Keith Willis is guest speaker at Berkshire Eagle's All-Stars Gala

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PITTSFIELD — For the second straight year, The Berkshire Eagle is hosting a special evening for the region's top high school student-athletes and coaches. The Berkshire Eagle's All-Stars Gala is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, June 26 at the Boys & Girls Club of the Berkshires.

We're grateful to Berkshire Bank for generously offering to be presenting sponsors of The Eagle's All-Stars Gala.

Our honored guest speaker is Keith Willis, a former NCAA and National Football League player who now serves athletes of all ages across the country as an inspirational speaker.

Willis will be paying his second visit in a year to the Berkshires, as he met with the Taconic High School's football team in July. He's looking forward to his return.

"I'm praying these athletes come with an open mind and open heart," Willis said. "They're going to be moved by time they get out of there. I'm excited to get on stage in front of them and do what I do."

"I'm looking forward to speaking about overcoming adversity and showing leadership, not only in sports but in life," he said.

What Willis does, as the founder of his own company, is help athletes realize their potential and learn lessons for life on and off the field.

Following the end of his pro football career he founded MOSS Movement, a consulting firm with the mission statement of "assisting athletes in character development" and seeking to "equip them with strategies and tools to respond with love, peace, and humility in the face of adverse circumstances."

Willis played tight end for four seasons at Virginia Tech, and was on the taxi squads of five NFL teams, including the Green Bay Packers, Cleveland Browns, Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. He played for a season with the Frankfurt Galaxy of NFL Europe, winning a championship there.

But the NFL career he had dreamed of when he was catching passes from future No. 1 overall draft pick Michael Vick at Virginia Tech didn't materialize the way he'd planned.

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"The game made the decision for me," he said. "When the phone call never came, I knew it was time to channel my energy into something else."

That something else, as it turns out, was something he used to dislike for personal reasons: Public speaking.

"When I was younger i had a bad stuttering problem," Ellis said. "I had a fear of speaking like everyone."

Two things helped him. First, his mother, Mara Wills, a great athlete in her own right — she played for Basketball Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, the nation's first historically black college — got him help, and insisted he practice reading aloud.

Second, Willis' personal faith led him to pursue a career of inspiring others to realize their own potential and overcome adversity.

"I realized I had a lot of things inside me that I was chosen to share," he said. "I realized that for me to have the impact I wanted on this earth, I had to overcome my fears."

Willis will be on hand to help recognize student athletes and coaches from MIAA-sanctioned varsity sports offered at Berkshire County's 11 public high schools. The student athletes and coaches in attendance will also be finalists for special awards for courage, perseverance, and leadership. In addition to athletes and coaches of the year honors for boys' and girls' sports, awards will be given for remarkable comeback stories, unsung heroes who made their teams' success possible, and ambassadors whose effort and dedication promoted a positive reputation for their school and their teammates.

Boys' and girls' teams of the year will also be recognized for their 2018-19 athletic achievement.

Honored athletes will be invited to attend for free.

Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and awards begin at 6 p.m. Early-bird tickets for the public, family and friends of the athletes include dinner and are $35 until June 1, after which they will cost $49. They're available at https://2019beallstar.eventbrite.com/.

The Boys & Girls Club of the Berkshires is located at 16 Melville St. in Pittsfield.


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