The Ralston Area Chamber of Commerce welcomed a University of Nebraska Lincoln football legend to its February meeting.

Former UNL football coach and athletic director, Tom Osborne, was the guest of honor at the chamber’s monthly luncheon Feb. 16 at the Ralston Arena.

However, Osborne wasn’t there to talk football.

In honor of National Mentoring Month, Osborne took to the podium to talk about the importance mentors can play in a child’s life and TeamMates, the mentoring program he founded in 1991.

Osborne said that over his 36 years as a coach, he saw a change in recruits’ home lives.

“I saw a lot of changes over that period of time,” Osborne said. “Back in 1962 when I started, we very seldom recruited a player who didn’t have both parents. By the time I was done in 1998, I saw an awful lot of kids who didn’t have both parents.”

Osborne said the environment children are growing up in has changed so much.

“In 1962, I had never heard of methamphetamine. I had never heard of cocaine,” he said. “I had never heard of gangs. Culture has certainly changed as well.”

After seeing all the changes around him, Osborne decided to do something for recruits and children to benefit and see positive examples. He asked his 1991 UNL football team if they would be willing to become mentors for seventh- and eighth-graders.

The team mentored 22 boys for a number of years. The results of the children being mentored were positive ones.

“We were pleasantly surprised to see that 22 graduated on time,” Osborne said. “Of the 22, 18 went onto college. We thought maybe four or five would be pretty good.”

After the success of those students, Osborne expanded the TeamMates program. It is currently in 133 communities and mentors 8,000 children.

Osborne said that mentoring can lead children down the right path. Just by mentoring a child for one hour once a week, it can make a difference.

Osborne also shared a story about Lawrence Phillips, the late, former Husker who had various personal and legal troubles. Osborne said that maybe if he had had someone like a mentor, things would have turned out differently for him.

“I don’t want to stand here before you and excuse anything that he did,” he said. “The point is that sometimes, what goes on early on is a matter of life and death eventually. If he had somebody in his life when he was 7 or 8 or 9 or 10 who loved him unconditionally, who was a constant in his life, I’m sure that the outcome would have been quite different.”

Osborne encouraged anyone to become a mentor.

Ralston Area Chamber of Commerce president, Tara Lea, who is a mentor through TeamMates, also encouraged people to look into the program. Lea is a mentor to Anna Ryan, a student at Ralston High School.

“I am truly blessed to have been matched with Anna,” Lea said. “It really is an amazing experience. If you are on the fence at all, it is the best decision I have ever made. It’s a wonderful program.”

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