How it Began
In 1977, the Eastside Athletic Club committee discussed their plans for their annual Spring fundraiser with discussion quickly turning to supporting their charity of choice; the Abused Children of Maryland which would later be named St. Vincent’s Villa. They quickly agreed that some type of banquet was the best vehicle for both raising funds and establishing the great need to help these suffering youngsters while concurrently centering the event around the Baltimore Colts. An Eastside Athletic Club member, Sam Lamantia, reached out to his friend and client at his Gentlemen’s Gentlemen barbershop, Baltimore Colts Assistant General Manager Ernie Acorsi. As they discussed the banquet in further detail, it became apparent that the idea was sound, but needed a strong focal point. Then Acorsi stated, “I think that you should consider a courage award for this town. There has been nothing like it. It could be an ongoing event and the football players would be involved.”
As time progressed and more preparatory meetings were held, the group was constantly considering candidates after whom to name the award. After floating several ideas including Johnny Unitas and Artie Donovan among others, Lamantia reached out to another friend, Baltimore Sun reporter, Larry Hess. His response was, “there’s only one person you can name this award after. That’s Eddie Block.” At the initial banquet the Eastside Athletic Club honored Colts Owner, Bob Irsay, which helped to gain full cooperation from his front office and led to the official founding of the Ed Block Courage Award. In 1978, the first-ever Ed Block Courage Award that was voted on by the Baltimore Colts players, was formally announced and honored defensive lineman, Joe Ehrmann.
After the Colts left for Indianapolis, Sam Lamantia spoke with John Lopez (former Colts Head Athletic Trainer) about whether to keep the award and banquet moving forward. Lopez approached the Professional Football Athletic Trainers (PFATS) organization and several Athletic Trainers from around the National Football League, Bobby Reese (New York Jets & PFATS President) and Jerry Rhea (Atlanta Falcons & former PFATS President). Support was found with several champions of the cause including Dean Kleinschmidt (New Orleans Saints), Bubba Tyer (Washington Redskins and Kent Falb (Detroit Lions) assisting in the efforts. The group worked together to create a partnership with PFATS, the NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) to make the Ed Block Courage Award a league-wide initiative. This first national class of recipients included Hall of Famers Jack Youngblood and Ronnie Lott. The group was instrumental in growing the award while expressing the amazing work the newly created Foundation had accomplished during its six-year existence.
In 1989, St. Vincent’s Villa was dedicated as the first official Courage House in partnership with the NFL and league commissioner Pete Rozelle. After Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney was invited to the 14th Annual Ed Block Courage Awards in 1991 as an Honorary Chairman, he determined that our mission needed to be expanded. The Pittsburgh Steelers then dedicated the first member of the National Courage House Support Network for Kids, Holy Family Institute, later that year. From there, Lamantia and the Foundation worked with organizations from across the league to add Courage Houses in NFL cities with the support of each corresponding team.
Sam Lamantia served as the very first chairman of the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation as well as its Executive Director for over 36 years, helping to spread our mission to 23 cities across the country. His work to support abused and at-risk youth established him as a nationally recognized humanitarian. He is now honored by the Foundation with the newly established Sam Lamantia Founder’s Award, a grant presented to a Courage House each year elected by the Board of Directors. His legacy will live on as the Foundation continues to grow with the additions of new Courage Houses and the expansion of support for the members of the National Courage House Support Network for Kids.