He wore a tan suit and wire-rimmed glasses, and one-by-one people lined up to greet him. Little kids brandished Sharpie pens and programs. Others took aim with camera phones. Some just wanted to shake his hand.

This is part of the deal for a soon-to-be NFL Hall of Famer. But Saturday morning held extra significance for Chris Doleman, the former all-pro defensive end and William Penn graduate. Doleman returned to York to serve as the keynote speaker for the William Penn Block and Tackle Express club's (BT Express) annual hall of fame induction and award ceremony.

He came to find a nearly full ballroom at the Yorktowne Hotel, occupied by students, coaches and alumni eager to move forward from what has been a whirlwind month for William Penn athletics.

"This is where I'm from," Doleman said later Saturday, after the ballroom had cleared out. "I was born in Indianapolis. ... But this is where I grew up. It's extremely important that kids see you and know you, and be able to say 'You know what, here's a guy who I feel can help.' "

The timing of his visit -- and BT Express' 10th annual induction ceremony -- seemed therapeutic.

Two weeks ago, the York City School Board included in its budget proposal plans to cut all sports, arts and music programs in an attempt to balance a $19 million budget deficit. This week, the board announced it would be able to save arts, music and some sports -- football, basketball, track and girls' volleyball -- for the upcoming school year.


Of course, Doleman's own life has been rather hectic since February, when he was chosen for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Doleman also moved into a new house in Atlanta recently and has been busy operating his business, Chris Doleman Pro Auctions, which hosts auctions of sports memorabilia for charitable organizations.

Doleman spent much of his speech Saturday addressing the two dozen students and football players seated directly in front of the stage. "The best way to predict your future is to create your future," he told them.

Later, coaches from the York Bears youth football program presented Doleman with a framed, blue No. 56 jersey with "York" written across the chest.

"He gave me a lot of pointers, a lot of motivational words," said William Penn junior Kelvin Nieves, a running back on the football team. Nieves sat next to Doleman on the stage.

"It's awesome just to meet somebody that came out of York High, that played in the NFL," Nieves added.

The morning also offered a much-needed respite for the school's athletic community, which added eight new members to its hall of fame -- ranging from 1961 grads Bill Plymire and Frank Stoner to current Mount St. Mary's basketball player Kelvin Parker.

Superintendent Deborah Wortham spoke, voicing her commitment to keeping extracurricular activities at the high school. She called them the "glue" that holds the district together.

And BT Express co-founder Juanita Kirkland announced the group's new fund raising initiative -- "Ten for William Penn" -- which seeks $10 from each William Penn alumni to support the school's athletic program. Kirkland said the goal is to raise $100,000.

"We just want our community to take ownership in what happens with our schools," Kirkland said.

When it was over, all eyes turned back to the main attraction.

Doleman signed autographs and shook one hand after another. Nieves clutched a Minnesota Vikings throw blanket Doleman had signed for him earlier.

Doleman said he plans to contribute to BT Express' fundraising efforts through his website.

"I have a direct connection to York High," Doleman said. "Anything I can do to help bring attention to what their trying to do, because this isn't unique."

He added he hopes the feeling of community he sensed Saturday morning will continue forward.

"This is a seed," Doleman said. "It's been germinated. Now it's time to grow."

@johnsclayton; 771-2045