WHEELING - These days, it can be all too easy for youngsters to take the wrong path.
SportsWorld is aiming to keep them on the straight and narrow.
Since 1978, the organization has been touring the country delivering messages of hope and inspiration to thousands of students.
Former Pitt head coach and Team Focus founder Mike Gottfried was the keynote speaker at Friday night’s SportsWorld Banquet at Oglebay.
Friday night, some local folks had an opportunity to see and hear first hand the impact SportsWorld has made on the lives of those children.
Inside Oglebay's Glessner Auditorium, SportsWorld hosted its annual ''Choose to Win!'' Banquet. But as much as the evening was about visiting with friends and enjoying a nice dinner, it was also about hearing stories on how SportsWorld is making a daily impact.
''Together, everybody achieves more,'' SportsWorld Ministries president Devon McDonald told the gathering. ''One hundred years from now it's not going to matter how big my bank account was or what kind of car I drove, but how I impacted the life of a child.''
And, that's the sole focus of SportsWorld - addressing the problems facing our nation's youth by sending professional athletes to share personal life experiences with students.
''And through the OVAC, so many local youth have been impacted,'' McDonald said.
To illustrate that point, Bellaire teacher Sheri McAninch and former Bellaire student David Dodrill told their stories.
The powerful tales were just two of many that gripped the audience during the evening.
Michael Cobb, a SportsWorld pro, gave a testimonial on how he met a young man who recalled a visit by him years earlier.
All the stories, really, held a similar theme - they ended leaving everyone involved feeling good.
That's what Mike Gottfried's remarks did.
Gottfried - the keynote speaker - spoke about how God has a plan for everyone and that, even though today might not be the best day, it happened for a greater purpose.
''Some days you win, some days you learn,'' he said.
Gottfried spent years on the sideline coaching football at Cincinnati, Kansas and Pitt among others before moving into the broadcast booth with ESPN as one of the network's top color analysts.
These days, his devotion is to Team Focus, a comprehensive mentoring program for fatherless boys and young men he founded with his wife, Mickey, 14 years ago.
Gottfried crosses the country working with chapters in various cities that work on providing youngsters between the ages of 10 and 18 with leadership skills, guidance, faith-based values and relationships with mentors.
The former coach knows all too well about their struggles after losing his father at a young age to a heart attack. That's what drove him to start Team Focus.
''I'm committed to helping those without fathers,'' he said.
And while SportsWorld and Team Focus have different goals, Gottfried said they're the same in the fact they're helping youngsters stay focused on making positive decisions.
''By helping SportsWorld you're helping you're helping every kid it touches,'' he said. ''One man or one woman can change the world.''
And paying it forward is really the best thing any of us can do.