The Baltimore Ravens draw more than 70,000 fans to each of their home games at M&T Bank Stadium and are followed passionately by millions more on television and in the press every year. Very few Ravens’ fans, however, have ever caught a first-hand glimpse of The Baltimore Ravens’ Under Armour Performance Center, the team’s headquarters and training facility in Owings Mills.
Among those precious few to have visited “The Castle,” as it is often referenced, you can add the 2016 class of McCormick Unsung Heroes, who were invited to the facility Monday night for an evening of fun and skills competitions that included punting with Ravens’ All-Pro Sam Koch, kicking field goals, shooting hoops and passing footballs through inflated targets.
McCormick & Company, presenters of the Unsung Heroes Dinner, which will take place May 2nd at Marriotts Valley Mansion in Cockeysville, has teamed up with the Ravens for the last six years to create this special experience for its very special honorees.
Unsung Heroes may not be the best known athletes and they may not be the stars with all of the honors and lofty stats, but they are just as important to the success of a team as any star. Just ask any coach.
“An Unsung Hero is the glue to any good team. You cannot have success without those dedicated few who will make any sacrifice for the good of the team, regardless of playing time,” said Bob Wade, an Unsung Hero judge, who coached the legendary Dunbar boys basketball teams of the 80’s as well as the University of Maryland men’s basketball team.
Monday, the Unsung Heroes gathered in the cafeteria the UAPC and sat at the same tables where their NFL heroes dine each day. The group was then whisked outside and led into the indoor training facility by Poe and Ravens’ cheerleaders as they ran through a human tunnel formed by their parents and coaches.
The group was divided into four teams and they rotated through various stations for competitions and fun. Laughter was the overriding sound wafting through the facility as new friendships were formed, with the emphasis squarely focused on having fun. At the conclusion of the skills competition, the student-athletes and their families were treated to a buffet dinner and some inspiring words from Koch, who posed for dozens of photos.
Koch said he could relate to the Unsung Heroes and pointed out that punters, kickers and long snappers on football teams are at their best when they go unnoticed.
“How much resiliency do you have in your heart and your mind?,” Koch asked the athletes. “Resiliency is the key to how many times you get up. Life is not easy. Life is always going to be about challenges and making the best of each and every day to go out there and do the best you can. You guys are being honored for the difference you make in everybody else’s life.”
Judging by the smiles throughout the facility, McCormick achieved its goal for the evening.
“Events like the Ravens’ night are designed to provide an amazing experience for these special athletes who have worked so hard with little or no recognition,” said Karen Steelman, who coordinates the Unsung Heroes activities for McCormick. “Everything points to the dinner where the scholarships are announced, but we want to provide a complete experience for all honorees and our partnership with the Ravens is one way to enhance the experience and create life-long memories.”
Now in it’s 76th year, the McCormick Unsung Heroes Dinner was the vision of Charles Perry McCormick who wanted a uniquely Baltimore event to honor the athletes who rarely, if ever, saw the spotlight. Over the years the event has grown in stature, now honoring in excess of 100 Baltimore area athletes per year in football and girls basketball, with one male and one female winner each walking away with a $40,000 college scholarship.
University of Maryland Women’s Basketball coach Brenda Frese will be the keynote speaker at this year’s dinner. She joins an elite list of speakers that have included Peyton Manning, in 2015, Ravens’ coaches John Harbaugh and Brian Billick, Olympians Jesse Owens and Mary Lou Retton, and scores of inspiring local and national personalities, including Roger Staubach, Dr. Ben Carson, Bill Veeck, Johnny Unitas, Brooks Robinson, Dick Vitale, Pam Shriver, and Bart Starr, among many others.