ato-boldon_web.jpgAthletic prowess has resulted in their designation as some of South Florida’s best high school athletes and on Sunday, a seminar provided them with information and inspiration to help make their transition from high school to college a less bumpy experience.

The media center at Miami Central High school in North Central Miami-Dade became the venue for motivational speeches and instructional lectures to help the 75 youngsters navigate the college admissions process. It also included a candid, jaw-dropping discussion on the importance of practicing safe sex.

The audience of mostly football players but including a few basketball players and their parents were attending the Nike-sponsored Tournament of Champions Academic and Human Development Symposium. They heard speaker after speaker espouse the significance of their off-the-field behavior.

The high school juniors and seniors were selected to participate in the TOC program, which also includes an All-Star Game pitting players from Miami-Dade against their Broward counterparts, based on their academic and athletic performances.

Four-time Olympian Ato Boldon was among the symposium speakers. He parlayed his track and field career into a broadcasting gig with NBC that allows him to cover his beloved sport at venues throughout the world. Being mindful of the way that he interacted with the media while an athlete, he said, was instrumental in his landing his second dream job. That — and following basketball great Magic Johnson’s advice to begin planning for his post-Olympic career early during his track heyday.

In a humorous exchange, in which he vowed to “keep it real” with the young athletes, Boldon shared insight on conducting successful media interviews that help to propel, not derail, an athlete’s career.

“Keep the focus of the interview on your team, instead of making it about ‘I,’ ‘I,’ ‘I.’ Also, be wary of reporters attempting to ask about negative topics by taking  a breath and steering the interview to where you want it to go,” Boldon advised.

TOC Founder Wesley Frater, set the tone by advising the young men to clean up their Facebook and My Space accounts and to record a professional sounding message on their cell phones.

Frater warned them that strong athletic abilities notwithstanding, their physical appearances and other seemingly innocent teen habits could jeopardize their ability to play college sports.

“The dreads and the golds might turn some people off. If you’re going to wear the dreadlocks, respect them,” he said, adding, “You might call it racist, but it’s just the way it is.”

Frater also offered a word of caution to young men fathering children with several young women.

“If you’re bearing children, that says a lot about your character,” he said, adding that college coaches take it into consideration when recruiting players.

Frater’s comments were echoed by Terrance Cribbs-Lorrant, founding partner of Better Communities of America Inc. After the parents were led away to a separate segment of the seminar, Cribbs-Lorrant began a candid dialogue, that brought nervous laughter from the athletes discussion on the importance of safe sex. Using slang language to help relax his young listeners, Cribbs-Lorrant not only advised the young men to use a condom each and every time they have sex but also demonstrated its proper use.

Crystal Braddy, a parent, overheard snippets from Cribbs-Lorrant’s presentation and was pleased with his approach. Braddy’s son, Steven, a junior, is a standout running back at Ferguson High in Miami. Braddy’s husband works at the school and is privy to most of the information shared at the symposium but she still found the session, “very informative.”

In their separate session, parents were strongly encouraged to actively participate in their sons’ recruiting process to prevent the exchange of misinformation or improprieties. One of the many tidbits shared with the parents was that even if their sons receive a full athletic scholarship, applying for financial aid to cover incidentals is still necessary.

The session also included warnings to the youth about steering clear of avoidable strife. As director of security for the Miami Dolphins, Stu Weinsten has seen his share of athletes in trouble. He sent a stern written statement that Frater read to the young athletes.

“You will be judged by what you do on the field, as well as what you do off the field,” Weinstein’s statement read. “For those of you who plan an NFL career, the clock starts now. Get involved in the community where you attend college. Besides occupying your free time, it might help your post-college career.”

Weinsten also suggested they maintain self-imposed curfews: “Nothing good happens after 12 midnight,” he said, adding that while the nightclubs eventually close, “jails are open 24 hours.”

Renee Michelle Harris may be reached at