2017-09-13 / Home

Eagles great Dawkins explains evolution of ‘Weapon X’ at Sports Dinner

Three local athletes/role models receive awards at JCC fundraising event

Keynote speaker Brian Dawkins (second from right) congratulated (from left), Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Dr. Merrick Wetzler, David Back Memorial Maccabi Award recipient Haley Cohen, and People’s Choice Award recipient Ken Hoffman.Keynote speaker Brian Dawkins (second from right) congratulated (from left), Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Dr. Merrick Wetzler, David Back Memorial Maccabi Award recipient Haley Cohen, and People’s Choice Award recipient Ken Hoffman.By JAYNE JACOVA FELD

Voice staff

One of the most beloved Philadelphia sports icons of all time, Brian Dawkins brought the passion and intensity he gave to every football game to his role as keynote speaker at the Katz JCC Sports Award Dinner Sept. 13.

The former Eagle’s safety (1996-2009), recalled how coaches, mentors and even mistakes along the way shaped him into one of the most feared defenders of all times. As for the evolution of his Weapon X alter ego, the mild-mannered Florida native said the spark was always in him. The reason his father signed him up for football, after all, was to give young Dawkins an outlet for his excessive energy.

The first signs of his inner Wolverine emerged in his Pop Warner football days, when Dawkins was forced to play center, a position he despised.

“You guys wonder why I love contact so much, that’s why,” he said. “I had to play center for two years, doing something I did not like. I was taking all my anger out on every snap and whoever was in front of me. Does that sound familiar?”

The event, presented by the Ravitz Family Foundation and NFI Logistics, raised more than $155,000 for Katz JCC scholarships and services benefitting children of all age levels and abilities. Now in its seventh year, the event that has brought sports celebrities to the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill annually--in conjunction with honoring local athletes and coaches who have served as role models to children, teens and adults--has raised more than $1-million since its inception, said Jason Ravitz, who co-hosted the event with Jeffrey Brown. Marc Zumoff, the longtime TV announcer for 76ers games, served as master of ceremonies. Fellow former Eagle defenseman Jeremiah Trotter was also there supporting his “partner in crime.”

This time around, Cherry Hill resident and Temple Beth Sholom congregant Ken Hoffman was awarded the People’s Choice Award. A father of two and owner of Deluxe Packaging Inc., Hoffman was a basketball and ice hockey standout in his playing years who went on to coach numerous champion Team South Jersey Maccabi teams. He said his most recent volunteer foray into coaching young adults with intellectual disabilities in the over 21 ACHaD basketball league has been among his most meaningful accomplishments.

Haley Cohen, a Brandeis University senior from Cherry Hill, was presented the David Back Memorial Maccabi Award. Thanks to the philanthropy of Lewis Katz, Haley attended a tennis camp at age 12 that set her path. She has earned medals in Maccabi games for Team South Jersey and for Team USA at the Maccabiah games in Israel. She is currently captain of Brandeis’ tennis team and volunteers with a tennis program for children with autism.

Cherry Hill resident Merrick Wetzler, a doctor specializing in sports medicine, was given the Lifetime Achievement Award. A co-director of Virtua’s Sports Medicine Program, he is active in professional, school and community sports at every level. A member of the 1981 USA Maccabiah rugby team that won gold, Wetzler participated in two more games in the 1980s and then returned to serve as medical chairman/director for Team USA in the last four games, including the most recent ones this past summer. In addition, he has been involved in the Maccabiah European and Pan-American competitions as well as serving as medical chair for the 1999 and 2014 Maccabi games in South Jersey. A Cherry Hill native whose two children, Austin, 22, and Carly, 19, came home from college to attend the event, Wetzler said that being in the position of caring for athletes and bringing them back to health is his great privilege and accomplishment.

“I think of my first games as more than just a competition,” he said. “Sharing this experience with my teammates and parents is still one of my most cherished memories of my life.”

Brian Dawkins noted that he enjoys speaking at awards banquets knowing that his presence will contribute to helping programs that give children and young adults opportunities. He said that an anonymous donor made it possible for him to go to a basketball camp in high school that opened up his mind to new possibilities and more ambitious goals.

“I know first hand what it feels like for someone to bless me,” said Dawkins, who lived with his family in Voorhees when he was on the Eagles. “Someone I will never know made it possible for me to see something outside my community, to strive for something greater. That’s a powerful thing.”

Learning from mistakes also shaped his successes, he said, recalling that he lost out on a scholarship to the University of Florida because his grades were tanking. It was crushing. However, when he got to Clemson, he said, he took his academics seriously.

“My mindset is that mistakes in my life don’t make me; they make me better,” said Dawkins. “They don’t define me. They don’t stop me, and they never have. Every mistake I try to learn from.”

Asked about his prospects for the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame in his second year of eligibility, Dawkins, the only player in NFL history to record a sack, interception, fumble recovery and touchdown catch in the same game (against the Houston Texans in 2002) said it was a “blessing” just to have his name called among football’s greatest players.

“I will never take it for granted,” he said. “I feel like I’m living someone else’s dream because I never dreamed this big. When that opportunity comes, when I get to go into the Hall of Fame, we are going to have a good friggin’ time!”

Although he was too young to watch Dawkins in his heyday, Eagles fan Steven Brown, 13, said Dawkins’ message was highly relatable.

“He was inspirational because--to come from where he came and to go through all those hardships--it was amazing to see he could use what made him angry and turn it into something good instead of getting down on himself,” said Steven, Jeff’s son.

Jason Ravitz said he and Brown were honored to plan the event and present awards with Donna Rose, the South Jersey Maccabi Chair, and Rick Forman.

“Our honorees were all so well deserved and it was great to watch each of them accept their awards,” he said. “Brian Dawkins was inspirational and delivered a poignant message for those in attendance about the importance of mentoring the youth in our community. Jeff and I are excited to begin planning the next sports awards!” 

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