More than $1.5M has been raised for new facility

Ofelia Garcia Hunter, Alice Echo-News Journal

Former Dallas Cowboy Rayfield Wright had one message of inspiration at the Steak and Burger Dinner fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club - give a child an opportunity.

"Continue to reach out and touch someone, say a kind word to them and lift them up," Wright said as guest speaker at the dinner. "Just give them the opportunity."

Wright spoke about his humble upbringing by a single mom and grandmother, living in a three-room house in Griffin, Ga., which was the same population as Alice.

He said he remembers his grandmother who they called "Big Mama." She instilled in him the importance of prayer. He said the first thing Big Mama would do when she got up in the morning was pray.

Wright said that at the age of 10, he asked Big Mama if he could give the prayer.

"I asked (God) to give me the ability so I can help my grandmother, help my family and help other people," he said. "Big Mama asked me 'son, do you believe,' and I said 'yes ma'am.'"

Wright said that his prayer had been answered.

Organizers of the annual the Steak and Burger Dinner fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club certainly believe in their mission as well.

A live auction, raffle and silent auction brought in thousands of dollars to help the club with its new facility.

A presentation by Nora Barrera-Rycroft announced that the club has raised $1.5 million and the groundbreaking of the new building is expected to start next year.

Wright attributes he success to the women that raised him and Coach Lomax.

He said in 1963 he had talked to an Air Force recruiter and he and nine other friends were planning to join the military because his family couldn't afford to send him to college.

But he said before he had officially joined, he met Coach Lomax, a football coach at Fort Valley College where his cousin, "Bubba" was captain of the football team.

Wright said he had never played football before and didn't even make his high school team. At 6-feet, 7-inches tall and about 220 lbs., he was a basketball player. He said Coach Lomax was persistent and wanted him to play football. He said the opportunity would give him the chance to play sports and get a college education. He said Coach Lomax talked to his family and the Air Force recruiter.

"You know that in those days, when the adults talked the children were sent outside, so I waited as they talked about my career and my life," he said. "It was about three hours and I sat on the front porch waiting until I saw the front door open and my mother and grandmother came outside crying."

Wright said he didn't know what to expect because he wasn't in the meeting. But then the recruiter came outside and said, "Son, you can go to college."

After three and a half years, he received a business degree.

"Education is so important young people," he said. "Education gives us knowledge and knowledge gives us wisdom."

Wright said that in 1967, he received a phone call from Gil Brandt, who at that time was a personnel director for the Dallas Cowboys organization under Tom Landry. He said at first he thought is was a prank and asked if he could call him back. When he called back, a secretary answered with the Dallas Cowboys.

"I almost dropped the phone," Wright said. "Gil told me that the team wanted to draft me and to watch the television. Well, we didn't have a television and so I had to listen to it by radio."

Wright said when he finally heard his name, not in the first or second or third round, but in the seventh round, the feeling was incredible.

"In the seventh round I heard my name called…the whole campus went crazy," he said.

He said that at about the same time, the Cincinnati Royals also wanted him to play professional basketball for them.

He said that year, 137 rookies were drafted and only five, including himself, made the Dallas Cowboys team. So he declined to play for the Royals and the rest is history. After playing for 13 seasons for the Dallas Cowboys and 22 years later, he was named to the NFL Hall of Fame in 2006.

Wright said growing up without a father was difficult, but other leaders in the community always seemed to be there for him and his family, like his Boy Scout leader.

But he said he would never forget Coach Tom Landry's advice that has stuck with him through his life and business ventures.

"No matter how many accolades you get, no matter how many awards you get, you will never be greater than the team," he said.