Jan 9, 2014
12:37 PM

Connecticut Family's Touchdown Pass: Football as Arena for Improving Young Lives

Connecticut Family's Touchdown Pass: Football as Arena for Improving Young Lives

Frank DiCocco in the classroom; courtesy of the DiCocco family.

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There are too many ways to start this story—a story about football, “real men,” mentoring young people and giving them a set of solid values built on respect, the growing influence and impact of The H.O.P.E. Foundation (Helping Other People Excel) and, ultimately, the great hope embodied by a Connecticut family that lost a beloved son and is passionately carrying on his mission.

Most young men benefit from the counsel of a loving father, but not all—or even most—are fortunate enough to have an arguably more important mentor, an inspirational coach; the story might start like that.

Or it could take a different approach: While this week’s college football title game between Florida State University and Auburn would have thrilled one late football coach as much as it did the nation, the coach might have focused more on a subtext of the game, the sexual assault allegations against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston that now have the young woman’s family planning to file a civil lawsuit. That plot line represents a high-profile link to his work mentoring young people, building their character and empowering them to make the right decisions.

Or this one: When football coaches from across the nation gather Jan. 12 to 15 at the National Football Coaches Association convention in Indianapolis, Ind., each will receive a copy of the book, Playbook for Manhood: A Game Plan for Being a REAL Man, and they will hear the family of the late Frank DiCocco describe his mission to help young people lead more productive and positive lives through character development initiatives, scholarships, and endowments.  

DiCocco, who coached football at prominent high schools and at the collegiate level, suffered from bone marrow failure and died April 30, 2013, at the age of 29. He was so driven to help young people and the disadvantaged that he passed up potential coaching staff positions at Yale and West Point in favor of coaching at Stillman College, an NCAA Division II institution in Tuscaloosa, Ala.—and he accomplished so much good in so short a time.

Notably, he created The REAL Man Character Development Program (Respect all people, Especially women, Always do the right thing, and Live a life that matters) that features 20 lesson plans to teach youth how to understand right from wrong and make the right choice when faced with a decision.  His comprehensive character-education curriculum designed specifically for young men was developed for and implemented by the National Football League's Youth Impact Programwhich works with at-risk inner-city students in partnership with college and football teams. 

In 2010, DiCocco developed the idea for a foundation to assist underprivileged youth in order to ensure the positive social development of the world, and the next year he established The H.O.P.E. Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, originally based in South Florida.

Almost immediately after DiCocco’s death, his parents, Lou and Kathy DiCocco of Farmington, joined by DiCocco’s sister, Nicole, stepped in to continue the mission.

Professionally, Kathy DiCocco had been an inventory cost accounting manager and accountant who also taught accounting and finance at two Connecticut colleges. Lou DiCocco founded Empire Development, LLC in the 1970s, which constructed buildings nationwide, and was also an entrepreneur in commercial real estate development. In 1984, he founded Alternative Heath Care, a publicly traded company consisting of medical centers, physical therapy centers, and an HMO serving the Northeast.

The DiCoccos are directors of the foundation and Nicole is Executive Director of Nationwide Expansion & Fundraising.

“This was my son’s wish. He had worked on this character development program for three or four years … We had no choice but to take this on,” Kathy DiCocco said in a phone interview Wednesday that touched on all aspects of her son’s mission, the upcoming trip to the 2014 AFCA National Convention and the news that The H.O.P.E. Foundation has just partnered with Hartford’s Camp Courant, the oldest and largest free summer program in the nation.

The H.O.P.E. Foundation will introduce The REAL Man Character Development Program to nearly 1,100 children during the 2014 summer program, a release on the partnership explains. Camp Courant, which brings youths ages 5 to 12 to a camp in Farmington to participate in a variety of recreational, cultural and educational programs, will implement The H.O.P.E. Foundation pilot program “to help teach the next group of campers character development lessons.”

The H.O.P.E Foundation sponsored campers last year—who attend for free—and will do so again in 2014, as well as donating all books and materials for the character program to the summer camp that starts in June.

“Together we hope to change our community and instill a fundamental understanding and direction for all of the children in our program as they enter the next step of their personal journey,” Camp Courant Director and CEO Josh Reese said in a release. Kathy DiCocco explained that the partnership developed when the family met Reese “and told him about Frank and his program.”

“Frank had often written about starting a camp,” Kathy DiCocco recalled, saying of the Camp Courant affiliation, and the mission in general, “It makes us feel good that we are helping people. Frank is teaching kids how to succeed in life.”

DiCocco was a coach who lived his dream by providing young people with a "playbook" on how to lead a positive life by treating others with respect, and living as an example of exemplary character each day, the release on the partnership says. A graduate of Avon Old Farms School and Boston College, DiCocco served as an assistant coach and player development director for nearly a decade, including stops at Avon Old Farms and Cambridge Rindge & Latin High School in Massachusetts, before heading to Stillman College.

The H.O.P.E. Foundation he created emphasizes four main areas of impact, including:

1) Scholarships & Sponsorships for schools, camps, & academic opportunities

2) Youth development programs, initiatives and resource funding

3) Awareness & Prevention Programs, advocacy & outreach efforts, and additional work with support groups & victim-assistance programs

4) Broad-based community engagement, investment, and improvement initiatives

Advocacy and outreach will come into play when Lou and Kathy DiCocco travel to the 2014 American Football Coaches Association Convention. They had attended such a convention in Orlando with their son, and looking to the future, Kathy recalled, he said, “Please donate my book to every coach in attendance.”

Connecticut Family's Touchdown Pass: Football as Arena for Improving Young Lives

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