Posts Tagged ‘football’

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The Invincible Decision

The Invincible Decision

by Jordan Atkins

IMG_9186I was one of the invincibles in eighth grade. Family, friends, and fans called us the “B5”– five talented black athletes within a predominantly white community. With 31 wins and 0 losses, we reached the goal of a perfect season while dominating our opponents and inspiring excitement in our community. We could make history if we continued to play with the same level of intensity in high school. It would be the first time in our high school’s 65 years that African-Americans would comprise the entire starting lineup in any sport. Our future high school basketball careers and prospects for a state championship looked as bright as the infamous “Fab Five,” Michigan’s 1991 recruiting class. There was one problem: I knew that basketball at the next level would consume all my free time and prevent me from pursuing other interests.

Community and friends versus my own heart: At the end of freshman season, I had to choose between succumbing to the pressure of pleasing others and following my true interests. In looking back, I tapped into the courage I found when I began to negotiate the boundaries of stereotyping.  It started in sixth grade, with friends often saying: “Jordan, you’re the whitest black person I know,” referring to my proper style of speech.  These comments were hurtful, and although said jokingly, I felt the stereotyping and disrespect inherent in them. I was born in the same suburb as my friends and had experienced a strong sense of community. Yet, I realized the powerful stereotypes of race and athletes. In the beginning of eighth grade, I built up the courage to confront those making such comments, and the jokes stopped.

Months later, it hit me. If I continued basketball, I would have limited time to improve football and baseball skills, explore my interest in business outside of school, or even volunteer in mentoring programs. Working with younger kids was a passion and skill that started when I attended a small private elementary school. In third grade, I began work with preschoolers, spending half of my lunchtime reading stories to them. Eventually, I helped those in younger grades with schoolwork. I never had time to pursue this kind of volunteering once I began playing basketball at an intense level. So, before the basketball season started in my sophomore year, I made the decision to walk away from the sport.

Without the added demands of basketball, I began participating in business competitions held by the Business Professionals of America. I spent countless hours taking notes and studying fundamental accounting, banking, and finance principles. The determination to dominate at these business competitions felt similar to the tenacity with which I used to practice my shots before game day. But rather than looking for external encouragement from coaches, I became self-motivated. In my first year, I qualified for nationals.

I always loved football, and could now explore that interest. At first, I faced discouragement from future teammates, since I hadn’t played on the freshman team. But again, I stayed true to my interest and ended up starting on both offense and defense my sophomore year. I am now a team captain for the varsity team. In some ways, my role resembles my elementary school mentoring, helping younger football players maneuver the grueling demands of football and academics. I also advise them on other off-the-field issues such as taking ownership for behavior in and out of school.

Quite honestly, I do miss basketball, and think about the missed opportunity for fame and heroism. But, I do not regret my decision. When my school’s team made it to the State’s “final four” with only three of the B5 as starters, I often thought and was told, “That could’ve been me playing.” Yet every good decision comes with sacrifices.

Jordan Atkins, a freshman at the University of Michigan, is a graduate of Adlai E Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois.

A Rough Field for Everything….Everything but Race

A Rough Field for Everything….Everything but Race

by Conner Chapman

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A right arm hung from a body after our linebacker picked up the opposing quarterback and slammed him on the turf. The kid’s season ended with the nearly detached arm in front of my eyes. A year later, I rushed past an offensive lineman and dove for the quarterback. I missed. When I looked down, my mangled pinky finger barely hung on my hand. A trainer popped it back in, but I was done for the night. At least I had the rest of the season.

My finger still hurts, but not enough for me to abandon the sport. I am content playing football, not because of the brutal impact on my body, but largely since the game provides a level playing field where performance–not race–matters. Moreover, strong performance in football does not produce the remarks I confront for academic achievement, which are often blatantly couched in terms of race: “Now here’s a black kid who studies.”

Football isn’t a world free of problems. Yet on game day, my school’s black and gold are the only colors that produce team loyalty. If Trayvon Martin was on my team, he would have been safer on the field of broken fingers and arms than he was in the neighborhood where he met George Zimmerman. Moreover, if Martin confronted any brutality on the field, it would have been part of a play that had nothing to do with race.

A week after the not guilty verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, I was at a forum sponsored by Jack and Jill, an organization of black families. An elderly man yelled, “It was Trayvon Martin’s fault for being killed. He shouldn’t have been out at night wearing a hoodie.” I was shocked, angry and offended. This man was actually a black father of a teenager. I guess it was his way of saying “pull your pants up.”  I stood and responded. “You are wrong,” I said. “There is no way you can justify Zimmerman’s actions or Trayvon’s death.”

After reflecting on the forum, I must admit it is only realistic to expect others to judge African-Americans based on prejudices tied to race and appearance. While the man’s comment felt outrageous, he raised a valid point, whether I liked it or not. If Trayvon had been wearing a suit, would his appearance have been enough to disarm some of Zimmerman’s racism, saving Martin’s life? This question is painful and disheartening, but real.

Unfortunately, I will probably spend my whole life disproving the stereotypes inside the minds of others. I will be forced to carry myself in a clean cut way that does not promote any triggers of black male stereotypes. In doing so, I will continue to be praised as an exception with compliments that don’t feel like real compliments. Achievements of mine are so often now called remarkable because I am black. This further inspires my appreciation of football where my abilities never wear a racial stain.

On the field, the roughness of the meritocracy inherent in the game compels players to think as a team regardless of race. The tough game provides a field where 22 players find equal opportunities to perform once they are in the game. However, I refuse to rest my laurels on football and allow centuries-old stereotypes to dictate my fate. Part of my life’s mission is to destroy barriers that confine blacks to narrow opportunities.

Coming home from a big win recently, my teammates were too happy to remain quiet. We sang, rapped, and made fun of each other and the coaches in jest. It didn’t matter whether you could sing or rap and, as usual, we were a team of only two colors–black and gold. I hope to create avenues where this kind of moment–so unburdened by race– is the norm. If only I could bottle that spirit on the bus and spread it worldwide.

Conner Chapman, a graduate of Long Island’s St Anthony’s High School, will be a freshman at the University of Chicago in the fall.

A Brother to All

A Brother to All

by Brandon Medina

brandonmedina“Would you like to hold your sister?”

Mom’s question frightened me more than the zombies in that haunted house last October. I was a six-year-old without experience holding a precious, delicate and fragile life.  I wondered: “She is so small. She is related to me?” Gabrielle. All of a sudden, I loved the name I once hated. All the ill-feeling from arguments with Mom about the baby’s name were instantly exiled. I joined the family circle of lovestruck faces. It was my awakening to responsibility and trust. After some coercion, I surrendered to the urge. I picked Gabby up. She immediately started to cry.

Since that day, my role in the family has always been clear. I was big brother to three boisterous little sisters. Instead of competing with their constant chatter, I became reserved. I was full of many ideas, but just couldn’t get any airtime. I became more comfortable as a speaker in the classroom with students I had known since kindergarten. At school, I was at home as my favorite subjects, Latin and Classics, became passions.

My comfort at school unravelled when I came to the Lawrenceville School in Ninth Grade. The new environment felt as unfamiliar as that moment with Gabby.I saw many of my peers finding their own places in football, academic clubs, and the arts. They all seemed content, and I made it my mission to find my own comfortable niche at Lawrenceville as I had at my previous school.

As a sophomore, I joined Cleve House, one of six communities for male students. Since most of my fellow Clevies were athletes, I thought the best way to fit in was to squeeze into their world, so I shocked everyone by signing up for House Football. The sweltering September days felt even hotter under the shoulder-pads and helmet that weighed down my body, despite only playing as a five-second substitute all season. Clearly, I was not cut out for football but, to my surprise, my House brothers cheered me anyway. I didn’t learn how to tackle, but I did learn how to support my House.

Still, I wanted to share what I really loved with others. By junior year, I started expressing my deep interests in acting to any Cleavies willing to listen. Surprisingly, they reacted to my tales of the grand set, striking costumes, and melodious musical with warmth and interest. They came to see me perform in Oklahoma! and in small one-act plays. In return, I watched sports with my new brothers and supported them at their games. The more of me that I shared, the more comfortable I became. My crowning moment came at the end of sophomore year, when I was elected “Cleve House Fact Man:” the comical emcee of Thursday lunches.

While acting, my characters became my messengers. From a cowboy in Oklahoma to an old gardner in The Secret Garden, I expressed different parts of myself. With this comfort, I also began finding ways to share my love for Latin and Classics. When I realized that they were not widely taught in other elementary and middle schools, I raised hundreds of dollars for a Latin program to teach to Trenton middle schoolers.  Eventually, I taught my curriculum to the students.

I learned to accept others for who they are just as my housemates learned the same lesson. This realization that I could be as different as I wanted led me to other pursuits, like writing.  The standard for “good writing” at The Lawrence are high and I was a latecomer as a junior when most writers started as freshman. Yet somehow I became the most prolific staff writer of the Opinions section.

As a brother to strangers with different interests, I drew on my experiences with sisters. After all, Jillian was the athlete, Sydney was the artist, and Gabrielle was the dancer. Eventually I became myself at home and at Lawrenceville–writer, actor, brother and friend.

Brandon Medina graduated from the Lawrenceville School last week. He will be a freshman at Amherst in the fall.

Saved by the Television Station

by Jack Bushell

jackIt was the first time ever that my classmates felt unsafe. The mood in the hallways was somber. However, my creation would transform the sense of doom into one of the most spirited moments I have yet to witness, and become a major accomplishment in my transition to adulthood.

The horror happened on a football field during homecoming, one of the biggest and most celebrated weeks of the year. Homecoming week brings the traditional powderpuff football game, when the junior girls play the senior girls in touch football. During the game, a fight broke out between two girls. Many kids have never seen two girls brutally fight. Later a video of the fight went viral, tarnishing our school’s strong reputation.

I saw this moment as a time to make an impact with a project I created for the school. Earlier in the year, I founded Redwood TV, a station focusing on the life of the school which I shoot, edit, and produce every two weeks. I have always been one to look at inspirational videos to change my mood or pump me up before a sports game or any other challenge I face. I have studied videos made for professional sports teams with Interviews, time-lapses, and crowds cheering in excitement. I wanted to share the feeling of the videos that motivated me with my classmates.

While the community was engrossed in sorrow over the fight, I filmed all the lunchtime events featuring the Homecoming Kings and Queens. I put together a video of all of the best things that happened at homecoming, ignoring the fight that stole the attention of the week. The program aired Monday, and the students’ attention left the fight and went to all the other activities that had been forgotten. In just those 4 minutes and 30 seconds, I changed everything.

Through my homecoming show, I saw what concentration and persistence could produce. The night before the homecoming highlights aired, I gathered together all the footage, making sure everything was perfect. As I put together the highlights that weekend, I pictured students smiling. I scanned through the newest music, deciding what mood I wanted to instill in the school that morning. I looked for something that puts smiles on people’s faces, lifts school spirit and makes people enjoy Redwood High School. For this episode, I chose “Burn,” by Ellie Goulding.

Throughout most of my first two years in high school, sports dominated my life. My family and friends labeled me as a tri-athlete. My principal thought I should stick to sports when I approached him with the idea of Redwood TV, telling me, “Redwood TV will end up being a waste of your time and the school’s time.”

I proved him wrong, and he is now one of the strongest supporters of the station, joking that he does not want me to graduate so the station can continue. After being spotlighted at a state leadership conference for the Oregon Association of Student Councils, Redwood TV is known as one of the best high school television stations in the country .

Redwood TV has grown into a must-see at my school, with students often asking me when the next episode is airing and sharing exciting things in their lives that they hope can be featured. Today, when I enter a school event with my camera, I am bombarded with students approaching me, hoping they will be featured in Monday’s episode. Yet now I have a new mission: I am looking for a successor to train so the station can live beyond my graduation in June.

Jack Bushell is a freshman at Emerson College and a graduate of Redwood High School.

 

The Football Way

The Football Way

by Bryce Joyner

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Whether I’m creating campaigns for Marriott to reach Generation Y, or selling solar water heaters in impoverished African villages, I view the challenges in my life as if they were playing out on an imaginary football field. Football isn’t my only sport. Yet, looking at my life, the thoughts of downs, tackles, and touchdowns parallel the narrative.

Let’s start at third down. Ball on our one-yard line. My coach signals I can initiate a cornerback blitz if I want to take the risk, or stay on my receiver and play it safe. I take the risk.

My foundation as a risk-taker was shaped as a child in Baldwin, New York. On weekends I played big games of hide-and-go-seek with my pack of friends. In finding my spots to hide, I anticipated my seeker’s motions just like I would a receiver’s routes. It looked like he was running a slant. I noticed the quarterback’s eyes, and immediately jumped into the passing lane.

“Ready or not, here I come!” My friend Brandon finds friends one by one, but where was I? My hiding spot was Mr. Emory’s backyard. He was a cranky man without children. No one would think to search there out of fear. I win that round.

1st and 10: I was in 4th grade, loving life. My utopia was on the verge of termination. “I’m going to marry Jacques. We’re moving to Ridgewood, New Jersey to live with him,” my mother tells me. I receive the handoff and fumble.

2nd and ten: The challenge of adapting to Ridgewood is the next play, and it’s a long one. Ridgewood was different from Baldwin in many ways. Baldwin was ethnically diverse, while I was one of the few African-Americans in Ridgewood. Ridgewood kids listened to different music and communicated through iChat. Sports became my social savior.

3rd and two: By 15, I’m comfortable in Ridgewood. I’m a respected athlete and don’t feel racially isolated. My mom pushes me out of my comfort zone again, forcing me to apply to the Leadership Education and Development program. I caught the ball at the University of Maryland in College Park, the site of the program. LEAD was my 761 Vertical. My quarterback hit me in stride, and so did LEAD.
Our big project was creating social media strategies to attract more Generation Y customers to Marriott hotels. We spent long nights working on our presentation skills to get ready for the judges, who were actual Marriott employees. In the meantime, I took classes on marketing, supply chain management, and finance.

3rd week, Presentation day: This was the big competition that we all had come to win. I presented the competitors’ social media strategies and our main idea to enhance their app for smartphone users. I nailed it. I learned a ton about business. A good start to the drive.

1st and 10, Ball on 35-yard line: I applied for another LEAD Program, but this was in Cape Town, South Africa. My group’s assignment was to present a sales pitch to sell solar water heaters in impoverished villages. We met the entrepreneur who created these water heaters and traveled to a village where they had become an absolute necessity. This was a sad place. I witnessed two little boys playing with a handgun, running around pretending to shoot each other. When we gave our presentation days later, our professor complimented my animated sales tactics. The risk I took in making this second LEAD trip confirmed my desire to study business. My quarterback hits me for a gain of 12. We call a timeout. Our kicker comes onto the field.

He lines up. The ball is snapped. The ball goes up. I’m busy fixing my helmet and can’t tell if it went through or not. All I know is that it’s halftime. Time for us to make adjustments, just like I will in college.

Bryce Joyner is a freshman at Tufts and a graduate of Ridgewood High School.