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Coaches as Teachers?

In my travels around the country, a phenomenon that never fails to impress me is the athletic excellence maintained by some of the most challenged schools in some of the most difficult urban areas.  I immediately remember the varsity football team at East St. Louis Senior High School when Bob Shannon coached it to SIX Illinois state championships at the highest level of competition.  I need not describe the innumerable problems that beset East St. Louis, Illinois.

The following is a reaction to what I have observed over the years:

Athletic Coaches Are Successful Teachers
(Let’s Use Them in the Classroom)

I can remember when very, very few African Americans played football for predominantly white colleges because of their alleged limited mental talents, lack of discipline and volatile temperaments­-to cite but a few narrow-minded views.  These prejudices increased exponentially when the fitness of an African American to play quarterback was considered.  Not only did the above-mentioned bigotry apply to the evaluation of potential quarterbacks, but finding a black player capable of leading and commanding the respect of white teammates was unimaginable.  Mind you, this was the attitude of most NORTHERN colleges and universities.  The South was a world apart and advocating the inclusion of black players, at all, could provoke physical violence.
 
Back in 2006, some of us recall Vince Young’s stellar performance in the Rose Bowl in leading the University of Texas to the national championship over the University of Southern California.  Obviously, that demonstrated how “times have changed.”  Less than a week earlier Mark Price led the West Virginia Mountaineers to a Sugar Bowl victory over the Georgia Bulldogs led by D. J. Shockley.  Both quarterbacks were African Americans.  Almost a month earlier Reggie Bush of the University of Southern California won the prestigious Heisman Trophy, given annually to college football’s best player.  He, too, is an African American as have been approximately two-thirds of the winners since the first black player, Ernie Davis of Syracuse University, won it in 1961.
 
Not only have black athletes overcome formidable racial barriers during the past four decades, but the scope of their disproportionate excellence stretches from middle school through the National Football League and the National Basketball Association.  Something worthy of serious scrutiny is happening here.  What is the source(s) of this exceptional performance and concomitant motivation?  What is the methodology employed by the motivators (coaches?) that produces such phenomenal success?  We must remember that “natural athletes” are not born, that athletics are voluntary school activities and they are VERY demanding.
 
Whatever our attitudes toward athletics, we cannot deny that coaches somehow summon excellence from players who often live in some of the poorest and most chaotic neighborhoods.  I have often wondered about the feasibility of creating transitional programs to move some of these successful coaches into secondary school classrooms to teach courses beyond physical education.  They could then bring their great motivating power to academics and especially to the massive number of floundering black males.  If their “pedagogy” is too harsh for the classroom, then maybe it could be taken off school property altogether and underwritten by private funding.
 
At the prestigious private secondary schools, ALL athletic coaches teach academic courses.  Shouldn’t those of us who are concerned about the fate of young African Americans splice into the phenomenal motivating power of public school athletic coaches and steer their talents to a more expansive educational purpose?  I’ll bet that some active coaches or others wishing to leave athletics would jump at a fellowship to a transitional program at a graduate school of education.  Who knows?  Maybe the National Football League or the National Basketball Association might help to finance such programs.  It would be unfair to expect these coaches to relive the frustrations so poignantly described by Gerald Kimble, a former football coach at historically black Southern University in Louisiana: “We have done so much with so little, we are expected to do everything with nothing.”

David Evans

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