Giving student-athletes a boost

  • From left, Noble Teutau, coach Mosese Tupou, Chezarae Calvi-Ramos, Alan “Ka’ua” Awana, Kahlana Gonzalez-Guzman and Raymond Skillern. These Kealakehe football players will receive $250 each from insurance agent Paul Morgan’s Thursday Night Lights benefit. (Kealakehe Athletics/Courtesy Photo)

  • State Farm employees Dora Ramirez, Anna White, Paulette Graves, Pam Cheslock and Paul Morgan are organizing benefit tailgates Thursday Night Lights in Kailua-Kona to help student-athletes. (Elizabeth Pitts/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — A former running back at Vanderbilt, Paul Morgan, traded in his football helmet and pads to sell insurance when he arrived in Kailua-Kona. While he is currently an agent with State Farm, Morgan’s love for football and helping student-athletes hasn’t diminished.

“When I came over, I started coaching at Kamehameha Schools, and from there it just seemed like a natural progression of being involved in the community and giving back,” Morgan said. “Back in the day, I played at Vanderbilt and played some arena football, and after so many years you can’t do it anymore, but you still want to figure out a way to help your community. So coming into the insurance industry is a way that I can still be a protector and still help people without having to worry about running through a brick wall.”

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One of Morgan’s projects for community outreach is Thursday Night Lights, a benefit tailgate with local businesses and student-athletes across the island.

Businesses that want to participate would buy in a minimum of $250 to be a part of the tailgate, and in turn, that money would go to a student-athlete to be used for school supplies, clothing, food or any other needed items.

The community tailgates will be Aug. 9, 16 and 23 at Old Kona Airport Park. Thursday nights were chosen in order to avoid scheduling conflicts with high school football junior varsity and varsity games played on Friday nights.

Morgan is currently seeking businesses to participate in the tailgate. He believes the ones that have been affected by the Kilauea eruption can use the event as a way to showcase that they are still up and running despite natural disaster.

“In my mind, the timing is right for this,” Morgan said. “Even if you look at the economic perspective of businesses who are going through this down time right now, it’s a way for them to come out and rebrand their businesses about what they do.”

Businesses should bring their own tent and tables to the tailgate and are encouraged to bring information such as job and internship applications.

Kamehameha Schools football head coach Dan Lyons and assistant head coach Shaune Perry also had a hand in putting the tailgate together.

“It’s really all about life skills and getting the students involved in their community,” Lyons said. “These events help them understand the bigger picture in life.”

On the calendar is also a three-on-three basketball tournament, scheduled for April 6 of next year, and a baseball home run derby scheduled for July 13, 2019.

The $250 from these events will not just be given to student-athletes on Hawaii Island, but will be granted to any student-athlete in need, as far away as Kauai. Morgan said the money will be placed in a checking or savings account that the students can access to buy anything they may need.

“What it will be used for is, that kid can buy everything from school clothes to however they are affected. It’s their money,” Morgan said. “A lot of people donate to foundations and charities, but we want to give it where the need is right now.”

Morgan’s team— which consists of his fellow employees Pam Cheslock, Paulette Graves, Dora Ramirez and Anna White — has applied for a State Farm Neighborhood Assist grant for $25,000 to help fund the community outreach efforts. The grant is given annually to 40 different causes, which are selected by a public vote on the grant’s website. If awarded, Morgan plans for the money to be split evenly to give $250 to 100 student-athletes.

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Currently, Morgan and Graves are visiting schools on the island to teach student-athletes about the importance of a financial education, with a program they call Slice of Life. They will be at Kamehameha Schools on July 16 and 17 with pizza to talk to 68 athletes and break down budgeting and other money issues with them.

“Our backgrounds are all pretty much in athletics, so helping student-athletes was a natural progression for us,” White said. “And then bringing the community in to support those athletes is just a way to bring people together in a fun way that everyone can agree upon. Let’s help these kids out and give them a chance at a better future by educating them.”

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