Player makes impact with education, too

He is a founder of a new charter high school in Hillsborough County.

Published June 25, 2007

TAMPA - Derrick Brooks, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker, is a household name. But have you met Brooks, the rising leader in education? He heads Gov. Charlie Crist's fitness initiative, is a trustee at Florida State University and is a founder of the Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High School, scheduled to open in August as  a charter high school in Hillsborough County. A graduate of Florida public schools, Brooks recently talked with the Times about his newest passion.

Why are you so interested in education?

I think education is the survival of society. I know a more educated person in the world is a very powerful human being.

What makes the Brooks-DeBartolo charter school unique?

It allows us to give a curriculum to kids that is a little different than traditional, because we have a small number of kids. Being the first to do it, we have a chance to try some things that may work or may not work, but we're allowed that freedom to change.

How have your own educational experiences influenced you? There's a story about you getting in trouble in fifth grade...

I was being a class clown, and my mother and father really were fed up with the teacher calling the house, so my Dad warned me that he was going to whip me in front of the class. He was going to show me who could be the bigger clown. To his word, he came up there and he did it. That was the last time that my father ever whipped me. The message that they were sending to me simply is this: No matter how good the grades you make, how good at sports you are, if you don't know how to treat people and be respectful, you're not going to be a successful human being.

What's next for the governor's physical fitness initiative?

Different educational lessons can be taught through physical education. That's kind of my starting point. I want everybody to recognize the importance of physical education in my life, in terms of setting team goals and teamwork and problem-solving and learning how to get along with people, have different conversations with people.

Do you think you could do more for children if you were in public office? Would that interest you?

(Laughs) Once a day, I get asked that. I just tell them the same answer: If that's where the Lord wants me to be, then an elected office is where I'll be. But to say that's a goal of mine right now? No. My daily goal right now is to make the Tampa Bay 2007 football team.

Is there a point where people should start seeing you not as Derrick Brooks the football player who is an education advocate, but as Derrick Brooks, the education advocate who also is a football player?

I like to tell people I'm not a football player that's a Christian, I'm a Christian that happens to play football. Whatever role you want to see me in - if it's sports that draws your connection, or if it's me as a human being that draws your connection - you're going to get the same person.

Regarding the charter school, is there a certain kind of child that you're looking for?

No. I know we have certain requirements, but for me to say I want this child vs. that child, I can't say no to anyone. That's why I'm not on the selection committee. I'd try to take them all. (Laughs)

I just want kids who want to try a different style of learning, who are trusting us to educate them and get them college-ready, who to a certain degree may feel lost because of the numbers in the public schools system.

Fast Facts: Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High School still is accepting applications for students entering grades nine to 11. For more information, visit www.bdchs.org.