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Tuesday, March 4, 2008 | I’m listening to Howard Wright explain the pride he will feel tonight at the 62nd annual Viejas Salute to the Champions dinner at the Town and Country Hotel put on by the Hall of Champions (my day job).

Wright is thrilled that former Chargers safety Martin Bayless is the first recipient of an award named for his father, the Ernest H. Wright Sr. Humanitarian Award, and will receive it on the same night that Pete Newell enters Breitbard Hall of Fame.

“The common thread we find in very few people, and in even fewer athletes, is an acknowledgment that there is something greater in terms of purpose than what kind of house you live in, what kind of car you drive and what kind of watch you wear,” Wright said. “My father and people like Martin Bayless and Pete Newell are extraordinary people that want to help their community and society.”

I admit this is a bit whimsical, but Howard’s thoughts reminded me of what President Kennedy once said about great minds at the White House.

“I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House — with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

Bayless is receiving his award for his tireless work putting on a free football camp for two decades in San Diego.

Newell is entering the Breitbard Hall of Fame as the first general manager of the San Diego Rockets and his stature as a giant in the game while living the past 40 years in San Diego.

Wright, a senior director of business development at Qualcomm, is a connection between Newell and Bayless.

Wright began his basketball career at Patrick Henry High. After his freshman year at Stanford in the summer of 1986, he attended a Pete Newell Big Man’s Camp. Newell’s tutelage helped him go on to play three years in the NBA and eight more in European professional leagues.

“Pete is a teacher by nature,” Wright said. “All the success he achieved in life was from giving back. It was never all about him.”

Earl Shultz, one of Newell’s players on his 1959 Cal championship team, says Newell could have made far more money off basketball and that “Bobby Knight gives Pete hell for giving away so much of his knowledge for free.”

Wright’s father established the Pro-Kids Golf Academy and Learning Center in San Diego, and it grew into a national model for a program that exposes inner-city kids to golf and academic programs.

The inaugural award was presented to its namesake at last year’s Salute dinner before he passed away from cancer.

The Wright award is modeled after baseball’s Robert Clemente Award and will be presented to a San Diego athlete for their contributions to the San Diego community.

In 1986, Bayless started a free football camp in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio that is considered the oldest camp of its kind in the nation. He later expanded to San Diego, Phoenix, Kansas City and Buffalo. Bayless, now an assistant coach with the Houston Texans, played 13 seasons in the NFL, including with the Chargers from 1987 to 1991.

In San Diego, his camp is now known as the Martin Bayless-La’Roi Glover Free Football Camp. Bayless partnered with Glover, a former camper from San Diego. He is an alum of Point Loma High and San Diego State who plays for the St. Louis Rams.

“The thing I cherish about this award is the thousands of people that have been supportive of the camp,” Bayless said. “It’s about people and not about Martin Bayless. When you talk about Ernie Wright and Roberto Clemente, those are two great humanitarians. Those are people whose baseball and football card I wanted as a kid. The award is a great honor.”

It’s a great night to be in the same room with them.

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions and an occasional writer for Chargers.com. You can e-mail him at toms@sdhoc.com. Or send a letter to the editor.

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