Urban high schools face challenges with athletics

November 30, 2009 6:42:33 PM PST
Urban high school athletic departments in the Bay Area are facing many challenges to survive.

The number of teenage boys who've found a home on their high school football field has quickly dwindled in the Bay Area's urban communities.

The football field at Kennedy High emptied early this season. In October, the Eagles' varsity team forfeited their final three games due to lack of players. They only played four games scoring just 12 points.

"I think it has something to do with economics. The kids call it the street, I call it economics. A lot of the kids say they have to hustle, they have to make their money, so they just don't have time for the athletic portion of it," said Kennedy High athletic director Harry Campbell.

Kennedy is not alone as urban schools fight to retain their athletic programs. All sports are suffering but football has been hit especially hard.

"I did not think it would get this bad, this fast," said UC Berkeley sociologist Dr. Harry Edwards.

It's a trend Edwards predicted 10 years ago.

"You begin to get kids turning in team colors, exchanging team colors for gang colors. All sorts of other things begin to take priority. It can have a devastating impact on the youth culture of a community, which is to say on the future of that community," said Edwards.

Edwards sees the inability to maintain viable athletic programs as a strong signal that urban high schools are failing kids in other ways.

"If the school is not preparing athletes for the collegiate athletic environment, the chances are they also are not preparing them for the collegiate classroom environment."

At Oakland High School, it was also tough to field a football team. There are only 22 players on the varsity squad, but canceling the season was never an option. Oakland High not only fielded a team, they made the playoffs this year, despite facing teams that had more than 60 players.

Still, the small numbers are troubling to Head Coach Desmond Gumbs.

"Why do you suppose that is? Is it lack of interest, other things going on, video games?" asked ABC7's Laura Anthony.

"What are they doing if they don't play sports? You read the papers," said Gumbs.

"I think school is the reason we don't have a lot of football players, because players can't keep their grades up," said Oakland High football player Hyowon Lihinag-Tan.

Those who are on the team must maintain a 2.0 grade point average.

"Football is the only thing that motivates me to keep my grades high and that's about it," said Oakland High football player Mafoa Tongauiha.

"You have to have the grades to come out. It's not like the old days where if you don't have the minimum CIF requirement, they're just going to pass you. Unfortunately, a lot of our kids aren't meeting those requirements," said Gumbs.

Despite having just 22 suited up, Oakland High will send four players to Division 1 colleges with full scholarships.

Running back Damante Horton is headed to Washington State.

"What's your plan for the future?" asked ABC7's Laura Anthony.

"Go play college football, get a good education and hopefully make it to the draft," said Horton.

Many other players here won't get the chance to play football in college, but they still hope to go there.

"I plan to go to college and do something with my life," said Oakland High football player Dyllon Mafi.


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