NEWTON, NJ – The students at Merriam Avenue Elementary school had a special visitor on April 13. Former NFL player Ned Bolcar came to speak with the children in grades two through five as they prepared to take the PARCC tests.
Sitting on the bleachers in the gym, the children were attentive as Bolcar talked with them about taking the first steps to ensure their success. “Play hard, study hard and listen to the adults who love you and make your dreams come true,” Bolcar said.
Merriam Avenue School Assistant Principal Kenny Lutz said, “With testing coming up we wanted the students to hear from a positive role model. Any time you can get someone who has been on the national stage, students tend to listen.”
Bolcar donated his time and autographs to the school. He has a personal connection with Lutz and Newton. Lutz’s father was Bolcar’s principal when he attended Phillipsburg high school. Bolcar also played football with Newton Superintendent Dr. Kennedy Greene. Bolcar was named USA Today High School All-American in 1984.
Bolcar told the children he got an excellent education. “I try to stay involved in Phillipsburg as much as I can,” he said.
When introducing himself to the children he explained he had played for Notre Dame University for four years, two as captain. He was captain when they won their last national championship.
When a student asked if he had trophies he said, “The best trophies are team trophies.” He added, “The best for me was when my team mates chose me to be captain.”
He asked the students “what is a leader?” He got several responses from students excitedly raising their hands. They finally agreed “a leader will show you the way to do the right thing.”
Bolcar told the children his coach Lou Holtz used to say, “All people want to be led but you can’t lead them off a cliff.” He told them to be a leader but to be sure to take them on the right path and if they are following someone, follow people who do the right thing.
He said he went to parochial elementary school in Lopatcong. “When I went to kindergarten I was scared. My brother is in another school and I had a speech problem. But then the first day I met someone, the next day I made another friend and after the first week, I really liked school. I had 10 new friends and got gold stars at speech class,” Bolcar said.
He told them it is important to show up every day and pay attention and do the work. “Keep your mouth shut and eyes and ears open.”
“I remember my elementary teachers because they all taught me something,” Bolcar said. “Stuff about life. I’m 50 but I remember things my kindergarten teacher taught me to this day.”
Bolcar told the children he had often been scared to do something new but he listened to the adults that loved him. He went ahead and tried and worked hard and usually did well.
“What happens when you make a mistake” he asked children. “You learn from it,” was the response he got from a third grade student.
Another message he shared with the students was that his parents stressed the importance of not being a bully. He was usually bigger than his classmates and he was taught to stand up for others. When he was little, however, he “got teased by the older kids. Then I got better at sports and they didn’t tease me anymore.”
“When we picked teams I always picked my friends Steve and Joe first but then I always picked someone who wasn’t so good because they needed to have a chance too,” Bolcar said.
“Mr. Rushack helped the baseball teams in the area and asked me to play, but I was scared,” Bolcar said. “He said, ‘okay, you can be a cheerleader.’ But back then only girls were cheerleaders so I played baseball. From then on I played sports until I was 27.
“I never thought about professional sports [when I was little] but I did dream about being competitive,” Bolcar said. He told the children about the blacktop where they played at recess and the games they played there. He told them he “began to notice that some kids were better than others because they practiced.”
Bolcar stressed the importance of sticking with something to the end. “If you start something try your best but don’t quit. Stay to the end and decide if you want to continue. It’s easy to quit. It’s hard to stick it out.”
After Notre Dame, Bolcar was drafted to the Seattle Sea Hawks where he played for one season. He then played for two seasons with the Miami Dolphins. Injuries cut his career short. “I never put the helmet on after I was retired from playing.” He told the children “when people say they feel bad for me I say ‘Don’t feel bad, I had great opportunities.’ I always think in life I want to be a good man, a good father. “
“NFL stands for Not For Long,” he said. “Sports taught me to be mentally tough. As soon as someone gives me a chance I knew I could do well.”
“If you get a bad grade because you could have done better that’s when you feel bad,” Bolger said. “Wake up every morning and say ‘yea’ I have a chance to be better today than I was yesterday. I’m going to school anyway so I should pay attention and learn. Every day is an adventure.”
“Eli Manning and Tom Brady got nervous before games, even though they had practiced and worked hard and learned their plays. They prepared but they were still nervous. It’s just like taking a test. You are nervous because your body is just getting ready for you to work hard. But once the test has begun, just relax and let it happen. You will feel good when you have worked hard and finished.”
He told them “another great coach used to say ‘winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.’ But if you shoot for the stars and you miss you end up on the moon. Whatever you do, give it everything you have, do it well.”
The children returned to their classroom where Bolcar stopped to visit and take a photo. He also went out to meet the younger children at recess.