Mac Stephens. If you meet him, you will never forget him. At 6’3”, he’s a big guy. Yep, he looks like a football player. And, he is. But, what really strikes you is his serenity, gentleness and kindness. He’s motivational and inspirational. And, he loves kids. This man works around the clock in the service of athletes and non-athletes in his THREE jobs as director of recreation for The City of Euclid, head football coach for Cleveland Heights High School, and business owner of Mac’s Speed, Power and Fitness.
When asked how his love of sports began, he replies, “I had a brother seven years older, and I always tagged along. He threw me in there with the older kids, and I’d take my bumps and bruises. My mom was the one who required me to play organized sports, but dad wanted me to go to school. I was hyperactive, probably ADD or ADHD and on medication. I got into sports to burn some energy. In sports, I could easily see myself progress, while in school I was made fun of because I was tall, awkward and stuttered badly. One day, my mom came home to find me on the roof of our Colonial house throwing rocks at cars. Sports helped me to redirect my energy.” And, “redirect” he did! He excelled at basketball, football, track and boxing.
Stephens played professional football for three years with the Toronto Argonauts, New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings until he broke his fifth vertebrae. After recovering, he was offered a contract by the Detroit Lions but made the heart-rending decision to retire from pro ball to avoid breaking his back again. Since then, he has had 25 operations due to his years of playing football.
He took some time away from football before getting into coaching in order to get perspective and learn that everyone has different motives for playing, from being driven to play for the NFL to reasons that include playing because it’s what their friends doing to playing to enhance their popularity. Although playing football is a small portion of who he is, it gives him a platform through which to speak to youth about being a business owner; working for the government, nonprofits and large corporations; and volunteering, mentoring and giving back to the community.
Eventually, he made his way to the public sector. In 1999, he ran for city council but lost. Former Mayor Bill Cervenik encouraged him to stay involved. He joined the recreation advisory board for tackle football and coached soccer and football as a volunteer for three or four years. Then, Cervenik called him regarding some recreation department openings. Now, 13 years later, in his capacity as director of recreation, Stephens oversees 35 recreation programs, senior programs and the golf course.
At Mac’s Gym, started 5-6 years ago in the former Euclid Sports Plant, he originally offered specialized training for young athletes who wanted to be bigger, stronger and faster. Assistant Coach Germaine Smith became a partner, and they began to train the moms and dads of the athletes, which morphed the business into its current capacity as a full-service gym that offers personal training to all ages.
Kids continue to train at the gym from schools all over Northeast Ohio up to three times per week. And, although they come for speed and strength training and to work out, they end up talking about life lessons, such as respecting women, having goals, achieving in and out of sports, and considering career options.
He picks up the torch from a line of coaches who helped him. He says, “I can name every coach I ever had because they impacted me that much. I feel obligated to do what I do because had I not had similar coaches, I’m afraid to think of where I’d be. Utilized the right way, sports can change or impact any kid.” But, he says that there are kids who work out with him who have no athletic aspirations. Beyond athletics, he teaches kids to build self-confidence. He overcame his own stuttering challenge when he became more confident and has seen the same results in others who he has mentored. His goal is not to make a profit but to use athletic training as a tool to impact kids in other areas of their lives, such as making them job ready or helping them communicate better.
Stephens says, “I tell my kids, follow the blueprint and things will happen for you, whether that is getting into college or finding a decent job. Socially, do the right thing. Academically, do the best that you can. In sports, allow yourself to be coached.” This is advice that all of us can take to heart and apply in our lives. Thanks, Coach!