More than 100 students from Madison, Pulaski, Clay and Knox counties met at the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame to listen to the motivational message of Tennessee Titans placekicker Rob Bironas and run through practice drills with him and local football players. The event was organized by Stars Over Appalachia, a partnership between Berea College’s GEAR UP program and the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame.


A Louisville native, Bironas told stories about his path to the NFL and about how important college was to his success in life. His message was particularly important for the 8th-graders who had all expressed an interest in athletic careers. “For everybody to believe in you, and to have pride in yourself, do everything at your best,” Bironas said. “Whether it be school, sports, music—always try to do your best.”

Bironas’ message to students included a connection between academics and athletics. “Study hard. If you’re not studying, if you’re not making the grades, you’re not going to be playing sports,” he said. “You’re not going to get to college, and that means you won’t be playing college ball, or you won’t be performing at that level.”

Afterward, the students divided into groups and practiced football drills with Bironas. Members of the Rockcastle County High School football team helped coach the 8th-graders as they caught passes, took handoffs and hit pads. “We’re just out here having fun,” Bironas said. “It’s kind of like the NFL Play 60 program, get out and exercise and have fun. Do stuff you enjoy doing.”

Bironas even donated $5,000 to the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame to support its educational mission. “Music is something that I believe helps teach kids how to study,” he said. “I believe in music and I believe in what it does for kids.” Bironas also sees many parallels between what he does and music. “I worked hard growing up. I had to practice, had to fail. Determination, hard work, focus, preparation—it’s all seen in the music world, it’s all seen in the classroom.”


Students also took a tour of the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame during the day. There, they saw more success stories from their home state, which may encourage the students to pursue a career in the music industry. Robert Lawson, the Executive Director of the Hall of Fame, said that was all part of the plan. “If they want to be anything in the music business, this lets them know: ‘Hey, I don’t have to be the guy standing in the front of the stage performing. I can be a roadie, I can be a manager,’” he said. “It gives them an opportunity to explore all options, not just in music, but in sports and entertainment as well.”

Paula Wilder, coordinator of Stars Over Appalachia for Berea College’s GEAR UP program, said that the day’s events made the idea behind Stars Over Appalachia a reality. “It was designed in an attempt to provide students with this unbelievable mentor—a celebrity—and hopefully that will keep them motivated,” she said. “And they will graduate not only from high school, but they will go on and graduate from college because they’ll follow in that role model’s footsteps.”

She said that she looked forward to future events being as successful as the day with Bironas. “I think that today would be an aspiring athlete’s dream. It’s not every day that you get to have an opportunity to throw around and kick footballs and stuff with someone from the NFL,” she said. “So what I saw was a bunch of happy kids who were learning a whole lot. And it was the true definition of mentoring.”

To find out more about Rob Bironas and his work with youth, visit To learn more about the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, go to To find out about a GEAR UP program near you, visit

Rob Bironas and Stars Over Appalachia