For decades, Chicago has faced violence issues. It is no secret "The Windy City," especially its south side, is stricken with grief on a daily basis. According to the Chicago Tribune, as of July 28, there have been 1,254 shooting victims in Chicago so far in 2014. There were 2,185 shooting victims in all of 2013.

One Chicago resident taking a stand is Joakim Noah. The Bulls center brought his intimidation to video with a PSA that aired last Friday. The PSA, filmed in conjunction with Noah's foundation, the Noah's Arc Foundation, and the Chicago Sun-Times, challenged Chicago to "stand-up."

The PSA features Noah, teammate and Bulls superstar Derrick Rose, rapper Common and other Chicagoans speaking against violence. The Noah's Arc Foundation was started by Noah with his mother, sculptor and former model Cecilia Rodhe, and its goal "is to give young people more opportunities to make an impact on themselves and the community." Rodhe also makes an appearance in the PSA.

Noah unveiled the PSA at a Near West Side community center while interacting with a group of local Chicago kids. Alderman Walter Burnett explained to CBS News that Noah's community service is nothing new and that he does not only act in front of the cameras.

"These kids know Noah like he never crossed the street," Burnett said.

Noah has been with the Bulls since 2007 and is one of the most popular faces in the community. The son of Rodhe and French Open champion Yannick Noah, Joakim was born and raised in New York City.

But now, his fight is for The Second City.

"To me, personally, this is just as important as winning a championship," Noah said.

While showing his support for Chicago and trying to help build character in children, Noah hit the hardwood with some kids. As some viral videos showed, Noah did not hold back.

That is one way to show nothing is given.

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It has been a wild 12 months for Dominic Moore. After sitting out the 2012-13 season to be with his ailing wife, Katie, who died in Jan. 2013, Moore signed a one-year contract with the New York Rangers last summer.

Moore shook off the rust to tally 18 points in 73 games on Broadway. The forward proved to be an integral part of the Rangers' run to the Stanley Cup Final, posting three goals and five assists in 25 playoff games. Along the way, he earned the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for his "perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey," and an ESPY nomination for "Best Comeback Athlete."

On Thursday night, Moore hosted the third annual Smashfest, a celebrity Ping-Pong tournament at Steam Whistle Brewery in Toronto. The event benefits two charities, The Steve Moore Foundation, an organization founded by his brother Steve that focuses on concussions and head injuries. Steve Moore is known to most hockey fans as the player attacked by Todd Bertuzzi in a 2004 game. Moore's career ended after the "Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore Incident."

The second charity is The Katie Moore Foundation. Established by Dominic, the foundation helps raise money for researching rare cancers like the disease that took Katie's life.

“Both of these causes are for things that are not well understood and definitely under-represented in terms of funding,” Moore said per Sportsnet.

Last year's Smashfest raised $100,000. This year, the event brought in a whopping $140,000, making the total raised $270,000 over the past three events.

The event boasted 23 former and current NHL stars for the night, including Moore, Kevin Weekes, Alex Burrows, Tyler Seguin, Logan Couture, Derick Brassard, Jeff Skinner, Doug Gilmour, Mike Cammalleri and David Clarkson.

"We had an amazing time at Smashfest again this year,” Moore said in an NHLPA release. “The support we received was impressive on all fronts, from the players and guests in attendance, to the NHLPA and all of our partners. I'm proud that $140,000 was raised to further help with research into concussions and rare cancers."


Stephane Veilleux of the Wild repeated as singles tournament champion, knocking off Burrows. However, Burrows' team won the pro-am tournament. Along with the tournaments, guests–more than 650 people were in attendance–had the opportunity to take the table against their NHL heroes.

Seguin, who is reportedly living with free agent defenseman Michael Del Zotto over the summer, raised contributed almost $2,000 himself courtesy of Jose Bautista memorabilia. Seguin bid $1000 each on both a signed Bautista All-Star jersey and a signed Bautista bat.



Moore re-signed with the Rangers, the team that drafted him 95th overall in 2000, for two years at reportedly $1.5 million per year. He is active with both The Steve Moore Foundation and The Katie Moore Foundation during the season.

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When it's all for a good cause, sometimes a crazy idea isn't so crazy. For example, Andy Milovich, general manager of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, allowed himself to get a prostate exam at the stadium during a game Thursday night. Even by the outlandish standards of minor league baseball promotional stunts, this is seriously raising the bar.

"Dollar beers, fireworks and live prostate exams -- what could go wrong?" Milovich told WPDE.

Milovich's exam took place during the seventh-inning stretch of the Pelicans' 5-4 win against the Frederick Keys. He did it from the press box where he could be seen through a window but was covered with a curtain from the waist down. The goal was to raise awareness about prostate cancer and to support a 10-year-old in the local community suffering from a rare type of brain cancer.

Here's more of the background from WPDE:

When the big moment came Thursday night, Milovich delivered a rendition of Take Me Out To The Ballgame while having his exam, which was shown on the stadium video board. WPDE has the footage:

The man who performed the exam, Dr. Glenn Dangi, told ESPN.com: "I did exams in prisons for three years and New York City for 17 years, and this was a first."

The payoff for Milovich will be inspiring men to get checked out before it's too late.

"At the end of the day, if we can allow one child to have the opportunity to play catch with their father growing up, then I'll feel as though we've done a tremendous thing," Milovich told WPDE.

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In February, Dellin Betances reported to Yankees camp with eight MLB games under his belt -- in eight professional seasons. Betances had every reason to be negative. He was turning 26 on March 23, and the once promising prospect had seen much of his career evaporate in the minors.

But Betances did not sulk. The Yankees stuck with him. And this past week, he was the sole Yankees rookie pitcher -- not Masahiro Tanaka -- at the All-Star Game.

"This first half has been a blessing to me," Betances said Thursday from Point Pleasant, N.J., where he was taking part in Pepsi's Real.Big.Summer initiative. "My goal was to try to make the team. Once that happened, I focused on having a key role in the bullpen. I've been off to a good start and I try help the team win in any way possible. Being selected to the All-Star Game was an honor for my family and me."

Betances' Yankees timeline starts long before his recent trip to Minneapolis. Born in Washington Heights, Betances spent parts of his childhood in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn. His parents, Jaime and Maria, emigrated from the Dominican Republic. Jaime has driven a cab in New York City for 23 years.

Betances grew up a Yankees fan during the team's dominant late 1990s-early 2000s era. As a 10-year-old, he was on hand for David Wells' perfect game on May 17, 1998, against the Minnesota Twins. He still has the ticket stub. Betances says he went to a "bunch of games" as a child and "always sat in the bleachers." This reputation makes him a bit of a folk hero among the Yankee Stadium bleacher creatures.

"David Wells' perfect game was probably one of the best games I went to," he says. "It was always great being a fan. Now playing for the Yankees, it's an honor for me

Betances starred for four years at Grand Street Campus High School in Brooklyn. He once struck out 20 batters in a seven-inning game, and as a junior in 2005, he became the first New York City high school player to ever be named an Aflac All-American. He played with fellow all-stars Clayton Kershaw and Tyson Ross on Team USA's 2005 Junior Olympic team.

In the 2006 MLB draft, Betances' commitment to Vanderbilt dropped his stock from a possible first-round selection. However, the Yankees still took an interest in him. General Manager Brian Cashman snatched the hometown kid in the eighth round and gave him a $1 million signing bonus. At the time, Randy Johnson was a Yankee, helping the nickname "Baby Unit" spread for the 6-8 right-hander.

In 23.1 innings, Betances had a 1.16 ERA in one year of rookie league ball. The following year, he was brought up to the Yankees single-A affiliate in Staten Island, one of two boroughs he did not live in. He used part of his signing bonus to move his family from Brooklyn to New Jersey. Before age 20, the parts were falling into place for Dellin Betances.

And then they slowed.

During what would've been his college years, Betances worked his way through the Yankees' farm system from 2007-2011. In 2010, Betances went 8-1 with a 1.77 ERA in 14 starts for A+ Tampa, but his numbers stalled in AA and AAA. Splitting time between the two highest minor league levels in 2011, Betances went 4-9 with a 3.70 ERA in 25 starts.

While some expected an earlier appearance, Betances finally made his Bronx arrival as a big leaguer as a 2011 September call-up. In Betances' first outing, he allowed two runs on four walks and no hits in two-thirds of an inning out of the bullpen. On the final day of the regular season, the Yankees gave Betances the ball to start a meaningless game in Tampa Bay (the Yankees had already clinched the A.L. East title). Betances tossed two innings and allowed one hit and two walks, keeping the Rays scoreless. Later, Evan Longoria blasted a walk-off home run in the 12th inning to send the Rays to the playoffs and cap off one of the most exciting days in baseball history.

In 2012, Betances started the season at AAA Scraton/Wilkes-Barre but remained firmly on the Yankees' radar. That was, until he had an awful first half of the season. He struggled in April and May and a stretch of a 9.00 ERA over five June starts–6.39 overall–sent Betances all the way back to AA Trenton. At AA, he did not fair much better, posting a 6.51 ERA the rest of the season. At 24, Betances was traveling in the opposite direction.

Betances started 2013 with a 2-2 record in six starts at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. However, the Yankees had new plans for their 25-year-old prospect. Despite having only three professional relief appearances under Betances' belt, the Bombers sent the message to AAA to make Betances a relief pitcher.

It worked. Betances came out of the bullpen 32 times at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and finished the season with a 2.68 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, his highest minor league yearly totals since 2010.

"I began to feel comfortable," he says about the 2010 move to the bullpen. "It's allowed me to be more consistent in my delivery. It's a different feeling coming out of the bullpen. It's allowed me to be more aggressive and that's something that I've embraced."

Betances became a September call-up again in 2013, making six appearances. Although he allowed six earned runs in five innings, he turned heads with ten strikeouts.

By spring training 2014, Betances had new confidence in himself and new confidence from within the organization. His role changed, but he was comfortable with that. When Betances arrived at spring training in Tampa, he earned himself a roster spot from the get-go.

Betances has not looked back. In 40 games and 55.1 innings pre-All-Star Game, Betances is 4-0 with 12 holds, one save, a 1.46 ERA, a 0.70 WHIP and a whopping 84 strikeouts. His ERA, WHIP and strikeouts numbers are well ahead of the next closest rookie. With all the talk about Masahiro Tanaka this season, it is easy to lose track of Betances, the Yankees pitcher with the best chance to challenge the White Sox's Jose Abreu for the A.L. Rookie of the Year Award.

Betances did not get to pitch in Tuesday's All-Star Game, but it was still a worthwhile experience for the 26-year-old.

"Just being there, being with guys from the other teams that you watch play, Jeter's last year, seeing all the guy's families, that whole experience was definitely a blessing," he says. "It's something I enjoyed and for me, it's all about continuing to work hard and get better and better each year, and I would definitely like to be a part of it in upcoming years and hopefully get a chance to pitch."

While Betances has crossed paths with Kershaw and other pitchers in his 26 years, he had his first chance to mesh on the same grounds as other superstars. During warm-ups and down time, Betances gravitated toward two past A.L. Cy Young Award winners.

"The first day, I played catch with Max Scherzer," Betances says. "Talk about a guy who has some pretty nasty stuff. It was cool just playing catch with him and seeing how his pitches move. Felix Hernandez, he's a guy who's been successful since he started. He's someone I looked up to and I got a chance to speak with him."

Of course, for Betances, much of the All-Star affair surrounded fellow Yankees teammate Derek Jeter, a player the New Yorker watched in his youth. Jeter was on the field for Wells' perfect game, as well as most of the games the child version of Betances attended.

"Derek's just a leader, man. He's someone you try to follow in his footsteps. I grew up watching him play," Betances says. "For me to be on the same team as him and be part of the 2014 All-Star Game and watch him get two hits, that was an amazing experience. He's always encouraging me to work hard and just enjoy baseball as much as I can, especially with the All-Star Game. He told me to soak it all in."

Because their positions, Jeter is not the Yankees legend Betances is quickly earning comparisons with. One year ago, Mariano Rivera called it quits after 19 seasons -- 17 as a closer. David Robertson, who has come out of the Yankees' bullpen since 2008, has long been considered the closer-in-waiting after Rivera. Robertson held the job during Rivera's extended 2012 absence and was given the stopper role to start 2014.

Betances' success has Yankees fans changing course a year after the beloved Rivera's retirement. Betances has jumped into the picture a possible option at closer other than Robertson. If age is a concern, Rivera was 27 when he became the full-time closer in 1997.

Betances is not about to call out Robertson, and he is satisfied with his role as the Yankees' set-up man. With that said, Betances expresses admiration for Rivera and any comparisons to "Mo."

"That's somebody I've always looked up to. I enjoyed watching him play. For me to be on the same team and see his farewell tour [in 2013], that was an honor to me. If I could follow in his same footsteps, that would be special," Betances says.

Betances' lone focus right now is on getting the Yankees to the postseason. At 47-47, a very un-Yankee-like All-Star break record, the Bombers have ground to make up in the next 68 games. They do have the satisfaction of knowing the A.L. East-leading Orioles are only five games ahead and the Mariners are three-and-a-half games ahead for the final wild card.

Betances attributes the Yanks' subject first half to injuries and some unlucky bounces. He is confident his team will be around come October.

"We're definitely looking forward to the second half as a team. We are not that far in the division race and the Wild Card race, so we've got to continue to work hard and play hard for one of the last playoff spots," he says. "We hope [Masahiro] Tanaka comes back healthy and we should get Michael [Pineda] back at some point in the season. As long as we stay close enough and then get some guys back, we'll be in good shape."

As for Betances' pitching, an outsider may think it would be easy for him to lose focus. After all, the rookie with eight MLB games under his belt before this season notched an All-Star Game spot. What could stop Betances from feeling too comfortable and losing his edge now that he is proven?

The answer is easy:

"I've been through so much. For me, to have the success I've had, it's something that I'm going to continue to work hard at, trying to get better and better each and every day," he says. "I definitely enjoy playing this game and trying to play at the highest level. I'm looking forward to finishing the season strong and help the team get to the playoffs."

On Thursday, at Pepsi's Real.Big.Summer program on the Jersey Shore, Betances was on hand to witness Pepsi's four-story claw machine that produced "larger-than-life prizes" on Jenkinson's Beach Boardwalk in Point Pleasant, N.J. Pepsi also gave out pizza, a one-week beach rental and tickets to the MTV Video Music Awards. Betances provided a lucky Yankee fan and his mother tickets to an upcoming game in the Bronx.

For Betances, the experience playing for his hometown team is one thing. The experience giving back to his hometown community is another. Thanks to Betances' on-field success, he has that opportunity.

"Pepsi's all about making the summer real big. I'm honored and excited to be here and I get to give out tickets to a Yankees fan," he said before the event. "I'm always about giving back to the community. I'm really excited for this opportunity to team up with Pepsi. To come out there and see the kids smile, giving back, growing up in New York, this is going to be a great experience."

Along with Pepsi's contributions, United Way of Ocean County was on hand to provide a family recovering from the results of Hurricane Sandy with a surprise vacation.

The event was another checkpoint in Betances' breakout All-Star season in New York City, the town he was born and raised in. After toiling in the minors for eight seasons, he now has the resources and recognition to give back to the community that bred him.

Betances will shoot for a series of new checkpoints in 2014 that may include a playoff appearance, rookie records and a possible Rookie of the Year Award. When the season is through, he will have more goals to chase in his future.

Around this time two years ago, Betances was demoted from AAA to AA. Now, he is an All-Star putting up massive numbers.

Betances' major league skills are evident. One might say it is a relief.

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With a bulky book bag strapped to his back and a camera hanging from his neck, Ray Whitehouse sauntered up to the ticket booth outside of Tropicana Field on a steamy Sunday.

"What's the cheapest seat you have today?" he asked the lady behind the glass.

She sold him a $21 ticket to the game, an American League East matchup between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Toronto Blue Jays. Whitehouse, 24, is assigned to Section 311, Row M, Seat 20, but he didn't plan on sitting there.

He didn't plan on sitting at all.

Whitehouse, a graduate school-bound photographer, was on day 59 of an 85-day journey across the country, during which he's photographing a game at all 30 Major League Baseball parks. It's a project he calls the American Baseball Journal.

When he's done, Whitehouse hopes to sell prints and donate the money to MLB's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, a program which he took part in as a child.

So far, he's taken planes, trains and buses to 17 ballparks. He's slept on the couches of strangers in cities far away from his Chicago home for the sake of the project. And though it's his love for the game that sparked his initial interest in the trip, its purpose reaches further than his own curiosity.

"Part of what I want to do with this project is give someone who's in a different city a taste of what it's like to see a game there," he said. "I try to keep that on my mind as something I'm shooting for all the time."

After clearing security, Whitehouse meets a mother with an infant strapped to her, an oversized Rays cap covering his face. Whitehouse stops the woman to photograph her and baby Michael.

First pitch was still a half hour away. For Whitehouse, the game had already started.

***

Whitehouse's first baseball memory isn't even something he can remember. The story has been told to him so many times, though, that the occasion is clear in his mind.

A lifelong Chicagoan, Whitehouse was just an infant when he attended a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field with his father. "Somebody hit a grand slam in the fourth inning," he said. "The crowd was going crazy, and my dad was flipping out because he brought his 4-month-old baby to a baseball game."

Whitehouse -- who proudly displays a scar on his left ankle sustained after breaking the bone sliding into home as a teenager -- began playing baseball at age 5. He remembers playing catch with his father for hours after school in the alley near their home. He went on to play infield and pitcher for four years on the varsity team at Whitney Young High School and on the club team as an undergraduate at Northwestern.

But perhaps the most influential experience he had with the sport was during the three years he played for an MLB RBI team.

Whitehouse participated in the program, which brings youth baseball to diverse communities all over the nation, for three years. When he was 15, his RBI team made it to the league championship game played at Wrigley Field. In his only at-bat of the game, Whitehouse hit a ground ball single down the third-base line.

At 21, Whitehouse stopped playing baseball, but his love for the game kept going.

Whitehouse, who had a 9-to-5 job as a multimedia specialist at the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics, will attend graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill come August on a scholarship. So with graduate school paid for and one final summer of free time on his hands, Whitehouse decided to go back to his pastime. And America's.

"I wasn't trying to make any money on this project," he said about his planned donation to the RBI program. "It was a good marriage of trying to pay it forward to an organization that helped me out when I was younger."

***

Having now photographed games at more than half of the 30 ballparks, Whitehouse sticks to the same game-day routine.

He'll arrive two hours before a game, spending one hour outside the park capturing photographs of each stadium's unique architecture before spending the next hour taking in the pre-game scenes. Whitehouse especially enjoys capturing players signing autographs for kids.

"Because I had those experiences when I was younger," he said, "trying to shag balls and getting players to sign them."

Once the games begin, Whitehouse walks around the stadium, searching for the things that makes each one unique. He takes his unofficial job seriously, so much so that he's been known to sprint through the stadium to catch a moment on camera -- just like he did while taking in a game at Camden Yards with his girlfriend and fellow photographer, Carolyn Van Houten.

"He just started running," she said, "in the middle of our conversation."

Though he's raised nearly $3,000 from online donations, Whitehouse is financing the majority of his trip through the money he's saved at his job. So that means doing everything he can to spare a nickel.

Whitehouse has stayed in just one hotel along the way -- in Minneapolis after a Twins game on May 16 -- spending every other night at a friend's house or with people he's met through a couch-surfing website. Through the first 17 games of his trip, Whitehouse hasn't paid more than $25 for a ticket, thanks to savvy shopping on StubHub.com -- and even the kindness of a stranger.

"I explained to him the project, and he was like, 'Oh, you can just have it,'" Whitehouse said about his interaction with a Kansas City scalper. "He gave me a $61 ticket for free."

Whitehouse photographed the man and emailed him the picture after the game.

***

After taking photos of Rays outfielder Matt Joyce signing autographs and standing at attention for the national anthem, Whitehouse took a seat just behind the home team's dugout as Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes stepped up to the plate to begin the game.

Though he usually finds himself moving around the stadiums too much to actually watch the games, Whitehouse has one rule of thumb.

"I like to watch the first at-bat," he said. "After that, it gets a little less focused on the game."

The section's usher, who asked to see Whitehouse's ticket, had a different idea.

"You're a long way off," he said, looking at Whitehouse's seat assignment. "Have a good day."

Whitehouse didn't see much action from the Rays' 3-0 victory that day. Instead, he met and photographed 4-year-old Evan -- named after Tampa Bay's longtime third baseman Evan Longoria -- watching as he, flanked by his grandparents, munched on blue cotton candy.

In the Cuesta-Rey Cigar Bar, MLB's one and only, Whitehouse took photos of Dave, a hobby photographer who watched the game while smoking a Brickhouse Might Mighty Maduro.

"He can't smoke in the house at home, so this way he gets a nice leather seat and a cigar," Dave's wife, Diane, said.

As the Rays took a lead early, some fans flocked to the tank of live rays in the outfield, where Whitehouse photographed 7-year-old Evan petting the animals.

He, too, Whitehouse discovered, was also named for the much-adored third baseman.

"Did I even have to ask?" Whitehouse questioned the boy's mother, laughing.

***

It's hard for Whitehouse to pick a favorite ballpark.

He fell in love with the views in Pittsburgh (below), with the way the Roberto Clemente Bridge and the downtown skyline are framed by the walls of PNC Park. He appreciated the memorial to Jackie Robinson within the rotunda at the Mets' Citi Field.

The walk-off Red Sox win he saw at Fenway Park, though, gave the historic park a leg up.

"I feel like that atmosphere, even though they're below .500," he said. "It was still just amazing."

Whitehouse will visit the Marlins, Braves and Yankees in the next week before completing the East Coast portion of his trip. He'll finish the tour with a Seattle Mariners game at Safeco Field on Aug. 8, a day he hasn't even thought about quite yet.

"At this point I'm just going," he said. "I love this game and this project so much, I can be really tired, but once I'm at the stadium, it's another gear you get into."

So until then, it's back to the same routine. Seventeen down, 13 to go.

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Damian Lillard gained lots of fans after he took some Portland kids on a surprise holiday shopping spree at Toys 'R' Us. Lillard, the 2013 NBA rookie of the year, might have earned even more after he stood up for a Special Olympics participant who had been mocked on Twitter.

Here is the sequence of Lillard explaining his pride of accompanying a Special Olympics athlete to the ESPYs, a fan's callous comment and the star's sharp response.




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Last summer, I wrote a little essay about Coach Mac, who led our Little League team in fifth and sixth grade. I described how I loved baseball from the start -- but it didn't love me. In tee-ball, I was so short that if the catcher put the tallest tee on the far corner of the plate, I couldn't reach it. Yes, I struck out -- in tee ball.

Our first year of live pitching didn't go any better. I wanted to be a catcher -- like my hero, Tigers catcher Bill Freehan -- but I was stuck in right field picking dandelions, and batting last. But when Mac McKenzie became our head coach the next season, my world changed almost overnight.

Coach Mac wore a baseball cap above his big, square glasses. He looked tough, with a permanent squint and the underbite of a bulldog. When he was smashing ground ball after ground ball during practice, sweat dripped off the tip of his pointy nose. He occasionally engaged in mild profanity, which we thought was pretty cool.

He thought I was feisty, and funny. I could tell he wanted me to do well, and that he believed I would. Trust me, I was no bigger, faster or stronger than I was the previous season. But I had one thing I didn't have the year before: confidence. The effect was immediate, dramatic and lifelong.

From the very first practice under Coach Mac, I started crushing the ball as if I'd been waiting years to do it -- which I had. Instead of playing back on my heels, I was up on my toes, and swinging for the fences. Our first game that season, he started me at catcher, and had me batting leadoff. I got two hits -- the first of my life -- and my teammates voted me captain.

I was on fire for baseball. I recall one Saturday morning practice was rained out. But, this being Michigan, a little while later the sun came out, so I biked down to our elementary school to check it out. There were a few puddles here and there, but the biggest one was behind the plate, where I would be playing, and it didn't look that bad to me.

I rushed home and called Coach Mac. He told me if I made the phone calls, we'd have practice. I did, and Coach Mac's promise was good. We had practice.

After he'd hit ground balls to the infield, I'd say, "C'mon, Coach Mac -- gimme one!" Meaning, bunt the ball, for me to scoop up and throw to first.

He'd grin and say, "There ya go," and tap one out just for me.

The next year I became a better hockey player, too. I've spent most of my adult life coaching and teaching on the side, because I know how much difference it can make to have someone believe in you.

I closed that piece by admitting I had no idea where the McKenzies had wound up. I didn't even know if Coach Mac was still with us. But he was still with me.

Well, a couple days later, I got a full-page thank you letter from Coach Mac himself. Just getting it thrilled me, but his message was even better. It was direct, honest and funny -- just like the man himself. He told me about his family, about moving to Scottsdale, about his two bypass surgeries. In 1990, he received a heart transplant. He said he'd read my books and had every intention of writing years ago. But that day, when his wife found my story online, he was moved to write:

"I was blown away to see my name and the wonderful things that you had to say about me and my influence on you. I have had a very good and successful life with a few plaques, awards and complimentary speeches given to me, but none compare to what you said and how you have honored me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."

I don't know if Coach Mac got choked up writing it, but I got choked up reading it. I promised him I'd write him a longer letter soon, and fully intended to. But my fall filled up with travel and speeches, deadlines and classes. I kept waiting to find enough time to write The Perfect Letter -- and I kept waiting. I wrote down Coach Mac's name on my to-do list month after month.

On Tuesday night, I was teaching my sportswriting students at Northwestern University how to write a profile. I told them their subject doesn't have to be famous. It could even be a former Little League coach. Then I spontaneously launched into my story of Coach Mac, right down to the sweat dripping off the tip of his nose while he smashed grounder after grounder. I couldn't resist telling them how great it was to hear from Coach Mac -- which provided just another reminder I still needed to write him. I scribbled his name down yet again.

The next day, I received an email from a friend of Coach Mac's, a man I'd never met before. He wrote, "We lost Mac yesterday."

This hit me harder than I had expected. After all, I couldn't have believed he'd live forever. I was glad I'd written the story about him -- and felt even better Coach Mac had read it, and responded. But when I went back to read our correspondence, I was pained to realize I had never written him the longer letter I'd promised. I felt worse when I noticed he lived in Scottsdale. A couple months after he sent me his first letter, I was invited to give a speech in Scottsdale. If I had kept in better touch, I would have put it together, invited Coach Mac to join us, and he and I would have gone out afterward for a beer I would never have forgotten.

We can't do everything. I realize that. And I'm lucky to have gotten back in touch with Coach Mac. I know that, too. But my regret was hard to shake. When I went for a run that day, around a few Little League baseball diamonds in Chicago, I wasn't ready for the tears streaming under my sunglasses.

After I drove back to my home in Ann Arbor on a beautiful summer night, right around game time, I swung by our old schoolyard, where Coach Mac smacked all those grounders years ago. I was surprised to find the ball field has been replaced by a garden, with a shed in the middle of it. But when I crouched down into my old position, where home plate used to be, I could see it all -- right down to Coach Mac, sweat dripping off his nose, tapping me another bunt to throw to first base.

Thanks, Coach.

Sorry it took me so long to write.

Full Story >>

Dr. Deb Walters generally gets asked the same question when she talks about her kayaking adventure.

The 63-year-old grandmother is paddling from her hometown of Yarmouth, Maine, to Guatemala. Why would anyone want to do that? Walters wants to raise awareness and money for children living in garbage dump communities within Guatemala.

Walters started her journey July 11 and she estimates that it will take her a year to reach Guatemala. She will be updating a blog to document her adventures. Within her first day, she met four kayakers who joined her for the first 12 miles.

Her motivation began when Walters visited the garbage dump in Guatemala, where she met families who would search for food and recyclable products within the dump site. The parents' main wish was for their children to go to school, where they could learn to read and better prepare themselves for the future. She is working to raise money for the Safe Passage model school, where she hopes to raise money to add additional grade levels to the school

The 2,500-mile trip will take Walters along the eastern shore, with stops along the way to spread word of her campaign. She will take a boat from Florida to Belize, but will resume kayaking to Rio Dulce, Guatemala.

Although Walters suffers from arthritis, she is a big fan of long distance kayaking. She wanted to combine her love for kayaking and her desire to raise money for the Safe Passage school. During the past 30 years, Walters has led instructional kayaking trips, and she has even done a kayaking tour through the Arctic.

For more information, including how you can donate to the cause, go to SafePassage.org.

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Daniel Sampson and Mike Adams were roommates when they first started working for the Washington Redskins. Sampson was a running back, cornerback and kick returner in high school, and he went on to get a journalism degree at Texas Southern University. He is now the Redskins' assistant director of communications. Adams was an offensive guard at Howard University, where he earned a degree in business management. He is now responsible for filming and editing all of the Redskins' practices and games.

The two had a lot to talk about.

Both had been surrounded by football for the most of their lives. But the conversation didn't stick to just X's and O's. It was about what they could have done better in their developmental years -- what they could have done better before they entered college. Sampson didn't fully understand the eligibility process for college. He ended up being one credit short of being able to play in college in his freshman year because he took a broadcasting class as his English requirement, but that wasn't approved by the NCAA Clearinghouse. Adams didn't get involved with the football recruiting process until after his senior year of high school. And, finances were a struggle for both.

"I got an envelope, with a Capital One credit card in it," Sampson said. "I was like, 'Oh great, free money going to school? Free cards? This is heaven.' I found out that that is not the case."

The two felt like they could teach young student-athletes a lot based on their own lives, and it almost became their duty to do so.

"To me, I truly feel like it's my job," Adams said. "You just don't forget that so many people can benefit off of your story."

Adams and Sampson wanted high school football players to be more prepared for the entire college process than they were, and the two formed Driven By Our Ambitions, which was inspired by a lyric in Tupac Shakur's "Unconditional Love." The idea is to combine a football clinic with classroom lessons to help high school players become better prepared for college and beyond.

Adams and Sampson were able to get Redskins coaches, players, and others within the organization on board with the idea, and the Washington Redskins Charitable Organization joined the cause. Driven By Our Ambitions held its first clinic on June 14 for more than 120 high school student football players, primarily from the Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland area.

It included an informational session about the college eligibility process, which was run by a NCAA Eligibility Center member, and a planning session with the College Advising Corps to help the students create a game plan for their future. There was a crash course on financial success through Junior Achievement of Greater Washington, which specializes in helping young adults become more financially savvy, and NCSA recruiting explained how to get the maximum amount of exposure to get a college offer.

The football part included personal coaching from Washington Redskins coaches and players, including quarterback Robert Griffin III, tight end Niles Paul, fullback Darrel Young, offensive tackle Trent Williams, offensive coordinator Sean McVay.

Driven By Our Ambitions required that the students had good grades and overall academic success, as the NCAA requires athletes to have a 2.3 GPA and the right test scores and core courses in high school. The participants also had to be rising juniors or seniors.

One of the participants was Dominique Smith, a rising senior at Rangeview High School in Aurora, Colo., where he plays running back and linebacker. Smith made the 2013 All-Aurora League Second team as a linebacker as a junior. Smith, like all of the participants, received a handbook that included all of the Redskins agility drills, a guide to good nutrition and stretching techniques to improve each athlete. Smith says he learned a lot, and that the camp really broadened his horizons in a lot of different subjects, including finances.

"I learned the difference between credit and debit," Smith said. "Things you should know as far as credit cards and stuff like that, so that you don't put yourself in debt or you don't ruin your credit score. A good credit score takes you a long way."

Parents were also encouraged to participate in the clinic because they play a huge role in the recruiting process. The parents were not only learning about recruiting, but also finances and eligibility, according to Adams.

"Parents should understand that this is a big step for young men, and they need some support," Sampson said. "Not just peer support. They need support from adults. I want them to be a part of it, and encourage them to be with (their kids) to learn the process as well, and to be the backbone to help them to continue to push towards the next step in life, which is college."

The Redskins had held a test run of the clinic in 2013, and it featured only seven kids. Sampson said it was still a success because they were still ultimately helping out those seven students. But other within the Redskins jumped on board with Sampson and Adams to ensure its success and wider reach. Michael Lindo, a public relations intern, helped out. Aubrey Pleasant, the defensive quality coach and assistant defensive backs coach, helped get a sponsor for gear for the participants. He also helped organize the coaching for the camp. Blair Williams, a video assistant and a D.C. native, helped Driven By Our Ambitions with branding and by reaching out to the community to try to bring kids from all over the area to the clinic.

"What I liked about Mike and Daniel's idea is that it's (based) on what I was grown up on," Williams said. "Having academics and as well as sports to give the kids diversity by keeping their attention and keeping them coming. They have it set up so that they can branch off to do other things (beyond sports)."

The players and coaches also jumped up to support Driven By Our Ambitions. Robert Griffin III tweeted out the event information to his million Twitter followers a month before the event, and defensive lineman Chris Baker even had his old high school guidance counselor help out with the camp. Sampson and Adams were appreciative of the support they were getting from their Redskins colleagues for Driven By Our Ambitions, from the players, coaches and others in the organization.

"It meant a lot to us," Adams said. "It really validated our relationship. I think that's one thing that me and Daniel have, a great relationship with the staff here. It allows us to ask them for things like that, and they don't even think twice about coming out and helping us."

According to Sampson, the goal is to expand this program to other cities as well, including Houston, Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles and Chicago by 2016. Both the NFL Player Engagement and the NCAA Eligibility Center attended the event, so growth within football, as well as other sports, is a possibility that Driven By Our Ambitions welcomes in the future.

What started off as a conversation between Sampson and Adams has blossomed into an organization that can really help high school football players' futures. Both Sampson and Adams said they just want students to learn from their mistakes, so they can be avoided in the future. And both are more than happy to help.

"This has always been something in my heart that I wanted to do, to help out kids in a way that I see fit. I played football my entire life, and so I felt like this was a vehicle that I could help somebody out with. It means a lot to me."

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Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams made a serviceman's day recently when he offered the man his business class ticket for a flight.

Williams, 31, tweeted the following photo from the airport:


Williams is the second high profile figure to swap seats with a serviceman in recent weeks. The actress Amy Adams did the same thing last week.

Despite the seemingly selfless nature of the act, Williams still drew some criticism from followers. Some said that he was simply posting about the deed for PR purposes. Williams responded to critics on Twitter and Facebook:


Here's what Williams wrote on his Facebook page:

"I always do that and for those of you that are saying I shouldn't have posted keep calm and enjoy my page and happy 4th of July (it's called being patriotic for life)."

Williams is entering his ninth season with the Panthers. Last season he led the team with 843 rushing yards on 201 attempts.

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