EAST ORANGE, NJ - After a season filled with tremendous athletic and academic success, the members of the East Orange Campus High School boys’ varsity basketball team deserved a fitting end-of-season send-off. And that’s exactly what they got.
Although it’s hard to match the excitement of appearing in both the State Tournament Finals and Essex County Tournament Finals, The Shauger Group (TSG) figured that a surprise celebrity athlete visit might be an unexpected thrill for the team. TSG first became involved with the team earlier in 2015, after reading a news article about the team and the efforts of its coach, William Lovett, to promote the team’s academic success. Since then, TSG has supported the team, and its Executive Vice President, Donald Shauger, in particular, has served as a mentor for the boys, who finished this season with an impressive 25-5 overall record.
On March 26, 2015, TSG hosted an end-of-season celebratory dinner for the players to congratulate them on their myriad accomplishments and to further their season’s overall mantra: Success comes through perseverance, hard work, and commitment in all areas of life.
TSG invited David Tyree, a former wide receiver for the New York Giants, to speak to the team at the dinner, which took place at Libretti’s Restaurant in Orange. Tyree responded enthusiastically to the invitation, aware of the team’s achievements under Coach Lovett and eager to offer practicable life, career, and sports advice to the players. Having spent his early years in East Orange, Tyree noted that East Orange holds a special place in his heart, and he relished the opportunity to give back to the City’s young athletes.
“I would be honored to serve in any capacity,” Tyree said prior to the event. “Congrats to all who have given themselves to raise a standard and serve these young men.”
At Thursday’s dinner Tyree gave a speech to the boys about his life, the adversity he has faced, and the attitude and dedication he needed to overcome the struggles in his life. Tyree, who currently serves as the Giants’ Director of Player Development, spoke of the mistakes he made in his adolescence and the conscious decision he made to turn things around for himself.
“Everybody has a crossroads in their life,” said Tyree. “I have great stories of great victory and stories of absolute failure. I took ownership of my actions, and I realized I wanted something different in my life. When you see places for the first time where the grass is greener, you get a different vision for your life.”
“Can you take ownership as much of your failures as much as you can of your successes?” Tyree asked the team. “Because that’s how you’re going to move forward in your life. Every day you wake up, you have an opportunity. You have to be driven to capitalize on each and every opportunity you have.”
The decision Tyree made to take ownership of his life ultimately led to great life success for Tyree, including his famous “Helmet Catch” in 2008 at Super Bowl XLII in the pivotal last few minutes of the game. Because of Tyree’s timeliness, the Giants scored a last-minute touchdown and beat the previously-undefeated New England Patriots 17–14 to win the Super Bowl.
“I believe that greatness is relative, meaning that you don’t have to catch a ball on your head to be great,” said Tyree in his speech. “I believe that each and every one of you has already demonstrated the characteristics and attributes of being great. Whether you continue to meet those goals and excel on the court, you guys are now cultivating what it takes to have what people are looking for—whether it’s college recruiters or the New York Giants…. I don’t care where it is because each and every one of those avenues leads to another opportunity.”
Tyree gave tremendous credit to Coach Lovett and emphasized to the players the unique advantage they’ve been given with a role model of Coach Lovett’s caliber.
“I want to give honor where honor is due, and that is with your head coach,” said Tyree. “You now have an example at least, if nowhere else, in your coach. You have an example that greater aspirations in this life are available for you. This man cared more about you than what you could do for him.”
Tyree noted some of the particular measures, such as making study hall mandatory for the team Mondays to Thursdays, taken by Coach Lovett to ensure the boys remain focused on academics and on life success.
“I’m sure a lot of you now recognize that you can do something you probably didn’t realize before that you could do,” added Tyree. “Is that true for anybody? Does anybody here feel that study hall drastically changed your life in regards to your grades and the way that you view your future? Go ahead, raise them high…don’t be ashamed. Now you’re in line for a legitimate future.”
After his speech, Tyree autographed pictures of his famed Helmet Catch for the team, and he gave copies of his memoir, More Than Just the Catch, to the team’s seniors. He mingled with the boys and spent time chatting with many of them individually during the course of the evening. Tyree even surprised one of the boys by jumping into the boy’s selfie!
Lisa Shauger, President/CEO of TSG, and Donald Shauger made good on a promise they had made to the team earlier in the season—that TSG would award $1,000 scholarships to two seniors on the team. The Shaugers announced the winners of the scholarships, Eusiano James and Chukwudi Obi, who will be given the scholarships at the end of the season, so long as their grades are maintained. James and Obi were chosen as recipients with input from Coach Lovett, based upon their exceptional academic performance, leadership, and character.
“These boys are both tremendous,” said Lisa Shauger. “They are National Honor Society students with 3.5 GPAs and incredible aspirations for their lives. The Shauger Group couldn’t be more proud to award scholarships to such well-rounded individuals—young men who are viewed by their coaches and those around them as leaders and role models. We hope that we can serve as a resource for them and help them to build successful futures for themselves.”
The funds will be earmarked for the boys’ college expenses, such as tuition, books, or other academic needs.
“I’m really grateful, and I’m going to use the money to put towards my tuition,” said James, who intends to study sports medicine next year in college. According to Coach Lovett, James is a “model citizen” who “provided leadership both on and off the court.”
“I’m so thankful to Mr. and Mrs. Shauger for this opportunity,” said Obi, whose goal is to become a doctor. Obi played a significant number of minutes this year and, in the words of Coach Lovett, “provided a tremendous spark to the team” all season.
Earlier this year, Donald Shauger was invited by Coach Lovett to give a motivational speech to the team and to share his own personal story. TSG held a pizza party for the varsity, junior varsity, and freshman players on February 9, 2015, fittingly, at the Campus High School Library, the site of the boys’ study hall.
At the time, Donald spoke to the boys about having grown up in a single-family home and having foregone a full scholarship to Upsala College due to the financial distress it would have caused his family. Speaking to the boys of his own financial disadvantage, Donald decided then and there to offer two financial aid scholarships to players on the team.
The Shaugers attended a few of the boys’ games this season, including the boys’ first game of the State Tournament. On March 2, 2015, Coach Lovett and the rest of the varsity squad presented an “Award of Appreciation” to the Shaugers in recognition of their “outstanding commitment, generosity, and support to the East Orange Varsity Boys Basketball Team.”
“This year, we enjoyed so much being involved with the team,” said Donald Shauger. “We don’t look at them as just a team, but as family. We can’t thank them enough for letting us be part of their team, for allowing us to be part of a great season, and, most of all, we can’t thank Coach Lovett enough for what he’s doing for the young people of East Orange.”
Even though the season has come to an end, TSG’s involvement with the team will continue. All of the players in the Campus High School boys’ basketball program have the Shaugers’ contact information in the event they are ever in need of career advice, help with networking, or any other assistance or direction.