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October 30, 2014

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Angels in the valley:

‘Ms. Susan’: Rancho team’s hero

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Susan Spencer, former general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles, poses at Rancho High School Monday, April 7, 2014. Spencer’s nonprofit A Level Playing Field has given more than $30,000 of equipment and funds to the Rancho HS football team.

Community Angel: Susan Spencer

Susan Spencer, former general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles, poses at Rancho High School Monday, April 7, 2014. Spencer's nonprofit A Level Playing Field has given more than $30,000 of equipment and funds to the Rancho HS football team. Launch slideshow »

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Susan Spencer, the only female general manager in NFL history, has become the de facto general manager of the Rancho High football team. They would be lost without her.

The former Philadelphia Eagles executive created the nonprofit “A Level Playing Field” to help players from Rancho’s economically unstable area acquire the basics they need to compete.

She coordinated more than $20,000 worth of weight-training equipment donated by a fitness company partially owned by Andre Agassi. Her foundation paid $100 per player for preseason physicals and $350 per uninsured player for accidental coverage, both requirements to participate. The nonprofit also paid for players to attend football camp and covered a portion of their meals during an end-of-the-year banquet.

“With Susan, it has always been, ‘Hey coach, what do you need? What can we do to help?” Rancho coach Tyrone Armstrong said.

Rancho desperately needed Spencer’s help.

The Rams haven’t won a game since 2011 and were outscored 1,004-82 the past two seasons, mostly because participation is low. Many students have after school jobs to help their families survive. Others are academically ineligible because education isn’t a priority. Armstrong has struggled to fill the rosters of three teams.

“The clock couldn’t go fast enough,” said Spencer, who attends every game and most practices. “The kids were taking such a beating. It was hard to watch because they put forth their best effort.”

This isn’t the first time Spencer, who moved to Las Vegas in 2006, has tried to rescue an organization.

She started working for the Eagles after graduating law school in the late 1970s and was promoted to general manager in 1982. For the next three years, she worked to solve the organization’s financial problems. Her father, Leonard Tose, owned the team.

During Spencer’s tenure, the Eagles played in the 1980 Super Bowl. She has a necklace with a Super Bowl ring pendant but rarely wears it when visiting Rancho. She doesn’t mention her past to the children. Spencer doesn’t need credibility with these players. “Ms. Susan,” as she is called, is legendary.

“We never make a big deal out of it,” Armstrong said. “They know her as Ms. Susan from the foundation. They know her as our guardian angel.”

The foundation has expanded to help neighboring J.D. Smith Middle School and C.P. Squires Elementary School, whose students eventually will attend Rancho. This summer, eighth-graders from Smith will attend a six-week program to prepare them academically and socially for high school. The foundation will pay for teachers, the facility and class materials.

Click to enlarge photo

Susan Spencer, former general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles, poses with football coach Tyrone Armstrong at Rancho High School Monday, April 7, 2014. Spencer's nonprofit A Level Playing Field has given more than $30,000 of equipment and funds to the Rancho HS football team.

Last month, A Level Playing Field hosted its second annual golf tournament fundraiser, which Spencer said raised $37,000.

Some of the money raised will pay for Rancho to open the season in August in Los Angeles against Calabasas High. For many of the players, it will be the trip of a lifetime. The players will ride on a bus, stay in a hotel, eat meals out and take part in local activities.

“We aren’t just going to drive down and play a game,” Spencer said. “Some of these kids have never been to the beach and stepped on the sand. We’ll give them that experience they’ll never forget.”

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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