NFL stars make a few good turns for city kids |

NFL stars make a few good turns for city kids

John Colson

A cadre of 32 football greats will be in Aspen this weekend, taking part in the third running of the Karl Mecklenburg First Downhill celebrity ski race on Aspen Mountain.

The race is the main fund-raiser for A Grassroots Aspen Experience, a local youth advocacy group that brings disadvantaged kids to Aspen for two 10-day visits every year.

Hailing from such teams as the Denver Broncos (Mecklenburg’s team, and a primary sponsor of the race), Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants, San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys and more, the players arrive today for a kickoff party and “casino night” at the Caribou Club.

On Friday, the racers will begin a nonstop whirlwind of activities, including an autograph-signing session from noon to 1 p.m. at the Alpine Bank Aspen and practice runs down the Little Nell course starting at 2 p.m.

The race will be held on Saturday, starting at 10 a.m. It will feature 14 teams made up of National Football League players and a smattering of Aspen residents and visitors.

Other events include a free lunch for local families and kids on Saturday, from noon to 2 p.m. inside a “hospitality tent” at the base of the Little Nell ski run, and a free Easter Brunch and egg hunt at the Inn at Aspen, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Both events are sponsored by the Aspen Foundation.

In addition, comic Robert Schimmell, whose routine at the recent Comedy Festival got rave reviews, will do an hour of stand-up comedy at the St Regis Hotel on Saturday, from 10:30 to 11:30 p.m. The show is open to the public, and tickets are available through A Grassroots Aspen Experience.

Grassroots, which has worked to help disadvantaged youngsters from inner city ghettos and other impoverished locales around the United States, was founded in 1991. It has brought “just over 3,000 youths” to Aspen over the years, according to founder and Executive Director John Reid.

Of that number, he said, approximately 350 have graduated from high school and gone on to college. And this year, Reid said, more than 20 of the “kids” who have gone through the program will graduate from colleges across the country.

“Most of them are either thinking grad school or professional careers,” Reid said proudly this week.

AGAE, as it is known, now has an annual budget of approximately $600,000, although it continues to be run by “two impoverished staffers” – Reid and Patricia Noble. But, Reid noted, the organization also depends on the work of some 250 to 300 local volunteers who pitch in during each year’s summer and winter programs.

A significant new aspect to AGAE’s work, Reid said, is the expansion of the organization’s scholarship program.

New this year is a $20,000 scholarship named after Ben Pickover, a volunteer who died of a heart attack in Marble last year while helping out with the summer program.

In addition, the organization hands out two $10,000 scholarships, and five $2,000 scholarships. One of the $10,000 scholarships has been named in honor of Derrick McKnight, an AGAE participant who died recently in New York City as a result of gang violence.

“The more educational resources we can provide to the kids, the greater the likelihood most of them will succeed,” Reid said. He noted that the Denver Broncos have pledged to match 60 cents for every dollar raised locally to fund the scholarship program.

Between 80 and 90 kids come to Aspen, two times every year, for roughly 10 days of outdoor activities, evening “rap sessions” with youth counselors, and a variety of confidence-building activities.

This year, Reid said, there will be a wide range of media represented at the event, including local newspapers, television and radio outlets; Denver television stations; The Football Network (a new, 24-hours a day cable station); and Bob Beattie’s “Ski World” production company.

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