April 17, 2000
by Erika Rowell
A pact made by four friends in high school brought former University of Illinois football player Clinton Lynch back to his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, seven years after he left for college on a football scholarship.
After four years of school and two years working in Chicago with American National Bank, Clinton got a call from high school friend, Tim Caffey, to say their pact concerning a business venture together was ready to become a reality.
The four high school friends who had initially gone their own ways after graduation reunited to honor their promise to each other, and now Tim Caffey, Lock Beachum Jr., Bryan Cook, and Lynch run a promising business in their home town of Youngstown.
This isn't just any business. The young men who played football together in high school, began the Youngstown Youth Academy, a chartered school and residential treatment facility where teenage boys, appointed by a judge, get a few things they don't at home: discipline and love.
"The academy is the last stop for many of the kids before juvenile jail--it is a privilege for them to be there," said Lynch.
Lynch, the academy's vice president, who also keeps track of the finances, says he is living a dream come true.
"I didn't enjoy myself in the banking industry, but I am very in tune to running my own business... being an only child, my friends I am in business with are like my brothers," he said.
The Youngstown Youth Academy, a 24-hour facility with a dorm-type setup and a 'college feel' to it, began with a lot of hard work and faith.
Caffey, whom Lynch describes as the 'ring leader' of the project, was working at a group home in Pennsylvania when he decided to take the idea to the next level. Caffey found an available building in Youngstown and the quartet began asking people they knew for donations of $100. The process began in early 1995 and the first youth checked in Feb. 22, 1996.
"We believed in God and ourselves," says Lynch. "(We knew that) if your heart is not in it, then you won't be successful for long."
The first Youngstown Youth Academy building housed 10 adolescents, and the four founders expanded it from there. The center currently has 25 employees, including counselors, teachers and a principal. The academy serves boys between the ages of 10 and 18 who stay from six to eight months at a time before being sent back out for a 'second chance'. However, the academy doesn't just send them out by themselves, there is an established aftercare program that tracks the young men until they go to college.
"These guys' attendance records are terrible," said Lynch. "Growing up, we had people who looked out for us--I had both my parents, but a lot of these guys don't have that."
Working with the boys at the youth academy is a lesson in family. Since 1996, there haven't been any boys at the academy who have come from two-parent homes, and many are involved in gangs, which provide a sense of family and belonging.
"If there is only one parent in the home, there is something missing, and we try to provide that missing link here," says Lynch.
In the case of the boys at the Youngstown Youth Academy, it is easy to see the importance of a father in a child's life, and overall, the importance of having both parents.
Clinton Lynch, a product of a two-parent home, can partly contribute his success to the role both his parents played in his life. Clinton's father is the vice president of human resources at Commercial Intertech Resources in Youngstown, and his mother is a housewife. Clinton's parents came to all his home football games and a number of away games during his years at the U of I.
Clinton's love of football began early on as he began playing in Junior high and continued on in high school. The finance major came to the U of I when Illinois was just coming off its first Bowl game in several years, at a point Lynch called "one of the best times to be at Illinois."
The Illini finished 10th in the nation in Lynch's freshman year and won the Big Ten championship his sophomore year. During his football career at Illinois, Lynch played in 39 games, rushed for 496 yards (4.13 per carry), and returned 64 kickoffs for 1383 total yards. Lynch, who earned three letters with the Fighting Illini, still holds the school record for career kickoff return yards (1,383).
"Clinton had an incredible desire to be the best player on the field--he did a lot of good things as a player, on and off the field," recalled former Illini assistant coach Michael "Bucky" Goldbolt, who worked with the running backs in the early '90's.
Head Coach John Mackovic left for the University of Texas and Lou Tepper took over the reins between Lynch's sophomore and junior seasons. It was a change to which Lynch had trouble adapting.
"I didn't adapt too well to the program, and after that season I had to look down within myself. I rededicated myself to making a contribution to the team," Lynch recalled.
Lynch remembers his college years as a time during which he matured significantly. "I made a lot of neat friends and I would never take away all the practices, getting up early, running, and locker room talks--some of which I won't forget," he said.
Kevin Jackson, one of Lynch's teammates at Illinois, says the football team mindset CLynch had on the field, carries over and applies well to his work now. Jackson remembers Lynch as someone who loved kids and was a down-to-earth, strong person. As the years went on, according to Jackson, they developed a good friendship.
"He was there when I needed someone to talk to. When I first came (Clinton was a year older), Clinton told me what it would take to adjust to college ball. I came in wearing my high school letterman jacket and he was the one who said, "Man, you can't wear that here--you are in college now."
Perhaps Lynch's mentoring Kevin and his other football teammates foreshadowed his work now, as he and his partners interact as big brothers to the boys at the academy. Each of the founders works with a small group of about four young men, giving them a chance to see another face during the day.
In the future, Lynch hopes to expand the Youngstown Youth Academy to a full-blown campus, serving 120 youngsters, rather than the 20 they have now. The founders are currently looking at a 40-acre piece of land as a new site for their business. They are also looking to fine-tune the idea of community at the academy.
"We are trying to come up with another tool or situation where we can reunite the kid with the family," said Lynch, "in a different setting than what they came from. Ideally, we want a community of homes on our campus where the main focus would be to get the kid back with his family."
Lynch and his friends are examples of how great things can happen when you dream big, as a pact made by four high school friends is now changing Youngstown, Ohio for the better. All four guys were looked up to as high school and college football players, and now are role models for boys at the academy and the people of their hometown.
Upon hearing about Clinton's business, Goldbolt stated that Clinton's life is right on par with what he would expect it to be like.
"We have a commitment to Youngstown," said Lynch. "Ww were born and raised here. We grew up down the street. We're stubborn." says Lynch.
And channeling that stubbornness in precisely the right direction.