Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021 | 2 a.m.
A few players on the Valley High School junior varsity football team would wear ankle socks for games.
Others had tube socks of different colors, often with holes from wear and tear. A few of the players splurged and bought some brand-name athletic socks.
“How can you be a team if you don’t have uniformity?,” said Quincy Burts, the Valley program’s head coach.
Thanks to the Raiders, that problem got solved.
Burts was named the franchise’s high school football coach of the week, which came with a $1,000 donation for the program. He took the money and bought matching black Nike team socks.
“Some people would say going to the Nike store and spending $14 on a pair of socks has no benefit,” Burts said. “I would say it’s important for the kids in uniform to look the same. It’s important to look like a unit because it gives these kids a sense of belonging.”
That’s something desperately needed at Valley, an inner-city school whose football program has to scramble to make ends meet in the name of giving students a memorable high school experience. They’ve lost more games than they’ve won lately, but that’s secondary to giving the teenagers the fellowship of being on a team, the coach said.
The support of the Raiders has been paramount in this regard. If not for them, Burts says frankly, they would be struggling. The franchise has donated money, gear and made players available to speak with teenagers.
Valley football isn’t the only one benefiting: The Raiders are quickly immersing themselves in the community, where the philanthropic efforts of the Raiders Foundation have helped those with food insecurity, youth programs, law enforcement, health care workers and more. It started four years ago when the team began relocating from Northern California and accelerated in 2020 once the franchise officially moved.
Take the $1 million owner Mark Davis and the Raiders pledged to the Nevada COVID-19 Task Force to fight coronavirus. They also donated $25,000 to The Actors Fund as part of the Mondays Dark telethon to support sidelined Las Vegas entertainers.
The franchise showed us in its recently completed first season that they are eager to be a participating part in the community and ready to commit the manpower, financial resources and time to make the city a better place for all — regardless of background.
It’s something we’ve long seen and benefited from with the Vegas Golden Knights, as having major professional sports here — remember we are still relatively new to this — is more than game day. It’s about their leadership in developing a stronger community.
Here are a few of the many examples of the Raiders’ good works.
'Amazing experience for those kids'
When Bailey Ruff was a teenager she performed a volunteer project with Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit that works to construct, rehabilitate or preserve homes for the less fortunate. Ruff was instantly hooked.
“I realized how much fun it was to build something,” she said. “Seeing the home come together you realize that would be an awesome career path.”
Ruff pursued the path and has risen the ranks to project manager with Mortenson Construction and McCarthy Building Companies, which combined to build the $2 billion Allegiant Stadium.
At the construction site last March, Ruff saw 50 high school-age girls who might have had the interest sparked in working in the field thanks to an event hosted by the Raiders and the construction companies as part of Women in Construction week. They received an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at how the site was being built and the many jobs that were needed on the project.
“Just an amazing experience for those kids,” Ruff said.
About 10% of the workers in the industry across the United States are women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“There’s a great saying out there — ‘I can’t be what I can’t see,’” Ruff said. “For a lot of young women, they don’t see women working in construction so they never envisioned themselves doing it.”
The Raiders, who did the legwork coordinating with the schools to invite interested students, were nothing but first-class throughout the construction of the stadium, Ruff said.
Ruff said owner Mark Davis frequently visited the site to check on its progress, and would often stay for hours interacting with workers. Even though it was the middle of the season, and even though the Raiders were in the process of moving here, time seemed to stop when Davis arrived. He was also armed with gifts.
“He would come out to tell people how much he appreciated them. It was all genuine and sincere,” she said. “We didn’t find him intimidating. He was so friendly and grateful.”
Tackling food insecurity
The line of cars at the Three Square Food Bank distribution sites often stretched multiple city blocks at the outset of the pandemic, when the jobless rate ballooned to 30% and residents were desperate for their next meal.
That’s when Raiders players Alec Ingold, Josh Jacobs, Foster Moreau and Hunter Renfrow took to social media to urge followers to donate to this worthy cause. Thanks to their efforts, 31,314 meals for food-insecure individuals were provided.
“We think that calls for a touchdown dance!,” Three Square posted on its Twitter.
Additionally, The Raider Image donated $10 from the sale of each of the first 10,000 NFL Draft caps to Three Square Food Bank, first-round pick Henry Ruggs III donated a portion of proceeds from his shirt sale to the food bank, and coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock pledged $7,000 to Delivering with Dignity. The group provides high-quality meals to vulnerable populations.
“I’ve been moved by several gestures from both my family and our Raider family,” Gruden said.
Helping limit food insecurity has been one of the Raiders’ primary charitable focuses, including in 2019 when they made a $500,000 donation to the Nevada Community Foundation to help eliminate meal debt for area children. When a family doesn’t qualify for free school meals for a child and doesn’t have the means to pay, a debt is placed in the family’s name. This donation would help cover the debt.
Serving across Southern Nevada
The Raiders have been active participants at many events, even amid pandemic restrictions.
They brought meals to health care workers at the height of the pandemic, staffers built a home with Habitat for Humanity, team president Marc Badain was front and center in leading a Sept. 11 memorial ceremony with Clark County leaders.
They visited with military personnel at Creech Air Force Base in nearby Indian Springs, and on Veterans Day former players spent time at the Nevada State Veterans Home in Boulder City.
Before the move, the foundation’s Celebrity Swing at Top Golf raised money to partially fund Veteran Villages, a comprehensive housing and crisis intervention center for veterans in need.
There’s much more.
The foundation, in conjunction with United Way, hosted the Character Playbook program at Silvestri Middle School with an emphasis on social-emotional learning. The also teamed with the Henderson Chamber of Commerce last February for the “CAN BE Program” at Foothill and Green Valley highs, where students explored long-term professional goals by networking with business leaders.
The Nevada Youth Football League received $125,000 from the foundation’s charity poker tournament, and former players Lincoln Kennedy and Kyle Moody presented the check during the league’s opening-day ceremonies. Families were blown away by engaging personality of Kennedy, the former Pro Bowl selection who signed autographs for more than an hour.
They also gave $250,000 to Opportunity Village, which serves adults with intellectual and related disabilities by helping them develop job skills.
“The Raiders organization hit the ground running with community involvement and charitable giving since the day they stepped foot in Southern Nevada,” said Bob Brown, president and CEO of Opportunity Village, in a statement. “We’re incredibly grateful that Mark Davis, Marc Badain and the entire Raider Nation sees the value in serving folks with disabilities and promoting an inclusive community. Their generosity at such a difficult time will make a huge difference across our organization and be felt for many years.”
A boon for women's sports
If the Las Vegas Aces of the WNBA were playing, chances are the season-ticket holder Davis would be courtside at Mandalay Bay Events Center watching his adopted favorite team.
He liked them so much that he recently bought the Aces with promises of pouring resources into the franchise.
“Women’s sports deserve so much more recognition,” said Davis, who in a conference call said his love for the women’s game was passed down from his dad, legendary owner Al, who admired Geno Auriemma and the UConn Huskies.
Davis plans to provide a first-class experience for the team.
He will open a training facility for the team next year that will have two courts, locker rooms and training facilities. The center will be next to the Raiders headquarters and also will house the Al Davis-Eddie Robinson Leadership Academy — a program to develop minority coaching and general manager candidates in the NFL.
With a veteran roster returning, Davis also wasn’t shy about his goals, saying “we plan to win the championship this year.”
Raiders 'lifted our spirits'
Myles Hayes, the Raiders’ director of youth football, reached out to Valley officials one afternoon to let them know a delivery would be heading their way. A team truck emblazoned with the Raiders logo pulled up the back gym to unload boxes of cleats, some lightly used and others new out of the box.
The shoes are those not used by Raiders players — look closely and a player number is visible on the heel.
All schools provide athletes with football pads and a uniform. But none provides cleats, meaning players with limited means — the majority at Valley — are left to scramble for suitable footing. They often wear hand-me-downs or low-quality shoes.
Not only did the donation in 2019 help outfit that season’s team, there were leftover pairs for future seasons.
“The Raiders know our need,” said Thomas Smith, Valley’s assistant principal in charge of athletics. “They’ve made a concentrated effort to be at a school like Valley, and that’s been invaluable.”
Valley isn’t the only school that’s enhanced its equipment supply. At Rancho, another area school facing challenges of the inner city, “they dropped off a ton of shoulder pads and cleats to our building,” Rams coach Leon Evans said.
And before the pandemic in early 2020, Raiders wide receiver Renfrow ate breakfast with the Rancho players for National School Breakfast Week to deliver a message of starting the day with a healthy meal and working hard to achieve your football dreams.
Even though the pandemic forced the cancellation of the fall season, coaches still got their players together for meetings to check on their well-being. At Valley, a few of the video conference sessions included formers Raiders like Barry Sims, Steve Beuerlein and Khalif Barnes.
And it wasn’t only the Valley boys tackle team. The Vikings’ girls flag football team also benefited from the mentorship.
“Having your season taken from you gives you a feeling of no hope,” said Axcel Ramirez, a Valley senior. “The Raiders (alumni) have us motivated and hopeful. It lifted our spirits to hear their stories.”
Smith said the donations, which included another $1,000 check “out of the blue,” have been a lifeline. But it’s not what’s most important.
“That right there is worth a lot to me. It’s worth more than money,” Smith said. “Money comes and goes, but those meetings have a chance to impact (the students) for a lifetime.”
It’s also the players
Las Vegas didn’t only get a charitable franchise. The community also got charitable players, many of whom have their own foundations.
The players have also hit the ground running, especially standout tight end Darren Waller, whose Darren Waller Foundation helps youths avoid and overcome drug and alcohol addiction. Waller’s substance abuse struggles forced him out of the league and almost derailed his career, but he’s now sober and using the experiences to help a younger generation. He’s spoken to many groups, none more important that at Mission High School, a school for teenagers recovering from addiction.
“(I tell) these kids that there are other ways to have fun and have peace in your life. You don’t have to use drugs or alcohol,” said Waller, whose dependency on drugs started when he was 15.
Ingold was the Raiders’ nomination for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year, which honors a player for volunteer work. In addition to leading the effort to raise funds for Three Square, he visited and brought a nutritious breakfast to Jack Dailey Elementary, led a virtual flag football camp for Special Olympics, participated in a “Get Out and Vote” campaign, and recorded a fitness video to help with physical and mental help during the pandemic.
In one of his social media messages he posted, “Maximize your impact on the people around you. Everyone has a legacy, what will yours be?”
Also, lineman Trent Brown partnered with the Clark County School District to donate $20,000 for Chromebooks to help high school students with remote learning to stay on the path for graduation.
Johnathan Abram appeared on “Stream Aid 2020,” a 12-hour fundraiser on Twitch that featured notable artists such as Diplo and Ellie Goulding, with proceeds going to Solidarity Response Fund for the World Health Organization.
Renfrow filmed a video thanking front-line workers at Intermountain Healthcare. Gruden did the same for MGM Resorts International employees.
The good works, by team and players, have been appreciated. That’s especially true considering the first season was during the pandemic.
“The impact the Raiders brought to Las Vegas is outstanding,” said Burts, the Valley High coach. “It’s amazing how they’ve made one school feel so important.”