Taking over a football program is always a challenge, but two head coaches who stepped into the spotlight this year are managing more than just X’s and O’s.
Austin-East defensive coordinator Antonio Mays was recently named head coach of the Roadrunners, while Central defensive coordinator Nick Craney was tapped to lead the Bobcats.
The new role has come with a heavier responsibility, as young people across the country wrestle with the killing of George Floyd and the calls for racial justice that came in its wake.
In interviews, both coaches said football provides an opportunity to build unity.
“The rest of society and the rest of the country and the rest of [our] communities, they could learn a lot by coming and watching a high school football team that is together and a family,” said Craney. “Because we really are trying to build our kids to end racial injustice and to end racism.”
Floyd’s death sparked weeks of protests, many of which included students and young people.
Mays, who also works as a college and career access coach with Project Grad, said one of the most important things that young people can do is vote – including his own son, who is a student at Tennessee State University.
“He’s got to vote more than just in the presidential elections,” Mays said. “We have to educate our children on how important it is to have local turnout, to vote for these local leaders who represent our agendas well.”
While student-athletes are among the first to return to campuses this summer, conversations about justice issues haven’t been limited to practice sessions.
Some principals and students have spoken out about current events during commencement ceremonies, which were delayed until June because of COVID-19.
At Central’s graduation, principal Andrew Brown cited the killings of Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
“We are living in a pandemic that has taken over 100,000 American lives,” Brown told Central’s Class of 2020. “That is somewhat out of our control. What is in our control is how we treat others. The violence and killing has to stop, and it starts with you.”
As school leaders prepare for the start of a new school year in August, that message of empowerment will likely be an ongoing theme.
Austin-East principal Nathan Langlois said he’s been pleased to see peaceful protests and calls for justice, but added that the next step is to take actions that lead to long-term, systematic change.
“I’m very hopeful, I’m very optimistic, I really have been empowered and like what I’m seeing,” Langlois said. “But again, you have 400 years that we’ve had these chances and we’ve failed. So, I guess what I really want to say to this next generation is do what my generation couldn’t do. Solve the problems that my generation has not yet solved.”
See video here.
Josh Flory is a multi-media specialist with Knox County Schools and writes this blog, Hall Pass, for the KCS website.