On Sunday it was the Philadelphia Eagles vs. the Dallas Cowboys, and it was close: 24-22 for the Eagles. Cowboys Quarterback Tony Romo was out of the game. Before Christmas, Romo had a back injury in the game against the Washington Redskins. So the Cowboys called former quarterback Jon Kitna out of retirement to fill in as a backup to Kyle Orton.
Kitna played for the Seattle Seahawks in the 90s, then for the Cincinnati Bengals, the Detroit Lions, and finally the Cowboys, retiring in 2011.
It was reported that Kitna was to make $53,000 for his week of work leading up to Sunday’s game. But that wasn’t all. A sports radio host discovered that Kitna wasn’t keeping the paycheck.
He was donating it to Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington.
Kitna teaches math and coaches football at Lincoln, his alma mater. He went to work there shortly after leaving the NFL. This year Kitna's Lincoln Abes had an 8-2 record.
Kitna tells his football players to be “REAL,” to “Reject passivity, Empathize with others, Accept responsibility, Lead courageously.” He leads by example. Kitna is a father of four, and his son Jordan was his starting quarterback this season. He’s also a man of deep Christian faith. I got to hear him speak at the Pierce County Prayer Breakfast last year. You can watch the speech here.
In his speech Kitna highlighted the crisis of fatherlessness in American society. “I look at the world around us,” he said, “and I see 24 million children growing up without a father in the home—nearly 40 percent of our youth without a father in the home. At Lincoln High School that number is 80 percent.”
In a USA Today article several years ago about high schools that are “dropout factories,” a photo of Lincoln High School was the featured image. Today, the graduation rate is improving. Kitna has been a big part of a community-wide effort to turn Lincoln around.
Innovative school leaders started the Lincoln Center within the high school to challenge and support students. Students have benefited from excellent teachers like Kitna. And Kitna isn’t the only one who realizes the role for private philanthropy in improving his school.
Tacoma City Council member Marty Campbell, who is also a Lincoln High chess coach, has challenged the community to step up and add to Kitna’s donation. “I’d love to see us raise $47,000 and make it an even $100,000 for the school.” Campbell pledged $100 and set up a website through GoFundMe to raise money.
Jon Kitna is showing America that it’s good to go home and give back. Shortly after Kitna came home to change lives at Lincoln High School, sports columnist Dave Boling wrote in the Tacoma News Tribune, “Kitna has been asked for thousands of autographs in his career, and when he signs for someone young, he always adds: ‘Dream Big.’ He might now add: Dream Local.”
“I’ve already lived one of the big dreams,” Kitna told Boling. “But I think this one, now, is bigger. Think of it … if I can help graduate 30 seniors every year who have a vision that is bigger than this 20 square blocks, if I can impart some of myself in these young men … that can be huge. Really, that’s the fulfillment of things that are not quantifiable.”