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RVA finds perfect speaker to kick off its 2020-21 school year

RVA finds perfect speaker to kick off its 2020-21 school year RVA finds perfect speaker to kick off its 2020-21 school year

If you’re going to have a kickoff event to a school year, why not have a football great be the featured speaker?

It worked perfectly Thursday for the Medford-based Rural Virtual Academy (RVA), who landed Green Bay Packer great LeRoy Butler to set the tone for the new school year.

According to RVA activities director Josh Duwe, also a math and leadership teacher with the academy, Butler’s message during the approximately 75-minute long webinar seemed to hit home with many who watched. The Zoom webinar was viewed by about 400 students and their families throughout the RVA’s statewide consortium.

“We really had a good time,” Duwe said. “It was very real and it very much turned out that for the online viewers, it felt like LeRoy Butler was in their homes talking to them. That was the experience. What a phenomenal person.”

Butler was drafted by the Packers in 1990 and played with the team through the 2001 season. He was an All-Pro safety who was part of the 1996 Super Bowl XXXI championship team, is enshrined in the Packers Hall of Fame and is knocking on the door for eventual induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio as he came up just short in the 2019 voting.

Butler has become a highly sought-after motivational speaker in his post-playing career and has been to the Medford area several times promoting various causes, including an event promoting the Our Village Inclusive Playground as recently as August of 2018.

Duwe said the RVA put in its request through the Butler vs. Bullying initiative and it worked as the academy secured his commitment early in August to do the speaking engagement virtually. Regional event coordinator Tracie Moldenhauer emailed a short and sweet request, noting that bullying really wasn’t a focus for the virtual school, but the academy would love to have him speak.

“We met with (Butler) and he said, ‘I don’t know what you did, but you jumped ahead of 475 other schools because you got the attention of my manager,” Duwe said. “He said, ‘honestly I think it’s because you were passionate about what you wanted and your email was like a paragraph long. And, you’re from Wisconsin.”

Duwe said it was the first time Butler had done a virtual presentation, which also may have piqued interest from the Butler camp and led to them choosing to accept the RVA’s request. The event was co-sponsored by Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Most Packers fans are familiar with Butler’s inspirational story, which started long before he arrived in Green Bay.

Butler and his four siblings were raised by their mother Eunice in the crime-infested housing projects of Jacksonville. Through the first eight years of his life he dealt with the effects of being born severely pigeon-toed. Doctors had to break bones in both of his feet to correct the program and he spent most of his early years in a wheelchair and leg braces.

But when he was eight, he discovered that not only could he walk, but he actually found he could run and run fast. At Robert E. Lee High School, he became a three-sport athlete and accepted a football scholarship from Florida State.

“He always wanted to be a football player,” Duwe said. “Nobody knew who he was. He was picked on. But was like, ‘no I’m not going to let them get me down.’ He said, ‘I put my blinders on. I never believed anything anyone said. I just kept going and doing what I wanted to do.’ Because he was perseverant and, what I gathered from his story is, because of his perseverance through trial he actually discovered something about himself in that he was really fast. He was a fast runner. He realized that he was a fast runner. He basically had that selfdiscovery that you don’t ever find out until you put in effort.

“He made a choice to put the blinders on and he said I discovered something,” Duwe added. “As a result of discovering something I believed in myself and I went further than I ever could’ve imagined. That’s actually the message that came across to these kids. It was pretty profound. I was listening too and I was like I sure hope everybody’s picking this up.”

Duwe said reactions he’s gotten in emails since Thursday night indicate Butler’s message did have an effect on kids, their families and even teachers.

“He changed one kid’s life for sure, based on the stories I heard afterwards,” Duwe said. “You never know how far a ripple goes, especially in education, because you’re constantly talking to kids. Kids are so malleable. They’re looking for hope, looking for new beliefs. They’re like sponges. When we get older, we get kinda hardened. We don’t re-evaluate our beliefs until we listen to somebody else that maybe challenges us.”

Butler spent about 45 minutes telling his story and then Duwe held a fun interview session with him to wrap up the program. During that, Butler had one more message for the students.

“He ended up by saying love your parents, love your mom and dad and love your teachers,” Duwe said. “Everybody’s got different situations but he said if it wasn’t for my mom and if it wasn’t for my teachers, there was no chance that I would become the person that I am today. He’s a phenomenal storyteller. He’s funny and he’s an emotional person.

“It was pretty inspirational. I thought it was a pretty good way to kick it off. It turned out to be a really positive way to kick off a virtual school considering what everyone has been facing.”