Marvin Lewis: Making a Difference Year Round

Just like the NFL these days, Marvin Lewis’ work in the community through his namesake Community Fund is a 12-month endeavor.

Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis has made his eponymous community effort a signature source of outreach for more than a decade, raising more than $11.6 million since it began when he arrived to Cincinnati.

When Coach Lewis was named Bengals head coach, he and his wife, Peggy, with the guidance of the first executive director, the late Sharon Thomas, set up the Marvin Lewis Community Fund (MLCF) in 2003.

Its first initiative was funding for treatments and causes of multiple sclerosis. “My brother-in law-had been stricken with MS,” said Coach Lewis, “and we were fortunate enough to sponsor a couple of research grants, one nationally and one here at UC.”

As the Foundation grew, however, the focus turned to being more community focused, which was the genesis for the Marvin Lewis Scholarship Fund, created to recognize and honor outstanding male and female student athletes from the region on an annual basis. Each year at least five, and usually more, four-year, $20,000 scholarships are awarded to students who carry a minimum 2.75 grade point average, have proven financial need, and shown admirable commitment to the community. For students who often are the first in their families to attend college, the scholarship can mean all the difference.

“These scholarships can give them an opportunity to maybe better their life by going to college,” said Lewis, “maybe attend the first college of their choice, maybe not having to work while they’re in college.”

From the scholarships came the “Learning Is Cool” program, an educational reward initiative that recognizes strong academic performance in four school districts, including Cincinnati Public, North College Hill, Covington Independent and Middletown. The program puts an emphasis on the students’ “A” Honor Roll (3.51+) achievements, with more than 30,000 students now involved.

And these students earn quite a reward for sticking with the program. Students who reach the “A” Honor Roll at least twice during the school year are invited to attend the Academic Achievement Celebration at the Cincinnati Zoo, where they get to meet Coach Lewis and Bengals players present them with a special medal of achievement.

“We’ve been able to include our players in the mix, both at the celebration and at the Learning Is Cool assemblies at participating schools,” Coach Lewis said. MLCF partners also visit the schools to talk about career opportunities. “It gives them a chance to reach out to these young people and let the students ask them questions. Chances are, you’re not all going to end up being a pro athlete or coach, but the students need to know there are a lot of career options you can choose to enjoy your life.”

Other community initiatives include Hometown Huddle, a partnership between the NFL, the Bengals and United Way to fix up a school or playground in the community; the Marvin Lewis Coaching Clinic, instructing youth football coaches in the area the correct way to teach the game; and the free Youth Football Camp, teaching 300 area youngsters the fundamentals of the game along with the value of sportsmanship and education.

“This gives these young people the opportunity to be on the stadium floor,” Coach Lewis said. “Most have never been inside Paul Brown Stadium, but they can say they’ve played football on that field. It’s a big deal to them, and gives us the chance to stress the things that are important to us; be a strong reader, thank the people who helped get you here. It’s terrific that these young people are taking advantage of this opportunity.”

The upcoming Cincinnati Scurry, scheduled for Friday, April 7, helps support Learning Is Cool.

Other fundraisers include the always-sold-out Football 101 in the fall and the Marvin Lewis Golf Classic on Sunday, May 21, this year to be held at TopGolf in West Chester.

“Our corporate partners make our events special every time, through gifts in kind, financial support, even providing volunteers. Our board members have been united in our vision and have stepped up as well with their support.”

To learn more about upcoming MLCF initiatives or to participate in the Cincinnati Scurry and Marvin Lewis Golf Classic, visit www.marvinlewis.org. 

Alex ReillyPROFILES