle, St. Xavier High School, will study Pharmaceutical Sciences at The Ohio State University.
Delaney McDowell, William Mason High School. After studying at Liberty University plans to become an occupational therapist.
Taylor Lattimore, Purcell-Marian High School, will be attending Spelman College in hopes of becoming a physician.
Alyson Boles, Randall K. Cooper High School, attending the University of Louisville for a bachelor's degree in Special Education.
Kelly Welsh, Bishop Fenwick High School, attending the University of Louisville to study Nutrition.
Tailor-Marie Smith, Wyoming High School, plans to study Fashion Design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.