By Eileen Connelly, OSU 

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor is known for leading professional football players on the field.  

Off the field, he supports the athletes of the future at Friars Club, an organization that has provided athletic, educational and leadership programming to Cincinnati’s youth for more than 160 years. 

Zac was one of this year’s honorees at the Friars Club 49th annual community dinner, a chance for donors and community members to celebrate Friars Club’s contributions. 

A child holding a basketball addresses an NFL team.

Head Coach Zac Taylor of the Cincinnati Bengals has supported Friars Club in a number of ways, including bringing the Bengals draft class to run drills, play basketball and teach children what it means to be a professional athlete. (Photo courtesy of Friars Club)

Franciscan values at play  

Founded in 1863 by the Franciscan friars of the legacy St. John the Baptist Province, Friars Club helped German immigrant parents in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood keep their children safe and happy after school. Over the years, the organization has grown to provide organized athletics, educational and leadership programming for boys and girls ages four to 17, teaching them respect, responsibility, leadership and good sportsmanship.  

It didn’t take long for Zac to recognize what a special place Friars Club is. After the Taylor family came to Cincinnati, he sought out a basketball program for his son Brooks. That led Zac to Friars Club, where he met Annie Timmons, president, who ended up as Brooks’ coach.  

As Zac watched Annie interact with the young players and their parents, not knowing yet that she ran Friars, he said, “I was impressed with how she ran the team and the discipline she instilled in the players at a very young age. You look around the gym and see the values on the walls, all the things I value as coach. I remember thinking, ‘man we got lucky with that coach and what a great place I walked into.’  

“Coach Timmons and all the other people at the Friars Club and all values they stand for made such an impression on me and Sarah (his wife),” he added. “I don’t even remember what the record was. I just remember the discipline and accountability and the expectations she laid forth, and as a coach, I have such appreciation for that.”  

A Black woman in a blue dress gives a speech at a podium

Coach Annie Timmons, president of Friars Club, is an inspiration to many. It was her leadership and integrity that made an impression on Zac and motivated him to get involved with Friars Club. (Photo courtesy of Br. Frank Jasper)

Exemplifying respect and compassionate leadership 

Although his son is no longer involved in Friars’ basketball program, Zac has continued to support the organization, inspired by the respect with which the young players, parents, staff members and volunteers are treated, the life lessons and skills imparted there, and the opportunities offered to local youth.  

Friars Club, he says, is something that is “worth my time and energy.”  

Zac received the Coach of the Year Award from Friars Club for his “incredible support,” as noted in the event program. Last year, he brought the entire Bengals draft class of 2023 to Friars Club to run drills, play basketball and teach the children about what it takes to be a professional athlete.  

“Zac exemplifies the Friars Club values of respect and good sportsman on and off the field,” the program read, citing the example of Zac’s leadership when Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest while playing against the Bengals in 2023. “He was incredibly sensitive and compassionate as his leadership stood out during this unforgettable tragedy. He stands out as a true role model for all our volunteer coaches and players.”  

A young friar smiles at the camera. He is wearing a Cincinnati Bengals jersey and hat over his Franciscan habit.

Cincinnati Bengals fan Br. John Boissy and other friars living in Cincinnati came to the dinner to support Friars Club. (Photo courtesy of Br. Frank Jasper)

A community that cares 

Other awards were given to those who exemplify the Franciscan tradition of service: 

  • Sean Mason, founder and manager of the Underground Sports Shop, an apparel and accessories decorating business, received the Friars Award, given to those who have served or assisted at Friars Club in an exceptional manner. Sean has maintained a close relationship with Friars Club since the 1990s, serving as a youth referee, coach and supplier of team uniforms.  

  • Jordan Cornette of the Joel Cornette Foundation was recognized with the Francis Award, presented to those who demonstrate the Franciscan spirit through their community leadership. Jordan, an NBC sports host, accepted the award on behalf of the foundation established in the name of his brother Joel, who passed away at 35 in 2016 from sudden cardiac arrest. In the wake of this tragedy, the Cornette family started the foundation to understand and prevent sudden cardiac death in athletes.  

The evening was a great success. Before leading those gathered in prayer, Provincial Councilor Br. Ed Tlucek, OFM, said, “Brothers and sisters, we stand on the shoulders of the Franciscan friars who established this amazing youth center in 1860. What vision! What courage! What faith! I am deeply grateful to the staff and volunteers who make this a safe haven for children.” 

Reflecting on the gathering, Annie said, “I’m so grateful for all the wonderful work being done out in the community and am happy Friars had the opportunity to recognize some of those doing that work.”  

“The evening was a spectacular treat for friends of Friars, from the delicious meal to the beautiful table setting, bubbly conversation and generous donations. It was successful evening thanks to others in the community who care.”