Seventeen years ago this spring, Joey Harrington was a senior at Portland’s Central Catholic High School with a big future ahead of him: a legendary football career at Oregon that would make him the school’s first Heisman Trophy finalist, then seven years as an NFL quarterback and finally the broadcasting career he enjoys today. And from the time he entered pro football in 2002, the former “Captain Comeback” of Autzen Stadium lore has given back with his Harrington Family Foundation.
Harrington grew up with strong mentors around him, from his father, John (who also played quarterback at Oregon) to football coaches such as Mike Bellotti and Jeff Tedford. While football was their binding connection, Joey Harrington learned from these mentors that it wasn’t enough to become personally successful and affluent: he needed to become a leader, both on and off the field.
With that in mind, Joey Harrington returned to his high school alma mater this week to announce a new initiative by the Harrington Family Foundation: a scholarship fund called the Oregon Community Quarterback Scholarship. Although the word “Quarterback” is used in the title, the former Ducks legend stressed that this is not an athletic scholarship but one meant to produce local leaders, whether they’re involved in athletics or not.
“The name of the scholarship is a way to tie it back in – to signify someone who is a leader in their community,” Harrington explained.
The scholarships will be determined 45 percent by need, 45 percent based on leadership in your community, and 10 percent determined by what Harrington calls that “it” factor.
Winning students can apply their renewable $2,500 annual scholarships to use at any Oregon college and university. ”And yes, we will give scholarships to Oregon State as well, if that’s necessary,” Harrington joked.
As examples of such non-athletic field generals, Harrington cited high school students who participated in the Portland Plunge, a full-day homeless immersion put on by a Eugene church to learn what it’s like to be homeless, as well as a high school student who coached a Special Olympics basketball team.
“I started the Harrington Family Foundation with a commitment to helping kids. Since I retired in 2009, I’ve been searching for really what that key project, that cornerstone of our foundation could be. I’m really excited that I think I found it,” he added.
Back in high school, when Joey Harrington was deciding where to attend college, it came down to two choices: the University of Oregon and Stanford University. Obviously football figured heavily into the equation, as did Duck loyalties given his father had played quarterback in Eugene.
Yet Joey didn’t take the decision to turn down Stanford lightly, for it is routinely ranked among the top five undergraduate institutions in the United States. But, as Joey told me years ago when I interviewed him for my book, Tales From the Oregon Ducks Sideline, part of what swayed him to come to Eugene was the network of friends and colleagues that he would develop here in Oregon: a chance to grow deeper roots in his adult life.
“We’re looking for kids who have taken charge in their community. If we can find them at a young age, give them an opportunity to go to school instate, they’ll be more likely to come home and use those skills in a place where they have roots,” he explained. ”We really want the best and the brightest to stay in our home state and contribute back.”
Joined in the press conference by former University of Oregon president and state attorney general Dave Frohnmayer, as well as Nike’s Tinker Hatfield and Harrington’s father, John, who is now president of Central Catholic High School – they all are involved in the new scholarship fund – Joey emphasized that scholarship recipients will not only receive financial assistance, but just as importantly they will receive mentorship. Harrington has added a group of mentors to the scholarship fund representing fields such as architecture, medicine, education and business to help each scholarship recipient pay not just for college, but receive guidance about how to survive and prosper in their chosen discipline.
“I think we’ve all realized going to college isn’t just about getting the paper degree. It’s about the people you meet, the doors that are opened. What I’ve done is I’ve assembled a group of mentors to help that process along,” Harrington explained. ”I’m trying to establish a group of mentors who can cover all the bases, so that no matter where these kids come from, they will have a mentor that can help guide them along their way. If we can identify the students who have something special — who have that “it” — who have that quality, that leadership ability, and get them ingrained in the Oregon community, they’re more likely to make this place a better place for all of us.”
Top Photo by Brian Libby