andre_dawson.jpgNORTH MIAMI — When Andre “The Hawk” Dawson was a junior high school student growing up in South Miami, his guidance counselor handed him a vocational interest form that asked him what he wanted to be someday.
Dawson, who was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010 for a major league career that spanned two decades, wrote that he wanted to be a professional baseball player.

The counselor downplayed Dawson’s answer and asked him what his next career choice would be.

“I didn’t have a second choice,” Dawson, 59, told a group of foster children attending the Florida Department of Children and Families’ third annual Camp for Champs at Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay Campus, 3000 N.E. 151st St., North Miami, on July 31. “Being a baseball player was all I wanted to do ever since I was a 9-year-old watching the games on TV.”

The eldest of eight children, Dawson said his father — a major general in the U.S. military — was an absent figure and, many times, he found himself having to care for his brothers and sisters while his mother worked.

“I had large responsibilities and high chances of making the wrong choice,” Dawson told the children and he credited his grandmother’s sound guidance, advice and support for helping him make the right choices.

“My grandmother always told me, ‘Count your blessings by being thankful before you receive them,’” said Dawson, who is special assistant to Miami Marlins President David P. Samson. “Her advice kept me humble.”

As a football player for Southwest Miami Senior High School, Dawson suffered two injuries to his knee that almost dashed his hopes for the major leagues. With no talent scouts calling, Dawson enrolled in Florida A&M University in fall 1972 and, once his knee healed, managed to land a spot on the school’s baseball team.

His major league baseball career began three years later when he was selected to play for the Montreal Expos in 1975, earning a little more than $19,000 during his rookie year, Dawson told the children. Even after his success, Dawson had his share of naysayers.

“I was told I’d be lucky if I made it to four years as a professional baseball player,” said Dawson, who played for the Expos until 1986.

But he didn’t listen and proved the naysayers wrong as his career led him to play centerfield positions for the  Chicago Cubs from 1987 to 1992, the Boston Red Sox from 1993 to 1994 and the then Florida Marlins from 1995 to 1996, ending his 21-year career at age 42 with a .279 average, 438 home runs, 1,591 runs batted in and 314 stolen bases, according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

As champion of this year’s Camp for Champs, Dawson said his `experience taught him an important lesson he shared with the children: “Follow your dreams and don’t let anyone tell you they can’t be achieved.”

Dawson’s advice resonated with Iyonna, a 15-year-old foster child from Pembroke Pines, whose last name is being witheld. The sophomore at Somerset Academy’s Chapel Trail campus in Pembroke Pines told South Florida Times that she would like to become a professional dancer, even though she’s been told to reconsider her dream.

“Most people don’t consider dancing a career,” she said, “but because I love dancing I want to be a professional dancer someday with the same determination that Mr. Dawson had [for baseball].”

The Florida Department of Children and Families funds the Camp for Champs in partnership with Wells Fargo, Our Kids of Miami Dade/Monroe, The Children’s Trust and the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, according to Lissette Valdes-Valle, southern region communications director for the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF). This year’s camp cost about $23,000 to operate, Valdes-Valle said, and was run by DCF in partnership the Florida Sheriff’s Youth Ranches.

“We’re so thankful that Andre took time to speak to the children because he’s a hometown hero who’s known worldwide and he’s a true role model,” Valdes-Valle said.
Dawson told the South Florida Times that the honor was his.

“I enjoy the opportunity to talk to youths and stress the importance of an education and making smart decisions,” Dawson said. “It’s important that they realize and understand peer pressure and how to wisely choose the mentors who will guide them.”