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Croyle tells teachers to make a difference

John Croyle has seen the aftermath of a child’s abuse. It’s not pretty, he said.

An 18-month old raped by five men. A four-year-old girl sexually abused by her own grandfather. A young boy and his sister prostituted across the Internet by their mother for drugs.

Croyle, founder of Gadsden’s Big Oak Ranch, was special guest speaker of the Butler County School System on Monday as part of an after-holiday in-service for teachers.

Students return to school Thursday.

After his speech, a line of teachers awaited their chance to talk with Croyle and collect autographs from the former Alabama defensive lineman. Croyle played under Bear Bryant, helping the Crimson Tide to three SEC titles and the 1973 National Championship.

Curriculum specialist Sonja Dill secured Croyle for Monday’s engagement.

“The first time I heard him (Croyle) talk I was both laughing and crying,” said Dill.

Monday was the same. Croyle weaved tales of Bear Bryant throughout his narrative, but also related horror stories of children abused and neglected by the people they trust the most: their parents.

There were little gasps from the crowd. A few whispers. A few tears.

But some laughter too.

Croyle told about the first time Bryant made him line up opposite All-American offensive tackle John Hannah on the practice field.

“Coach Bryant said ‘we’re going to see who’s toughest,'” said Croyle. “I hit him (Hannah) as hard as a could and it was like hitting a house…a house with a head on it…I had heard you could go blind if you hit something too hard and after I hit John I couldn’t see. I thought, ‘oh God, I’m blind.’ But then Coach Bryant turned my helmet back around for me.”

Croyle encouraged teachers to invest and take an active interest in their students’ lives. He said the profession of teaching is a calling to make a difference; a calling that teachers should take seriously, he said.

“You and I were put on this Earth for a purpose,” he said.

Croyle paraphrased scripture from the Bible, telling teachers, “it would be better for a millstone to be hung around your neck and you thrown into the sea then to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”

That quote, he said, is relevant with any adult, he said.

“You can gut a child just as hard with your words,” said Croyle.