by David Brox, email@example.com
A picture is worth a thousand words and this one could spawn a good number more than that from me. I was standing just to the right of this photo and like many that were in the stands the numbers alone made the task at hand for the Schlagle fans daunting. I want to state clearly to Mill Valley as I start talking through this that this situation has little to do with you. The players bought in and engaged from a young age, coaching staff dedicated to the program, fan support, parent involvement and vibrant financial ecosystem has created a great program for football. It is the model passed down from colleges into the high school program and obviously the model as it has resulted in two state championships. The rub for many in the city is that the privileges needed to achieve that level of success are so far out of reach it could bring you to tears. I don’t have an editor but will warn you right now that I am about to ramble.
I would guess none of the kids on this Schlagle team want you to feel sorry for them. There are 10-15 good athletes on this field that played their heart out all season and through out their careers. A coaching staff that is out there trying to push these kids to do just a little bit more on both sides of the field and most importantly off. For this game to them is an outlet and escape from some harsh realities faced living in poverty.
I have a pretty good memory of a lot of the kids I have followed the last 6 years. The players that attended training sessions have kept in contact and I see them from time to time. These last few years though have been different. As I post articles, working to promote these young men they find me on social media. Facebook has opened doors for me to see more of what these kids are facing. The long conversations and feelings expressed about the killings that were happening in the city. The struggles of playing on losing teams for 4 years and having team mates quit. The character you see these young men develop fighting through that adversity.
Ivan Webb wrote: “If I could talk to this freshman Ivan now I would let him know things were going to get better I promise I would. Why, because I was actually bullied growing up…, was in poverty struggling wit my Moms before I moved out, called gay because I was always dancing and dressing funny being goofy. People told me to quit football because I was not going to get anywhere and I was too skinny and I was shitty. I took care of every pair of shoes I owned because my next pair was not promised soon. Living without water or heat for weeks. Going to food shelters and cloth drives. I was homeless 3 times dawg. I used humor as my way out making people laugh and getting in trouble to drown it out. I always dreamed of going to college but I could barely pay for high school stuff we had to pay for. Freshman football coach gave me presents for Christmas it was embarrassing but he inspired me though. I went home and cried so many nights praying things would get better on my knees.😢🙏🏾 I could only control what I could so I trained and trained until it hurt and still trained and did my homework kept my GPA up all 4 years through turmoil (3.16). Moms went ghost on me. Daddy Passed. Grandparents stepped all the way in and made a beast S/O Pops and Gran. When all hope is lost keep pushing life goes on and gets better I promise. Now I’m going D1 full ride and I’m able to put myself in a great position to give back to the family and others that helped me on my way.”
When I read this the first time a tear fell. I knew my struggles and there are no doubt many more with in the school district. It speaks to the value sports we can all argue should get with in the district. A district that has greater challenges from an economic and academic stand point than a sport. Should a district that faces extreme obstacles from reading levels and math achievement be at all concerned with trying to build a program like Mill Valley has in football?
The other elephant in the room are the players that leave. Its two fold because I have had a number of conversations about players bolting. Whether it is basketball players playing in Missouri or football players leaving for Bishop Miege, can we really begrudge anyone for wanting to escape some harsh realities to try and increase their odds of success. Yes, back to that picture which represents the stacked odds of these young men graduating from high school. The stacked odds of them being prepared for college and being able to get a college degree. The stacked odds which tell them that if they don’t graduate or get through college that they will live in poverty. Do we put the weight of a city on high school kids to stay? I talk through this myself because I have chosen as well too to move away from the city. I am raising my kids out of the city. I ponder whether I am in a small way adding to the situation overall by making this decision. If the objective and main goal for everyone in the city and district is to get out then the overall outlook is not bright.
There was some discussions about drastic things the district could do to try and even the playing field. Austin Bennett some years back made a comment to me that stuck out like a sore thumb and that was a combination of teams. I think our discussion was about closing one of the schools to combine. Granted this conversation had all to do with sports but the district is not playing the game right now. They are at Northwest where the football program thrives with 40-50 kids. Now they are playing against teams with 15-20 at Central and Eisenhower. Olathe and Blue Valley school districts have open enrollment and so could KCK. No school individually has a football population. Let the Kevin Durant effect take full control and allow the players to flow to a centralized location. Play an independent schedule and see what happens. I have been watching now 7 years and I can tell you with relative certainty that it is impossible in its present form for KCK to compete at a high level. This is only if and that is a big if that football is important enough. Ivan’s situation may be an extreme case but I am sure there are more stories like this. If a sport can give a player a shot at a college education then there is value. I understand that the Kaufman scholarships stopped this year which is unfortunate. Searching for any avenue then to get these kids to college is vital.
There is so much here to discuss and I welcome feedback. I wanted to get just a few of my thoughts out there and share Ivan’s story. Every year a player grabs my mind and inspires me and Webb is that player for me this year. I think we keep talking and try to sow as much knowledge into these young men as possible.