DENVER -- **"We hear so often what's wrong with our youth," John Lynch said in front of thousands of kids Friday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. "We're going to hear what's right with our youth today."
The John Lynch Foundation held its 16th Annual Salute the Stars awards luncheon, presented by the Reiman Foundation and FourPoint Energy, which honors the Denver area's brightest young student-athletes who excel in academics, athletics and community involvement.
"Sixteen years, and the kids, they astound you each and every year with the excellence that they exhibit in their entire life," Lynch said.
More than $86,000 was awarded in scholarships and awards to Denver area student-athletes who excel in academics, athletics and community involvement.
Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock was in attendance at the event, which was emceed by CBS4's Vic Lombardi.
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning closed out the luncheon as the keynote speaker.
"Peyton's a very busy man and he does a lot of these, but when I called, he said, 'Absolutely. I've got great belief in what you're doing. I'll be there.' He has been, and I really appreciate that," Lynch said. "I'm excited. And in Peyton Manning fashion, I've brought my pen and paper, my notepad, and I'm going to be taking notes."
After the awards were handed out, which included five exceptional star of the year awards presented to student-athletes with physical disabilities and Down syndrome, a coach of the year award, four $15,000 Lynch Family Legacy Scholarships and four star of the year awards, Manning took the stage to give advice.
But before he began, he jokingly thanked Lynch for crushing one of his dreams. Manning always wanted to throw a touchdown pass to Jerry Rice, and had a chance to do just that in a Pro Bowl. But as Warren Sapp got some pressure on him, he didn't get quite as much as he would've liked on the pass. Still, the touchdown seemed within reach -- until Lynch stepped in front for an interception.
The story drew laughs from Lynch, Manning and the crowd, and then the keynote speaker got to the advice portion of his speech.
"You are the people who can," he told the children in attendance, which included 1,800 students from the public school systems in Denver and Aurora sitting in the stands. "In 1997, my last year in college at Tennessee, I finished up my college eligibility and I was doing an interview on my college experience. And I said something that day about being a student-athlete -- something I still believe today. Critics ask if athletics are consistent with the educational mission of a school. Well, frankly those people see the walls that limit us without seeing the spaces that allow us to expand.
"The reality is that being a scholastic or a collegiate student-athlete has a lot more to do with learning than it does with winning. Student-athletes learn more than most people about the blessings and lasting pleasure of camaraderie and shared sacrifice, collective responsibility and commitment to excellence, time management and life management. In some ways, it would've been a lot easier to have been just a football player or baseball player or swimmer without being a student, and the opposite holds true as well. It would be much easier to be just a student and let the other sports for some other day and time. But it wouldn't have been as joyous or rich or quite candidly as humbling to have been one without the other. Remember that the next time you hit the wall on the last lap of your race or are bleary eyed trying to finish your homework and still get a good night's sleep. Remember that when you lose your next competition and struggle to figure out how best to come back and fight again. Each of you has the makings to be a leader. But inate talent simply is not enough today. You have the choice to lead, and there are plenty of athletes who lead in the huddle, but they leave that spark on the playing field or in the locker room. If you have the talent, if you have the will, make it count for more than just numbers on a scoreboard."
"The shadow of kids doing good today is growing longer and longer every single day," he continued. "And frankly, more adults should walk in your shadow."