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Emmitt Smith enthralls crowd at Fort Worth benefit that scores big for schoolkids

Emmitt Smith enthralls crowd at Fort Worth benefit for schoolkids

Emmitt Smith
Emmitt Smith posed for photos with patrons at a VIP reception before dinner. Photo by Ashley Gongora
Amy & Cameron Teague
Amy Teague, Cameron Teague Photo by Ashley Gongora
Chelsea Magby, Veronica Watkins
Chelsea Magby, Veronica Watkins Photo by Ashley Gongora
Betsy Price
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price got into the spirit, donning a mask for the reception. Photo by Ashley Gongora
Alison Peters, Elizabeth Peters, Randall Peters, Rachel Kreidler
Alison Peters, Elizabeth Peters, Randall Peters, Rachel Kreidler Photo by Ashley Gongora
Catherine & Todd Davenport
Catherine Davenport, Todd Davenport  Photo by Ashley Gongora
Emmitt Smith, Betsy Price
Emmitt Smith hugs Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price. Photo by Ashley Gongora
Sara Metzinger, John Metzinger
Sara Metzinger, John Metzinger Photo by Ashley Gongora
Stefani Roberts, Michelle Barton
Stefani Roberts, Michelle Barton Photo by Ashley Gongora
Sarah Wagle, Rebecca Petrovich
Sarah Wagle, Rebecca Petrovich Photo by Ashley Gongora
Emmitt Smith
Emmitt Smith delivers the keynote address. Photo by Ashley Gongora
CIS Behind the mask
Patrons had the chance to win some Emmitt Smith swag. Photo by Ashley Gongora
Brian McConn, Sarah McConn
Brian McConn, Sarah McConn Photo by Ashley Gongora
Robin & Garrett Somers
Robin Somers, Garrett Somers Photo by Ashley Gongora
Devin McChristian, Alisa McChrsitian, Jennifer Smith, Ricky Smith
Devin McChristian, Alisa McChrsitian, Jennifer Smith, Ricky Smith Photo by Ashley Gongora
Lisa & Jeff Mangels
Lisa Mangels, Jeff Mangels  Photo by Ashley Gongora
Cameron Vernier, Mallory Scott
Cameron Vernier, Mallory Scott Photo by Ashley Gongora
Benjamin Sherman, Lauren Brown, Gabriella Torres, Roy Ibarra
Benjamin Sherman, Lauren Brown, Gabriella Torres, Roy Ibarra Photo by Ashley Gongora
Emily McLaughlin, Jeff Knepper, Azilee Stephenson
Emily McLaughlin, Jeff Knepper, Azilee Stephenson Photo by Ashley Gongora
Danica Panosh, Ryan Akins, Kurt & Holly Schaal
Danica Panosh, Ryan Akins, Kurt Schaal, Holly Schaal  Photo by Ashley Gongora
Emily McLaughlin, Jeff Knepper, Azilee Stephenson
Emily McLaughlin, Jeff Knepper, Azilee Stephenson Photo by Ashley Gongora
Trey and the Tritones
Trey and the Tritones entertained. Photo by Ashley Gongora
Emmitt Smith
Amy & Cameron Teague
Chelsea Magby, Veronica Watkins
Betsy Price
Alison Peters, Elizabeth Peters, Randall Peters, Rachel Kreidler
Catherine & Todd Davenport
Emmitt Smith, Betsy Price
Sara Metzinger, John Metzinger
Stefani Roberts, Michelle Barton
Sarah Wagle, Rebecca Petrovich
Emmitt Smith
CIS Behind the mask
Brian McConn, Sarah McConn
Robin & Garrett Somers
Devin McChristian, Alisa McChrsitian, Jennifer Smith, Ricky Smith
Lisa & Jeff Mangels
Cameron Vernier, Mallory Scott
Benjamin Sherman, Lauren Brown, Gabriella Torres, Roy Ibarra
Emily McLaughlin, Jeff Knepper, Azilee Stephenson
Danica Panosh, Ryan Akins, Kurt & Holly Schaal
Emily McLaughlin, Jeff Knepper, Azilee Stephenson
Trey and the Tritones

When a celebrity's name appears in the title of an event, expectations run high. Such was the case with Communities in Schools of Tarrant County, which boldly called its new benefit Behind the Mask Featuring Emmitt Smith

It was a risky event-switch for the organization that had been known for its sold-out, girlfriend-fueled "Wine, Women & Shoes" for several years. But, like the legendary Cowboys running back, the new event did not drop the ball.

About 400 people — many donning fun masquerade-style masks — gathered at Ridglea Country Club the evening of October 4 for the fundraiser chaired by Teresa and Clay Paslay and Karen and Bob Pence.

Guests, supporters, and committee members — including Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and husband TomEmily McLaughlin, Jeff Knepper, Azilee StephensonLisa Mangels, Jeff MangelsDanica Panosh, Ryan Akins, Kurt Schaal, and Holly Schaal — began mingling, sipping, and perusing an impressive array of silent auction items. 

A wine pull "wall" was a whimsical touch: For a small contribution, a guest could ring a doorbell, and a hand would deliver a bottle through one of the windows surrounding it.

But the real action was at an exclusive reception, where VIP patrons got to greet Smith and pose for photos with him at a step-and-repeat. He kindly shook hands and chatted with each guest before the next one stepped up for a turn.

When everyone sat down to dinner, a quick video introduced the mission and impact of Communities in Schools, the nation's leading dropout prevention organization. 

Then it was time for the main event. Smith took the stage and delivered an enthralling keynote address that, remarkably, lasted nearly an hour. He started by acknowledging Mayor Price, with whom he'd recently ridden in a charity bike ride.

"This guy's a heck of a bike rider; he beat me in the ground two weeks ago," Price told the crowd affectionately after they hugged.

Walking around the stage, Smith inspired the audience with anecdotes from his life and career, many of which were not short on humor about coach Jimmy Johnson's "perfect hair" and former teammate Michael Irvin's University of Miami "thug nation." He threw in some teaching and preaching, too.

A few highlights from his talk:

On friends: "Friends come into your life for a reason, a season, or a treason."

On people put on your life's path (in his case, NFL quarterback Jim Kelly): "It's amazing how God just put us in different positions, in different places, and put people in your life to help steer you along the way and to give you pointers and insights to help you continue this journey of life. And how, after that, we then have the ability to help others along the way." 

On his decision to leave college at 20 years old to join the NFL: "As you grow up, you learn that in order to truly become your own man or woman, you have to truly learn how to trust the decisions that you make and be responsible for the decisions that you make. ... I called my parents and we all agreed that [joining the NFL] would be the right thing for me to do, but I had to make one promise to my mother: that I would go back and get my college degree."

On his faith in God's guidance: "To this day, I walk in confidence knowing that He has my back and He's opening up doors for me every day of my life. I don't take it for granted. I love every moment, I live every moment, and I live for the moment ... I had planned everything in my life, and I didn't know if it was going to turn out the way I'd planned it. But it turned out. And I'm so grateful. The one thing I never really, truly planned for was going on Dancing with the Stars."

On his biggest lesson from Dancing with the Stars: "I learned a very valuable lesson: Do not take yourself so seriously. Enjoy the moment and enjoy the process along the way because there are so many great lessons there. See, I had to learn how to let myself go because football had me in control of everything. Now, I'm in this totally different world, in this totally different space, I have to let myself go and let it go and start to release certain things into the atmosphere so I can be free — free of mind, free of thought, free of action, and yet still be responsible for what I'm supposed to do."

When Smith wrapped up to a rousing standing ovation, guests got a workout, raising paddles enthusiastically in a live auction for fabulous experiences and trips to faraway places like Nashville, Santa Fe, and Pebble Beach. A "live give" portion then allowed patrons to donate directly to the organization.

The dance floor filled quickly when Trey & the Tritones hit the stage for party tunes that kept the room moving and grooving. Then patrons picked up their photos with Smith at the door and began sharing them with all their jealous friends.

All told, Behind the Mask raised $215,000 for Communities in Schools, and organizers are already hard at work planning another highly anticipated event next year. During the 2018-19 school year, CIS served about 5,000 students with intensive case-management inside 53 Tarrant County schools. Of the students who received assistance, most improved their grades, attendance, behavior, and graduation rate.

Spotted throughout the night, having a great time, were Alison Peters, Elizabeth Peters, Randall Peters, Rachel Kreidler, Stefani Roberts, Michelle Barton, Amy Teague, Cameron Teague, Brian McConn, Sarah McConn, Sara Metzinger, John Metzinger, Sarah Wagle, Rebecca Petrovich, Robin Somers, Garrett Somers, Devin McChristian, Alisa McChrsitian, Jennifer Smith, Ricky Smith, , Cameron Vernier, Mallory Scott, Benjamin Sherman, Lauren Brown, Gabriella Torres, Roy Ibarra, Chelsea Magby, Veronica Watkins, Catherine Davenport, and Todd Davenport.