Mike Ditka and Darrell Miller headlined a Knights of Columbus event where St. Agnus of Bohemia Elementary school students received free winter coats on Thursday.

Ditka and Miller took turns sharing the podium. They stressed the importance of organized sports and encouraged the some 200 students to pursue higher education.

Each speech also emphasized God’s role in your life and how keeping to the faith can better the students as individuals.

“If you don’t want to play sports — no big deal. Make sure you’re the best person that God created you to be. Always challenge yourself to be the best possible person,” said Miller, who was a first baseman for the Angels for five seasons in the ’80s. “Surround yourself with good people. Find friends who are doing the right thing and going to help push you to be the best of what you can be.”

Ditka echoed Miller’s advice, adding that the students hold an obligation to their parents to succeed.

“Doing the right thing is important,” Ditka told the students. “Make [your parents] proud; do the right things. You have that responsibility. They brought you into this world and are taking care of you, you have to pay them back by doing that.”

After a short speech, Ditka opened the floor and took questions from the curious bunch of children. A handful of students asked Ditka about the Bears and football. One student in the back row asked if Ditka would sign his Ridell football, which the former Bears coach agreed to.

Mike Ditka helped distribute winter coats to elementary school students. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times

After the two talked for roughly 20 minutes, the Knights of Columbus distributed new, vibrant-colored winter coats for the students as a part of their “Coats for Kids” annual campaign. Joe Collins, a Knights of Columbus spokesperson, said Cubs chaplain and Knights of Columbus member Fr. Burke Masters recommended St. Agnes to receive the coats.

When we know there’s a need and we know where we’re welcome and we can help, we try to accommodate it,” Collins said. “It’s one less thing [these families] have to worry about.”

The Knights of Columbus distributed nearly 90,000 coats to children in need throughout the United States and Canada last winter. Since the campaign was started in 2009, the organization has delivered roughly 394,000 coats, according to Collins.

Students at St. Agnes Elementary School received free winter coats from the Knights of Columbus. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times

Ditka said he felt good being a part of this positive experience and he hopes that his words resonate with the students.

“If I can just give them the slightest bit of motivation or words of wisdom [and] it might change their life and their perspective on life, than why not?” Ditka said. “These kids are looking for a sense of direction and they’re looking for values right now. They’re at a time in their life where positive things really matter.”

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