Editor’s Note: This guest post comes from Norma Warren, who used to work with the Jackie Robinson League, a Badges for Baseball program partner in Greenville, NC.
Left: Cornell at #CRSFCamp in 2010; Right: Cornell at a combine in 2014
In the Summer of 2010 and coincidentally the first year of the Jackie Robinson Baseball League’s (JRBL) affiliation with the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation, we sent several young men to Aberdeen, Maryland for the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation Overnight Camp. Cornell Powell (Philippi Eagles) and two other young men competed amongst a competition of nine players to earn the right to attend the camp the week of July 18th-21st, 2010.
When Cornell initially arrived for his 2010 CRSF Camp interview, he ushered in some type of energy that led grown men to weep when he responded. When he left the room, we all concluded we fell vulnerable to Mr. Cornell Powell because he “represented the history of the League.” In retrospect, I am convinced that the overwhelming connection this young man made with every person in the room was bigger than him or me or us. That was the day Cornell Powell left his footprint on the JRBL. He aged out of our program that same year as an Academic All-Star. Over the years, I have continued to check on Cornell’s academic progress and his mom continued to give me glowing reports. I have to admit – I occasionally heard about Cornell’s athletic accomplishments, but I was a little disappointed when he gave up baseball so I didn’t follow his athletic accomplishments as much as I did his success in the classroom.
On February 4, 2015, I opened our local paper and the headline read, “Locals ink letters of intent.” I searched the article looking for a familiar name and when I came across “Standout junior Cornell Powell is still a year away from signing a letter of intent, but ... “I'm committed to Clemson,” I immediately picked up the phone to call his mom to check on his grades and then decided I could start spreading the news. One of our boys made the DECISION to attend Clemson University. That’s huge and I’m proud. When I tweeted the news to Travis Punt, he responded with a request for an interview, so here goes.
On Saturday, February 7, 2015, I met Cornell and his mom, Stephanie, at their apartment to talk about Cornell’s experience at the 2010 CRSF Camp and if it had any influence on the development of Cornell Powell over the past 5 years. I was pleasantly surprised by the following:
Warren: Cornell, tell me about the teams you played on as a child.
Powell: I played Pop Warner Football for Greenville Housing Authority until I was about 14. My coaches were Carnell Burney and Moses Phillips and I played for the Philippi Eagles in the Jackie Robinson Baseball League until I was 13. My coach was Steve Staton. Bill Fuller was my middle school Football Coach, and Todd Lipe and David Wojetcki have been my high school football coaches.
Warren: Cornell, I was mad with you when you gave up baseball for football.
Powell: I didn’t want to give up baseball. I had to make a choice. Baseball and track are in the same season. I had to decide which sport was better for me, so I chose track because it helped me improve my speed. I wish I could have done both, but I couldn’t.
Warren: Cornell, do you remember the year you attended the CRSF Camp? If you do, can you tell me if it had any influence on your life’s choices?
Powell: I remember almost everything about that camp. I remember doing leadership drills the first day we arrived. I remember being taught the importance of being a better team mate. I remember meeting Ernie Graham on the 2nd day and the story he told us about how he went from rags to riches to rags. I remember thinking “I will never be like him.” I can honestly say that the Cal Ripken Camp was the reason I came back to school and decided to change my behavior in the 7th grade. I always made good grades, but I had a bad attitude, but after I heard Mr. Graham’s story, I knew I had to do better or I was gonna be like him. I decided I wanted to be a smart athlete. I will never forget the first day of my 7th grade year and Coach Fuller asked me if I wanted to play ball at Eppes. I said I did. He asked me how was I gonna play ball when I couldn’t stay out of trouble. I thought about Mr. Graham and I’ve never been in trouble since that day.
Warren: Cornell, I did not know all of this. I am absolutely shocked and happy to hear all of this and I know the CRSF personnel will be overjoyed to know they impacted your life. Can you tell us what your future goals are?
Powell: Before I graduate from Rose High School, I want to win a state football championship and graduate with honors. Before graduating from Clemson University, I want to win a national championship and the Heisman Trophy. I will one day own numerous businesses and a sports team.
Warren: With all of that success, how will you give back to your community?
Powell: I will be responsible for Rose High School’s cleats and equipment for at least 5 years. I will build CM Eppes a football field I will purchase the PAL and JRBL fields to play on and uniforms for their players. AND, I will make sure my church is taken care of because they have been really good to me.
Warren: Stephanie, is there anything you’d like the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation to know about Mr. Cornell Powell?
Stephanie Powell: Yes, I want them to know that when Cornell attended their camp, it was the first time he had ever been to an overnight camp. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew he needed to go and he earned the right to go and I was happy for him. Cornell came back a changed child. That camp helped his behavior and gave him a positive outlook on combining school and athletics and I just want to say ‘thank you.’
Warren: Thank you is extended to both of you for allowing me to come into your home and spend time with you. Cornell, I am always proud to know you’re doing well on the football field and basketball court and the track, but I am extremely proud when I hear your GPA is currently a 3.45 and you have options that are bigger than sports. I am overjoyed to see the huge box of recruitment letters by the front door has not altered your humble spirit and you remain a very respectful young man. The Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation should be very proud to know they contributed to someone who is inevitably going to dominate the game of football, but more than that – they should be proud to know you’re still emulating the Ripken Way.
Cornell has given Clemson University a “verbal nod” that he will be attending their very fine school on a football scholarship after high school graduation. Among numerous awards, he has won the 2015 US Army National Combine MVP Award. He continues to excel in the classroom and above all else, continues to make his family and community proud.
Left: Cornell with his mom, Stephanie. Right: Cornell with the author, Norma Warren.
Although I am no longer with the Jackie Robinson Baseball League, I am still very connected to many of the alumni and continue to claim all of them as “my boys and girls.” Mr. Cornell Powell is an example of what happens when an entire community, a young person’s family, and an opportunity line up to produce a winner. On behalf of the JRBL and everyone involved with Mr. Cornell Powell, thank you for your contribution.