2019 Conference Featured Topics & Speakers
We are in the process of finalizing a terrific lineup of speakers!
Check back for more information as we continue to announce conference speakers and sessions.
Devon Still is a former NFL defensive tackle with the Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals, a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and a Penn State University All-American. Growing up on violent and drug-infested streets in Wilmington, Delaware, Devon was introduced to football by his father at age 13 and the sport changed his life. He was the first person in his family to graduate from college and move on to a successful career. When his daughter Leah was diagnosed with a rare pediatric cancer in 2015 – two months after Devon almost died from post-back surgery blood clots in his lungs – he miraculously returned to the football field wearing Leah’s message of hope during every game. Their fight impacted and inspired millions around the world. Now, through the Still Strong Foundation, they have raised more than $2 million to influencing the global cancer conversation. A snapshot of his accolades speaks volumes about his purpose, his heart, his life’s mission – the 2015 Jimmy V Espy Award for Perseverance, People Magazine’s 2016 Dad of the Year and the 2017 Penn State Alumni Achievement Award for most successful alumni under 30.
Olympian Molly Sullivan Sliney was a distinguished member of the 1988 and 1992 United States fencing team. Molly also was a member of the 1987 and 1991 Pan American teams where she won two gold medals. Growing up with the learning disability of dyslexia, she lacked confidence and belief in herself until she started fencing where she learned to excel on the fencing strip and in the classroom. She attended the University of Notre Dame and received a degree in Marketing while winning two NCAA titles, a mark recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records. Notre Dame also named her 1980's Female Athlete of the Decade. Currently, Molly is an active public speaker as well as Coach and Partner in Vivo Fencing Club in MA. By sharing her life experiences, she teaches youth to believe in themselves, to set goals and to work every day to achieve those goals, no matter what the obstacles.
Paul Roetert was recently hired by the NCAA Sport Science Institute as the Director of Education and Strategic Engagement where he oversees SSI's direct education and strategic communication efforts. Most recently, Paul was a consultant and adjunct professor at Florida and from 2010 to 2017, he served as the CEO of the Society of Health and Physical Educators, known as SHAPE America, an organization dedicated to promoting active, healthy lifestyles. SHAPE worked closely with Michelle Obama and her national “Let’s Move” initiative. His experience also includes serving as a United States Olympic Committee member tasked with developing a strategic plan to increase youth sport participation as well as serving as Human Kinetics Director, American Sport Education Program where he developed a partnership with the National Federation of State High Schools.
Dana Cavalea is a speaker, author and a High Performance Coach who works with high level athletes, coaches, universities, business executives and more. Prior to his current work, he spent 12 years as the Director of Performance for the New York Yankees, winning the 2009 World Series and receiving the Nolan Ryan Award as the top Strength Coach in Major League Baseball. His book, Habits of a Champion uses insight from some of the world's top athletes and performers to shares 15 lessons on becoming a champion. From plans to increase athletic performance to strategies for reducing stress and improving work/life balance, Dana works with clients and audiences to improve daily outcomes and maximize performance.
Javier Chavez and Alegria Castro
Javier Castro came to Homeboy Industries in 2012 as a trainee in maintenance, eventually working his way into security. He is now a senior navigator, working closely with trainees as a mentor and helping them to navigate through Homeboy’s 18 month program. In 2013 Javier became the first person in his family to graduate high school, enrolling at East Los Angeles College where he is pursuing his Substance Abuse Certification and an AA in Psychology. He plans to transfer to Cal-State Los Angeles to continue his education. In his role as a Senior Navigator, Javier oversees seven navigators, who each carry a caseload of 30 clients. He also leads workshops at Homeboy.
Alegria Castro serves on the staff of Homeboy Industries as the Community Outreach Manager. Javier will share his story and together with Alegria, they will relate the work of Homeboy Industries to the Play Like a Champion mission.
LaTonya Pinkard is an Associate Professor of English at Independence Community College in Independence, Kansas, where she teaches a number of courses that focus on composition and literature. The charismatic teacher received national attention for her role in the Netflix documentary Last Chance U (Season 3), which demonstrated her ability to connect academically and personally with student-athletes from a variety of backgrounds. LaTonya is passionate about providing support for all students, particularly in the area of literacy, having founded a popular book club on-campus and become involved in a number of other efforts. Prior to arriving at Independence Community College, LaTonya also worked at Georgia Perimeter College and Kennesaw State University.
At the age of 4 Anthony Ianni was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), which is on the Autism Spectrum (ASD). Doctors and specialists told Anthony’s parents that he would barely graduate from high school, would never graduate from college, would never have a shot at being an athlete and would likely live in a group institution with other Autistic kids for his adult life. Despite these challenges, Anthony earned his Bachelor's Degree from Michigan State University, where he is the first known athlete with autism to play Big Ten basketball. As a member of the Spartans, he won two Big Ten Championships and was a member of the 2012 Final Four team. Having won a number of awards as a speaker, Anthony has pledged his life and career to help those who face similar challenges, inspiring countless individuals to be “Relentless” and to achieve their goals and dreams.
Joanna Cote Thurman
Joanna Cote Thurman is a 3-time Ironman finisher, a high school cross country and track coach, an avid outdoor enthusiast and a believer that the power of sport can changes lives.
To complete her Master’s degree in Sports Leadership through Northeastern University, Joanna created a running program for Homeboy Industries, an organization where former gang members choose to come to change their lives, gain education, learn job skills, have tattoos removed, find support and receive unconditional love and acceptance. Joanna was transformed through the kinship she experienced running with the “Homies.” She believes with the combined power of sport and nature, “anything is possible”.
Frank Alloco is a former University of Notre Dame dual sport athlete playing football and basketball under the tutelage of Ara Parseghian and Digger Phelps. He was a three year letterman in football as quarterback and was set to be the starting quarterback in his senior year until a separated shoulder curtailed his playing time. All his professional life, Frank has worked in education and coached at all levels. Just a few of his honors include: 2000 National High School Coach of the Year; California State Coach of the Year; State Champion Coach in California at 2 different schools. Frank is currently the Executive Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Relations for the University of San Francisco and delivers motivational speeches to audiences of youth athletes to corporate executives. His message “The Winning Edge” has inspired thousands as it focuses on how to turn challenges into wins.
Bruce Scifres is the Executive Director for the CYO in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, taking the role in 2017 following a legendary 27-year tenure as the Head Football Coach at Roncalli High School. A recipient of numerous coaching awards, Bruce led Roncalli to seven Indiana Football State Championships, including an undefeated season in 2016. He received his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Secondary Education from Butler University, where he also played football, setting three Butler rushing records and earning induction into Butler University's Athletic Hall of Fame. He is the subject of the 2018 short film Coaching for Christ and the author of two books: Beyond The Goal Line and A Real Man: A Guide To Becoming The Men Our Wives, Children and God Want Us To Be.
Jamyle Cannon is a National Collegiate Boxing Champion from the University of Kentucky and the Founder and Director of The Bloc. Jamyle started The Bloc as a boxing club for students in his classroom on Chicago's West Side and has built it into a program that uses the discipline of boxing to support the academic, social and developmental needs of Chicago's teens. The Bloc's goal is to bring hope, purpose and success to Chicago's youth breaking the cycle of poverty and reducing violence in the community.
Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of American. He regularly speaks on Autism, Motivation & Athletics.
Ron has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and has published two books: A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom and Thought, Choice, Action: Decision-Making that Releases the Holy Spirit's Power. He has over 10,000 Scriptures memorized including 22 complete books of the New Testament.