When Ickey Woods wrapped up a stellar athletic career at Edison High, he left Fresno promising never to come back.
All because he wasn't playing for his hometown Fresno State Bulldogs.
"I was a little bitter with my man out there at Fresno State," Woods said. "I wanted to play for (Jim) Sweeney, but instead I had to leave home. I made a vow to never come back."
Woods left to play at UNLV and followed that with four NFL seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals from 1988-'91. In his rookie season, he was an All-Pro selection as he finished second in the league in rushing touchdowns with 15 and helped the Bengals reach Super Bowl XXIII. The Bengals lost to San Francisco 20-16, but Woods was the game's leading rusher with 79 yards on 20 carries.
He made annual trips to visit his mother and relatives, but Woods never cared to make a public appearance in Fresno, although he was in town for his induction to the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011.
But that reluctance changed Friday night as Woods threw out the first pitch for the Fresno Grizzlies' game against the Salt Lake Bees at Chukchansi Park. He followed the pitch with his famous "Ickey Shuffle," the touchdown celebration dance that gave the country Ickey Fever back in 1988.
His appearance is part of Woods' effort to raise asthma awareness, stressing the importance of finding a cure or better treatment for the disease. In August of 2010, Woods' then 16-year-old son, Jovante, suffered a severe asthma attack and died three days later in the hospital.
"It's not just a breathing disorder -- it does kill. My son is proof of that," Woods said.
Following his son's death, Woods started the Jovante Woods Foundation, a Cincinnati-based nonprofit organization to raise asthma awareness and provide funding for medical research.
"It's the fastest growing disease in America, but it's the one with least amount of money spent towards treatment and finding a cure," he said. "We need to find a way to fight this deadly disease."
According to the foundation's website, one in every 10 Americans suffers from asthma and the disease results in an estimated 25% of all emergency room visits.
"Our mission is to educate people on how serious and severe the disease is," Woods said. "We've been treating asthma the same for the last 20 years and it's not getting any better."
Fresno is Woods' first stop out of Cincinnati as he hopes to expand the Jovante Woods Foundation. He has partnered with Chris Caillier, owner of the Grocery Outlet in downtown Fresno, to spread awareness locally and will be signing autographs, be available for pictures and be selling memorabilia at the store at Tulare Avenue and R Street from 10 a.m. to noon today.
After that, his next stop is scheduled for Sunday in Las Vegas,
"It's one of the most inflicting diseases in the world but there's no cure," said Woods, who works for the foundation full-time as CEO. "There's also no nationwide effort and that's what we want to do."