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MLB WINTER MEETINGS
December 9, 2008
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
THE MODERATOR: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us for today's press conference. A little over a year ago, the Angels organization signed one of the game's premier players. In a short period of time, the Angels have come to understand, learn and understand, that for all his accomplishments on the field, Torii Hunter continues to make his greatest impact off the field.
We're here this morning to introduce the Torii Hunter Project, the program in partnership with the Heart of a Champion Foundation and in conjunction with the Angels Baseball Foundation as an educational initiative to bring character, enrichment and college opportunities to students in Anaheim; Pine Bluff, Arkansas; Las Vegas; and Minneapolis.
The initiative will kick off next month with the deployment of the Heart of a Champion character program to select middle and junior high schools in the June announcement of 25 scholarship recipients. The project's aim is to give students the opportunity to elevate their lives, receive a quality education, and be better prepared for the future.
Through the Hunters' Hundred Scholarship program, a total of 100 qualifying students will receive financial aid in colleges. Heart of a Champion encourages students to elevate their character in the classroom, at home, in extracurricular activities and in the communities, and at this time we'd like to present a short video clip.
At this time I'd like to introduce Steve Rich, chairman of the board of Heart of a Champion, to give a project overview to discuss the initiatives.
STEVE RICH: Thank you, Tim. On behalf of everyone involved with the Torii Hunter Project, I want to thank you for being here today to hear about this very special, if maybe a bit unusual, announcement. It's quite unique, I think, that in this room where you're so used to hearing, and certainly within the next 24 hours you'll be hearing about how much money a baseball player is making, that this morning you're going to hear about how much money a baseball player is giving. What a great statement it is for these Winter Meetings to hear what Torii Hunter is doing.
As you saw in the video clip, the Torii Hunter Project is a comprehensive, long-term effort to impact youth in need throughout various parts of the United States. It's built on those four core areas that the video displayed: sports, community, education and wellness. And in a considerable act of commitment and generosity, Torii and his wife Katrina have contributed over $1 million of their personal resources to fund the project and are seeking additional partners to expand the work.
Many of you are probably aware of the things that Torii and Katrina have done. They've built a youth baseball facility in Orange County. They're building a baseball facility in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Torii's home town, and they've contributed to numerous efforts to helping youth who are in need, who are hungry and homeless and have various needs.
But this initiative in addition to being launched today focuses specifically on education and how through education students can be given the best opportunity for a successful future. To achieve this, the project focuses on those two elements that Tim mentioned: the Heart of a Champion program and the Hunters' Hundred Scholarship program.
Heart of a Champion program is regarded as the nation's premier character education program at the middle school and junior high school level. The program focuses on nine specific traits: commitment, leadership, perseverance, teamwork, respect, integrity, responsibility, self-control and compassion. Those are nine traits that define the gentleman that Torii Hunter is.
The program is delivered during the entire three-year middle school or junior high school experience for a student, is deployed weekly over the entire nine-month school year. The program incorporates real-life stories of people like Nolan Ryan and others, incorporating innovative print, video and online tools to instill and reinforce positive character and life skills. And for the past eight years the program has produced measurable results in schools, after-school outlets and juvenile justice facilities in 18 states here in the United States.
The results indicate specific attitudinal and behavioral changes in students along with reduced disciplinary incidents, reduced drug use, and increase in grade point averages, in some case as much as a 49 percent increase in grade point averages.
In addition to this initiative, through the work of Torii and his wife Katrina and in partnership with the Angels Baseball Foundation, the Heart of a Champion program will initially impact some 7,000 students in the Anaheim area; the Pine Bluff, Arkansas, area; and in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Angels Baseball Foundation is graciously partnering with Torii to reach the Anaheim area.
The Hunters' Hundred Scholarship program will provide a minimum of 100 scholarships to qualifying students during the years 2009 through 2012. Students will be required to meet certain criteria, including but not limited to financial need, academic standing, attendance and high character, and they'll be selected without regard to race, gender or ethnicity.
Each year beginning with this 2005-2010 school year that will come in the fall, 25 scholarships will be presented to select high school graduates, and those graduates will come from three very deserving organizations.
We have representatives from two of those organizations here today. I'd like to introduce those to you now. The Pine Bluff School District in Arkansas where Torii is from and where he went to school will be one of recipients of those scholarships. They could not be here today because they've got school going on and they're very busy right now in Arkansas. The other two recipients are the Orangewood Children's Home in Orange, California, and the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy here in Las Vegas.
The overall goal of this education initiative is to raise $5 million over the next four years to fund both aspects of the project and will enable the Torii Hunter Project to provide the Heart of a Champion program to some 50,000 middle school and junior high school students in the areas of interest, and the minimum of 100 college scholarships to those deserving high school graduates.
Torii's desire is to go way beyond those numbers, and with the kind of individual he is and what he's doing to further this act, we're confident that we're going to see people all over the United States being impacted.
I want to tell you this initiative is groundbreaking. I'm not aware of another current professional athlete who has taken such a comprehensive approach to an academic reach in different parts of the United States, and so Torii is really breaking new ground here. And what he's doing is phenomenal, his desire to elevate the lives of young people and help them to advance to the next level.
It was Dr. Martin Luther, Jr., who once said, "The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character, that is the goal of education." And that certainly sums up what Torii is doing with this initiative.
We believe the benefits will be huge, and we believe we'll be seeing thousands of young people around the country with a better hope for tomorrow through the development of their character and through a chance to attend a university and get a good college education.
I mentioned the three organizations. I'd like to introduce the representatives from the two who are here this morning.
The Orangewood Children's Home is located in Orange, California. They provide refuge for over 2,700 young people each year who are affected by child abuse and neglect. Through financial assistance, mentors, daily living skills workshops, transitional housing and college scholarships, they give young people a second chance at a happy and productive life.
In their 27 year history, Orangewood has helped over 62,000 young people. And with us this morning is the chief executive officer of the Orangewood Children's Foundation, Mr. Cal Winslow. Cal, if you'd stand, we'd like to recognize you.
Orangewood Children's Home is one of the beneficiaries of the Torii Hunter Project. And the other one that's represented here this morning is the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy which is a model public charter school whose goal is to offer academic programs designed to enhance a child's character, respect, motivation and self-discipline while preparing its students for college. It is a unique work that Mr. Agassi is doing.
Located in the heart of Las Vegas' most at-risk neighborhood, the academy was founded in 2001 specifically to improve skill levels and combat lowered academic expectations while creating a climate of hope among this community's most challenged children.
And Mr. Andre Agassi, the founder, of course, of the academy is here with us today.
These three organizations will be the recipients of the minimum 100 scholarships over the next four years, and the Torii Hunter Project is excited to partner with each of them because the work they do makes an incredible difference in the lives of young people.
I'll tell you who is a great teammate, and that's Torii Hunter. You know that he is a two-time All-Star and he's won eight consecutive Gold Glove awards. You know about the statistics on the field. You probably also know after covering his career that he was the recipient of the 2007 Marvin Miller Man of the Year award and the 2004 Carl Pohlad award and has twice been nominated for the Roberto Clemente award.
What you may not know is he's one of the most genuine men that you'll ever have the opportunity to meet. He genuinely cares about people and about children, and that's why he's doing what he's doing. It's a privilege for us at Heart of a Champion to be partnering with Torii on this project and we are excited about seeing the lives that will change when we work together.
Come on up, Torii Hunter.
TORII HUNTER: You made me feel special right there. First of all, I'd like to thank Orangewood School's program and Andre Agassi, the preparatory college program, and the Angels Baseball Foundation. These guys are really helping me out with my dream, and I definitely appreciate that. I'd like to give you guys another round of applause.
Well, about me, actually I started this Torii Hunter Project like two years ago. I was just sitting in the bed with my wife Katrina, and we were just sitting up talking about, man, what can I do, what kind of program am I going to get together? I would go in and donate monies to different organizations and things like that, and I wanted to do something myself and really see it go to work.
So I told Larry to fly down here, I think I got some ideas and I think I need you to help me brainstorm, and he came down and we came up with the Torii Hunter Project, and we went on to try to work with Little League baseball. But I wanted to go over and beyond that, just trying to get interested in kids to play the game of baseball. I wanted to bring them education, health care and help out in the community, different things like that.
And I also -- when I was a child, my mom, whenever I didn't do my homework, she definitely wouldn't let me go outside and play, and I thought she was evil (laughter). She also told me I couldn't go to baseball practice or fastball practice or any practice if I didn't get my homework. Man, I thought she was really evil. I could have no respect for my mom. I'm like, wow, she's evil, nobody talks to her.
But as I got older, I understood how important education really was. I look at my children now, and whenever they come home with a B -- my kids make straight As, I'm sorry to say, but when they come home with a B, I tell them, hey, you've got to strive harder, you've got to push a little harder and try to get these As. So I know how important education is. I know my mother was trying to teach me that lesson early, but now I know as a parent.
So just talking to Larry and Steve Rich and hearing about the Andre Agassi Academy prep school and hearing about Orangewood and different things like that, I was like, man, that would be a good idea to have some scholarships. I always wanted to give back to kids and be able to help these kids pursue their careers. And if I have something to do with that and I see a doctor, this guy, I probably gave him scholarship but he has to have surgery on me, you never know, I'm getting old -- baseball people, I'm not getting old, I'm actually young, 23, but I definitely want these kids to really pursue their dreams and their careers, and I want to be very influential in doing that.
I hope that other baseball players will join in and help out with this cause, and we will keep going, keep the Torii Hunter Project going, and do some great things in this world, this state, this community.
Thank you guys for having me, and hopefully we can get this thing going.
STEVE RICH: As a man with a heart the size of California right there. I mentioned that Torii's work is groundbreaking and there are very few professional athletes who have taken the opportunity to impact people on such a broad basis.
You know, they really -- we talk a lot about what athletes do with what they have and they really don't have a responsibility, right? We expect them to. But they do it because they want to. They do it because they have a passion for impacting people's lives. That's what Torii Hunter is all about, and that's what Andre Agassi is all about, as well, and what he's doing in Las Vegas is phenomenal.
I mentioned earlier that he's here with us. He's not only here with us to stand up and wave his hand but he's here to give us some comments, as well.
You know that Andre is the founder of the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy. You probably also know that he's one of the popular and prolific athletes of our time. In our 21 year professional tennis career, Andre won eight Grand Slam titles, and he won 60 singles titles and an Olympic gold medal and brought all of us as fans of sport some of the most thrilling moments in tennis that we've ever seen.
Off the court, what he's done is even more amazing with the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, and we thought you might enjoy hearing from him for a few moments about what it means to be in partnership with Torii Hunter.
ANDRE AGASSI: Those statistics sound like a lot until you wake up with my wife and realize that they're not so impressive (laughter).
It's great to be here today. Welcome to my home. I'm born and raised in Las Vegas. I will start by just sort of saying I have two favorite baseball players in my life. One is a young man you probably haven't heard of yet but probably you'll be hearing of him in the next few years. His name is Jaden Gil Agassi, who loves baseball, and it's been such a great thing we could share between us. And now my second is Torii Hunter. You're a wonderful person and I marvel at what you're doing.
I'll tell you why I think so highly of you, because in life there will always be those that say that something can't be done, but Torii is proving that you can ease suffering and you can make a difference.
I started my foundation when I was 23. I thought I was sort of in the middle or maybe towards the end of my career. It turns out I was sort of on the front side of it. But when I started my foundation I knew I was going to help kids. It just seemed very easy to care about children. I wasn't sure how I was going to go about that. I did it a few different ways, through clothing children, through Operation School Bell where we clothe over 3,000 children a year. I did it through a shelter for abused and neglected kids whose parents are in rehab or in the courts or what have you. I did it through the Boys & Girls Club where we built this recreational building for the after-school hours, which are crucial hours in a young person's life.
And for a number of years I realized that you sort of end up chasing your tail. You're sort of sticking a lot of Band-Aids on real issues, and the only way to really create systemic change and make a difference in a child's life and to interrupt that downward spiral and give those tools of hope is to educate them.
So that's what led me to education. Don't confuse me -- because I built a school, don't confuse me with being smart. Eighth grade was the best three years of my life (laughter).
You know, focus on education. We looked at a charter school which is a part state-funded, part private-funded school. We went to the most economically challenged area of Las Vegas and we decided to build it there. But we didn't just want to build it for these children that were lucky enough to have their name drawn from a lottery to get in. We wanted to build it in a way that could make an argument how important education can be nationally.
Nevada is a state that funds about 49th in the United States per people allocation. We fund about $5,400 per student per year. The national average is north of 9,000. We're 50th in kids that we put into college. We're getting what we pay for. So what I wanted to do was to provide a national average of funding, to provide a higher than national average of accountability with those funds, and then to take that opportunity and give it to the children that society has written off the most.
This particular area, 96 percent are African-American but all 70 percent come from one-parent homes. We're the fifth largest school district in America and a number of years ago we were the only school nationally recognized for our accomplishments. This will be our first graduating class this year in June, and when that class graduates, the academy's job is technically finished, but these children's job isn't. Their life continues. It's only just begun. Our school is built on the theory that there are no shortcuts. In sports you learn that the hard way.
We have eight-hour school days versus six-hour school days. When these kids leave and graduate, technically they run to the finish line, but we don't believe that in our school. We believe your life is just beginning.
Because of Torii and his support and his recognition to the importance of education in these children's lives are giving these children at my school of dedicated years to achieving a goal, giving them a chance to continue that dream.
That means the world to me, and if there's anything I can ever do for you, I'm a simple guy, just call me, man.
THE MODERATOR: I'd also like to recognize another gentleman up here before we open it up for questions and answers, and he is truly kind of the wizard behind a lot of things in Torii's life, and that's his representative but more importantly his friend, Larry Reynolds.
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