Hundreds of students, teachers and parents filed into FirstEnergy Stadium's Lake Club on Saturday ahead of the Orange and Brown, but before the crowd watched Browns players take the field for the first time this season, they listened to an important message from Browns owner Dee Haslam.
The Cleveland Browns Foundation, Ohio Department of Education and Proving Ground at Harvard University have launched the Get 2 School, Stay in the Game! Network (Get 2 School Network), a statewide initiative designed to promote the importance of school attendance and put an end to chronic absenteeism.
The initiative kicked off with Haslam's appearance in front of students across the Cleveland area eager for the start of both the football and school season.
"In order to participate in the sport, you have to go every day, or you don't get to play that afternoon," Haslam said. "Our players here were willing to do this because they still believed how important every day is in school."
Today, many Ohio families struggle getting children or students to school consistently. During the 2017-2018 academic school year, 16 percent (more than 260,000) of Ohio K-12 students — many of whom are among our most disadvantaged — missed 10 percent of the school year (18 days or more) and were chronically absent.
This is too much missed learning and missed opportunity, and the Browns had the perfect advocate to preach the importance of getting to school. Michael Lehan, who was a cornerback for the Browns from 2003-2005, is now a principal at Osseo Senior High School in Minnesota. He was brought back to deliver his message to students, whom we always refers to as "scholars."
Lehan's message was truly heartfelt, and he never looked down at notes when he delivered his speech.
"We know that life is not easy as young people," Lehan said. "There's a lot of trials and tribulations that you have to navigate, and we also know that school sometimes can be a bit challenging.
"Make sure that you're now a leader in the school that you attend. Go seek out the principal. If you have a friend, advocate for that friend because your voice is what sets the path of what we do in education."
Ohio Department of Education Superintendent Paolo DeMaria and Vice President, Cleveland Browns Foundation Renee Harvey also spoke at the event, which was emceed by Voice of the Browns Jim Donovan.
The initiative has been a work in progress for nearly five years, and Haslam and the rest of the Browns family are happy to finally launch and offer help. Their goal with the program is simple: lead the country in attendance and graduation rates.
"You got to help each other get to school, and you got to spread the word," Haslam said. "You can't miss any days, so tell your friends and make sure everyone knows how important this is.
"Let's get this going. Let's get to school."