When Marcel Shipp was growing up in Paterson, New Jersey, domestic violence was not atypical in his neighborhood.
Nor in his home.
Experiences at home that the former Arizona Cardinals running back and Ahwatukee resident confronted also affected his older sister and brother – now an R.N. in North Carolina and a federal judge in New Jersey, respectively.
Their mother’s encouragement made them determined to rise above circumstances that often bring others to dead ends.
For Shipp, it continues to influence his post-football years as he’s launched his second foundation in 18 years, his first in Arizona.
The focus of this one, as it was with the one he ran in New Jersey, is helping domestic violence survivors while offering children and teens in Arizona mentorships and education through youth development programs.
Shipp has been an Ahwatukee resident since starting with the Arizona Cardinals in 2001. He played with them through 2007 before moving on to the Houston Texans.
He also served as running back coach for the New York Jets until the position was jettisoned in 2017.
These days his priorities are raising his two sons, ages 6 and 12, solidifying his new foundation – Le’Cram Foundation – and growing the pool cleaning business he purchased last year.
Clean Bottom Pools, which services residential and commercial customers and does repairs, remodeling and renovations, serves metro Phoenix.
Shipp says he considers his full-time and part-time employees part of his team and works alongside them on many projects.
“I’m not sitting behind the desk in the office, that’s not who I am. If I expect you to do it, I do it,” he smiled, something he does often when speaking.
“The pool business is highly competitive and I know that, and we’re doing pretty good,” he explained. “I go out and meet people and they see the good staff I have and sometimes we get to talk football together.”
Shipp working alongside his team was evident recently when he and three employees shouldered queen size and crib mattresses and frames, delivering them to the Sojourner Center in Phoenix that serves women and children fleeing domestic violence.
“Yes, we have the Le’Cram Foundation but I want my company to be a business involved in the community as well,” said Shipp who after 19 years in Ahwatukee, remains thrilled with the Village.
“I love Ahwatukee. People get mad at me because I never want to leave my bubble,” he laughed. “I hike, I do spin classes three times a week, I lift weights at the gym and home. I’m happy here.”
At 6 foot, 230 pounds, Shipp looks remarkably like he did in his playing days.
“I look like I can still play, but my knees, they come and go,” he chuckled.
The love of football remains, and providing football camps for kids who have the desire but perhaps not the means to pursue the sport on their own is one of his passions.
He started annual summer football camps in his hometown of Paterson, and returns each year to offer area children, 5 to 18, opportunities to learn and play the game.
Two years ago Le’Cram Foundation held its first football camp in Arizona under the dome of the Cardinal’s State Farm Stadium in Glendale. Shipp said he hopes to reprise the camp this summer and have past and current Cardinals players on hand to assist.
And, he explained, the football camps are about more than fancy field moves.
“We make it a one-stop shop. We teach them about nutrition and exercise, how to carry themselves on and off the field, what education can mean for them,” he said.
Education was key to success for Shipp and his siblings.
He attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst where he played for the Minuteman Football team and set several school records including 24 rushing touchdowns. He earned a degree in education with a minor in psychology at the University of Massachusetts before moving on to the NFL.
He said starting his foundation, 4th and Inches, 12 years ago in New Jersey, and now Le’Cram – his first name spelled backwards – was his way of helping youngsters gain confidence and knowledge in their early years.
Foundation First Vice President and Ahwatukee resident Jamie Meyers has been a part of Shipp’s life since childhood in Paterson.
“Marcel and I met in fourth grade and have been friends, actually more like brothers, ever since,” said Meyers who works alongside Shipp in the pool business, and with both foundations.
“I moved to Ahwatukee two years ago and that’s when we realized we needed to start a nonprofit here to help out the inner-city kids with domestic violence, bullying, obesity, academics, and of course, sports,” said Meyers. “We can help under-privileged kids get a sponsor for sports.”
Meyers said he sees himself in the faces of the kids who attend the foundation’s football camps.
“Growing up in the inner city ourselves, we never thought Marcel was going to go pro. He just loved the game that much as a kid, and grinded and kept playing all through grammar and high school, and then college. And we were those same kids, so giving back is a huge deal to both of us,”
Meyers said he’s proud that Shipp has made Clean Bottom Pools a community-involved company, even outside the foundations, because he’s seen the changes in kids.
“Doing it for 15 straight years now, we’ve seen a lot of kids grow and even play at Division 1 schools, and a few even went pro,” Meyers said.
“Some of those kids went on to law school. But seeing these kids as adults. and hearing them still call us coach is one of the reasons why we still love doing this. We see it can make a difference in some of these kids’ lives. Just even talking to them in a one-on-one conversation, we notice they have more confidence in themselves.”
Both nonprofits Shipp established have focused on assisting children in poverty and domestic violence survivors.
Although the newer Le’Cram Foundation is just getting started, Shipp says he’s ready to help kids “anywhere, anyway I can.”
“In New Jersey we did an essay writing contest, taking the winners to Six Flags. I’d like to do something like that here too. Some kids just need mentoring, a voice, an ear, someone to help boost their self-confidence. Wherever a kid needs help, I want to be there.”
Shipp said he likes speaking at schools, both here and in New Jersey, to help encourage kids to reach for their dreams and not give in or give up.
The Le’Cram Foundation motto echoes his heart: “Empowering individuals to new levels through athletics, health, education and personal advancements.”
“We want to do anything we can do to help those in our community,” he said. “Whether it’s attending cancer events or fundraisers, we want to build our brand and get our name into the community.”
Another long-time friend, Tamika Williams, works with him on his nonprofit foundations.
She said she admires the work and passion Shipp puts into his foundations, and now his business venture.
“I see first-hand all the time, effort, and dedication he puts into everything he’s a part of. There is no end to what he does and yet he remains humble. He constantly gives of himself and his time.
“What little free time he has, he coaches his sons’ basketball and football teams,” said Williams. “Overall, Marcel is passionate in the pursuit of excellence with uncompromising services and integrity in everything he does.”