Sunday, September 20, 2009

Diversity spawns togetherness at Cross Keys

I debated whether or not I should cross-post this item from Champion Newspaper about my Cross Keys Indians football program. I wasn't sure it fit the interests of this blog's readership. But then I thought, "How could anyone interested in Cross Keys fail to enjoy a story about this most unlikely high school football team?"

For me, it is another story that highlights the poverty and unique challenges of Cross Keys HS' zone. But, as I have seen over and over again, the kids manage to work hard and stick to their dreams with dignity I hope my own son one day exhibits. This ultimate "Bad News Bears" team narrowly missed breaking it's 0-30 losing streak last week against Clarkston in OT. Oh! What I'd give to be there the day these scrappy players finally win a game!

If you are moved by these hardworking young people as I am, please join me in honoring one of their former peers this Saturday, September 26, at 2:00pm (see 2009 Cross Keys Graduate to be Honored).

Over the summer, I also acquired the jersey of Richard Feacher who is mentioned in the article. I'll find it a home in Brookhaven's Hudson Grille sports bar soon. The article failed to mention he is on a full scholarship at Furman. I met him early this year and found him a very impressive young person who obviously worked very, very hard under challenging circumstances.

Here is the recent piece on the Indians' football team:

Diversity spawns togetherness at Cross Keys

(taken from

by Robert Naddra

Which of the following are things you’ll never see or hear at a high school football practice in DeKalb County:

Player bios that read like answers to a world geography test – Zambia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Honduras, Serbia, Mexico, China.

The snap count being rattled off in Spanish.

A former gang member starting on the offensive line.

Coaches helping players make sure their pads are in the right places.

Players going to tutorials instead of going to practice two days a week, if needed.

If you chose any of the above, you’ve probably never been to a football practice at Cross Keys High School.

It doesn’t take long to figure out why winning football games isn’t the most important thing to players and coaches at Cross Keys High School.

With little to no parental support, Cross Keys coach David Radford and his staff try to create a team environment on the most diverse team at the most diverse high school in the county.

“I’ve been here four years, and our parents never come to games,” Radford said. “A lot of kids, their parents are working to survive and coming to football games is not important. It’s very common on Senior Night for coaches or teachers to stand in for the parents.”

Many of the players are not U.S. citizens and have not been in the country more than a few years.

“You can’t do things the way more successful programs do it,” said Radford, who came from a successful high school program in Arizona. “Your heart has to be in everything you do instead of worrying about Xs and Os. You have to be concerned about the guys beyond football.”

For the past two seasons, Radford has managed to put together a team of about 30 to 35 players, mostly foreign. Most did not know how to play football until they moved to the United States, and most have played only since middle school.

As a result, the Indians have lost 30 straight games. But week after week, the Indians keep coming back to the practice field and to games.

“A lot are not U.S. citizens and where they’ve come from they been through hardships a lot worse than getting beat up on the football field,” Radford said.

“It’s a true testament to our coaching staff that these kids keep coming back,” Radford said. “They get their heads pounded and still come out every Friday night and fight.

Opposing coaches always tell us that they’re impressed by how hard our kids fight. We lost 70-7 last year to Blessed Trinity and the coaches told us they noticed our kids kept fighting.”

It is that spirit that has landed several Cross Keys players college scholarships in recent years. Richard Feacher, one of the top receivers in the county last year, now is a freshman at Furman. Also, Philip People is a senior at Gardner-Webb, and Nico Williams is a senior at Holy Cross.

“I think I can go to college to play football,” said Yonuel Hidalgo, a junior from Mexico. “I hear about others who go to college and think maybe I can, too.”

College scholarships are the reward, not the reason, many players stick with the program at Cross Keys’. If not for football, many of the players would not have a place to fit in at the school.

“It’s fun just being out here and learning something new,” said sophomore Ahmed Mahammed of Ethiopia. “It helps us bond. We’re trying to change Cross Keys history and work hard to win games.”

Defensive coordinator Barry Banks, the school’s campus supervisor, has seen plenty of changes in the 17 years he has been at the school.

“We have a chance to touch these kids who have never played football before,” Banks said. “Because we’re so small, we are able to have one-on-one instruction and see them change over the years. They grow to have confidence in themselves.”

With so many cultures and languages to consider, coaches take the players on group activities to help them bond. The team has been to an Atlanta Falcons game at the Georgia Dome – a first for many players.

Radford, who grew up in Indianapolis, has seen hardship first hand and wanted to try to change his players’ lives like one of his coaches did for him. After Radford got into a gang-related fight after school, one of his coaches was going to take him home. Instead the coach took Radford to his house.

“He told me ‘you can live like you live, or have this,’” Radford said.

Radford passed up full scholarships to smaller schools and walked on at Indiana University.
“Sports save my life and when I came here I wanted to give back. I find it rewarding to be able to help the kids.”


Anonymous said...

Kim, if there were a Friends of Cross Keys High fund, I'd sure make a donation.

Maybe one day Pat Pope, Crawford Lewis and the BOE will fix up the Cross Keys facilities to the same standard as Arabia Mt. High or the new Tucker High. Instead, they ignore the condition of the facilities.

Kim Gokce said...

Hold that thought, Anonymous, you will have that opportunity very soon ...

On the facilities, I know I'm the green one with DCSS but I do believe we have to wait and see what CKHS looks like by next school year.

When I asked Patricia Pope personally where I should go to see what to expect for CKHS she said Columbia HS would be a good metric to use. If we reach that level in the renovation, I'll have little to complain about ... but I'll find something, I'm sure!

Cerebration said...

Lakeside and Chamblee hope to look as good as Columbia too. Dunwoody just really needs more classroom space and an auditorium. (Do you know that Columbia, like Lakeside, has a pool? Theirs has been totally renovated - and they have about 12 students who swim. Lakeside's is crumbling and their pool is used by 5 area teams - totaling over 150 kids!)

Again -- students in the north end of the county have virtually nowhere for performances (plays, band and chorus concerts, orchestra performances...) The only auditorium in the whole area is the smallish one at Druid Hills HS, which was built with private funding.

No - my dears in south DeKalb - we do it all in the cafetoriums! (Well - we use the gym for band and orchestra concerts at Lakeside, since there are over 400 students in the programs!)

Anonymous said...

If the county health inspector, building inspector and fire inspector visited the Lakeside High pool, they would shut it down for a host of violations.

Anonymous said...

Please stop with the cattiness and divisive comments to "support" your point. I hope we all truly believe (in word and deed) that all kids at every school deserve the best facilities and instructional programs whether there are 15 or 1500. BTW, the CHS pool (est.1966)was a bio hazard for at least 15 years before the SPLOST renovation hence the lack of consistent use by students or the community.

Cerebration said...

Anon - I don't think that pointing out the facts is catty or divisive. Have you toured Lakeside, Chamblee or Cross Keys? I'm not trying to be "divisive" -- our administration is doing that quite nicely without my help.

I've never heard of Columbia HS declared a "biohazard" - how did that come about? I'd like to know since the pool was obviously used - albeit by just a few - so it couldn't have been an actual "hazard" or it would have been shut down. Was it?

Cerebration said...

And no, I don't think that our current leadership thinks that "all kids at every school deserve the best facilities and instructional programs whether there are 15 or 1500." Well, maybe as you say, in word, but certainly not in deed.

Anonymous said...

DeKalb has many problems. Where does the school system begin to fix them?

IMHO the DCSS needs to:

1. Get rid of the top heaviness as far as administrators go. Really evaluate which jobs are NEEDS and which are WANTS. Get rid of our WANTS.
2. Take a long hard look at the budget. Can we really afford ALL of the schools and programs that we have? Is the money we have being spent in the most efficient way possible? Get rid of inefficient spending right away.
3. Fix and update the facilities that need updating-regardless of location within the county according to need.
4. Do not pass students on unless they can show that they understand the GA State Standards-period-no exceptions. (I am tired of having children who cannot add, subtract, or think for themselves in my fourth grade classes).
5. Use the Georgia Math Frameworks as the basis of math instruction for the elementary math classes. They offer the intensity that our students need and require our students to think. They also use real life ways that show students that math is used in their daily lives.
6. County citizens need to band together and demand a quality education for ALL students.
7. Elect board officials who are not afraid to question the administration and who truly have the best interest of our children in mind.

Cerebration said...

Excellent points Anon! Would you like front page posting privileges?

Anonymous said...

Thanks to all the support on this blog for Cross Keys High School.

It is a privilege and an honor to teach Cross Keys students. Visitors from off campus and substitute teachers who work at several different schools will vouch for the disciplinary calm at the school and the respectful and courteous demeanor of most of our students.

For those of us whose hearts are invested in this school, it is frustrating and sometimes depressing to be on the receiving end of such disinterest and neglect from the county.

As in the case of some schools, we love teaching and we love our students, but it's the adults-in-charge who we make our jobs sometimes so difficult and demeaning.

By the way, I question whether the standards require anything more than a general surface knowledge of a discipline, particularly lacking are standards for the skills of critical thinking, or the skill of just plain thinking independently.

Anonymous said...

When I received my teaching certificate in Pennsylvania 14 years ago, I was taught that the PA standards were the minimum requirement that my students needed. In DCSS, the standards are thought to be the top of what our kids need to succeed and the max that we are to teach.

All too often in my 2 years of teaching here, I hear excuses for why the children can't reach the standards (from teachers, administrators, and parents). Children who leave first grade without first grade skills have difficulty learning in each grade there after, as they don't have a foundation on which to build.

In 2007 when I moved to Georgia and began working for DeKalb, I was taken back when my teaching orientation had a 2 hour fashion show, but didn't talk about the standards, quality teaching, computer programs, or any other area that would have better prepared me for working in the county. I continue to shake my head, when teacher dress is given so much importance. I received a sheet showing me proper and improper foot wear, just a few weeks ago. If teachers are dressing inappropriately, than speak to them directly. As an elementary teacher, I sit on my classroom's dirty floor with my kids daily and also am on my feet most of the day. Wearing heels and fancy clothes are not an option.

Anon. 1:32, I don't think that you should take the lack of care DCSS has for Cross Keys personally. I think that there are many schools who need updating and an overhaul. Maybe not in as bad of shape as Cross Keys, I haven't been there, so I don't know. I do know that even buildings only 10 years old are not well maintained or built. My first year here, I taught in a school that was about 10 years old and had a leaky roof in many areas (which I am told were there from the day that school opened).