CLEVELAND -- The teenager, a manila folder in his hand, walks reed straight into the principal's office at Ginn Academy. He is in a crisp, bleach-white shirt and black slacks with a black leather belt, and he wears a red tie with black stripes.
Stopping at the front desk, the teenager asks the receptionist a question. She tells him she can't answer it. She escorts the teen into an anteroom to wait for one of the academy's administrators.
Other teens soon follow.
All are polite and cheerful, all nattily dressed in the academy's uniform and colors: black, white and red.
No blue jeans sagging off a boy's butt.
No faded T-shirts with Gucci Mane's image on it.
There are appropriate settings for such urban attire, but Ginn Academy, the only all-male public school in Ohio, is not one of them.
Ted Ginn Sr., the man whose name is stretched across the school's brick facade, wouldn't allow it. To Ginn, educating teenagers is serious business, so he brooks no foolishness. He knows he has a task that some people think he isn't equipped to handle.
In a sense, their criticism is fair. Ginn has no formal credentials as an educator. His calling card, really, has been his ability to create from rocky terrain a football dynasty at Glenville High School, his alma mater, and turn it into fertile ground for recruiters from Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, North Carolina Central, West Virginia, the University of Miami, Ball State and colleges elsewhere.
Yet his critics ignore the intersection of coaching teens and teaching teens, a fact not lost on Ginn. He points out one trait his critics disregard: he can relate to kids.
Few men and women do so any better.
Yes, he isn't the classic educator. He lacks the college degrees and an office wall crowded with teaching awards. He concedes as much.
Ginn, however, blunts such criticism with what too many educators, their credentials and high-minded titles notwithstanding, don't grasp. He deals in "hope," one thing a teenager needs in abundance.
"Kids come here because they want a chance," Ginn said. "I have expressed to them that they got hope."
The 290 teenagers who attend the three-year-old Ginn Academy, a recycled middle school on the city's East Side, do have a chance. He reminds each of them they can be a father and a husband; they can be a doctor and a lawyer.
But they must first be a good man.
Boys to Men
Nothing defines Ted Ginn Sr. and his mission in life any better than this: he wants to help boys become men.
His effort to churn out men began in a public way in 1997 when he took over the football program at Glenville. He got the job because nobody else wanted it. Not that the program was sorry. As inner-city programs go, Ginn landed a decent one -- a program with potential.
He never doubted he could squeeze all the potential out of it. The talent has always been there; it was there when Ginn wore the Black and Red back in the 1970s, he says. What was not there were locker rooms, a weight room, a decent practice facility, dedicated coaches, discipline and the unshakable resolve that leads to success.
Through force of his personality, Ginn instilled discipline. He raised money to add a weight room; he hired coaches who shared his passion; he won games -- lots of 'em.
Ginn, 55, has never lost a regular-season game in the eight-team Senate League. His Tarblooders have become the 2010 version of Massillon, Canton McKinley, Steubenville, Bishop Moeller and other historic powers in Ohio high school football.
"He understands what it means to be a Tarblooder -- to wear that 'G' on the side of their helmets," said Pierre Woods, a former NFL player and a Michigan grad who played for Ginn a decade ago. "It's a pride thing, and that's what it's about: being proud."
Woods and his teammates didn't just represent a high school; they represented a community and its spirit. They weren't playing just for themselves; they were playing for their parents, their siblings and their friends.
Ginn taught players like Troy Smith, Donte Whitner, Rob Rose, Ted Ginn Jr. and Woods to believe in themselves and to own up to their weaknesses and shore them up. Ginn Sr. talked about more than success on the football field; he talked about success in life.
"Like he always told me -- and I'm sure he told other guys -- at the end of the day, it's up to you," Woods said. "The only person that can make you fail is yourself."
The word is anathema to Ginn. He espouses a gospel of success, and the program he runs reflects it. Glenville, a success for more than a decade, was one of the top-rated programs in Ohio this season. In various national polls, his Tarblooders had been ranked as high as No. 4.
His roster boasted some of the premier talent in the country, including quarterback Cardale Jones and wide receiver Shane Wynn.
Success, well, no one uses the same yardstick to measure it as Ginn does. If all he wanted for his program was a lot of wins, he feels he would be cheating the teenagers who have come out for his football team.
Ginn does stress winning. All coaches do, right? But he also preaches passion and commitment and personal responsibility. Playing for Ginn has never been about football alone; mostly, it has been about life itself.
He told his players not to settle for success. He didn't see that as a grand enough purpose.
"You have to talk about being 'great,'" Ginn said.
What Price for Greatness?
Greatness doesn't come gift-wrapped. While athletic skills are wonderful to have, athleticism guarantees a man little in this hi-tech world. Nor does athleticism last forever.
To Ginn, education is the answer. Commit to education, he tells his football players, and if they do, they will always have skills that play well in the workplace.
Ensuring that his players and the students at Ginn Academy, which has no varsity athletics, have a strong educational foundation is Ginn's mission. He has sent close to 300 of his athletes to college.
Inside the school he started, Ginn sits in a conference room. His thoughts are a long way from football this afternoon. He's been wearing his educator's hat. He's spent most of the morning talking with the academy's principal and a principal from a high school in Columbus, Ohio.
His cell phone rings often. His administrative assistant interrupts now and again as Ginn juggles his business, which is saving young souls.
"If I don't do something everyday to make a difference in somebody's life, then I had a bad day," he said, leaning back in his chair.
That's the reason Ginn pushed hard for the academy -- pounding on doors and cashing in IOUs to make it happen. He wanted to provide black teenagers in Cleveland more than what they might have found elsewhere. He wanted a place where teenagers in his buttoned-down academy could learn, a place where they could thrive and a place where they could be shielded, if only for a few hours, from the hard realities of the 'hood: gangs, drugs and senseless crimes.
So he takes pride in what the academy has become. His plans are to build a second academy. Not just a second, actually, but a third and a fourth -- urban schools that push academics hard.
Not everybody at the academy or Glenville will end up with the NFL careers like Woods, Whitner, Ginn Jr. and Smith. The rest will need to carve out a life in business or politics or in a service industry.
That's where they'll find their success -- or their greatness. Ginn intends to help them however he can. His focus is on giving them hope and to saving their souls.
"What's killing me is I can't save more, that I can't get myself in an environment where we can mass produce saving, because I still have someone at the end of the assembly line blocking it -- holding it up," he said.
For now, he finds solace in the fact he's helping a lot of black teenagers find their bearings. He's giving them hope and a chance, which is what all educators ought to be doing.
And Ginn is -- 24/7.
"There's no finish line," he said with a sigh. "Finish what? You have a new group tomorrow."