Friday Night Lights it ain’t.

There aren’t any megatron football scoreboards on the Cross Keys football field, nor any of the excessive hoopla surrounding the Dillon Panthers, like on Lulu’s and my favorite TV show. Instead, here in Atlanta the YMCA is pitching in to help maintain the Cross Keys High School field, and the bleachers have yet to appear. There’s no booster club, because most of the parents work two or three jobs and are lucky to attend a single game.  And last season the team scored a grand total of 49 points.

Cross Keys' Field of Dreams

But that doesn’t faze Head Coach David Radford because he’s in it for a different reason.

Head Coach David Radford

Cross Keys is the most diverse school in the state of Georgia with 830 students from 65 countries speaking 75 languages. Despite the fact that it’s right next door to tony Brookhaven and the exclusive Capital City Country Club, this is a high school that until September had a 70 year-old locker room, no weight room, and precious few embellishments. The fact that Radford can get anybody to go out for football –much less 50 kids –in this school where soccer is the first sport, is a victory in and of itself.

“We have kids from Mexico, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, El Salvador and Zambia playing on our team – and for some, this is the first time they’ve ever played football. Some of them don’t even know the rules. But the fight they have is amazing. And you can never count them out.”

Practicing up for Friday

The kids aren’t the only hard-working ones on the field. In addition to teaching full-time, Radford was the Head Coach of both the Cross Keys basketball and football team – until his wife, with five kids at home, made him give up basketball.

Coaches Radford, Banks and Whiting (Coaches Green & Hurd were working with the team).

So now he and Coaches Banks, Green, Whiting, and Hurd spend “only” from 3:30 until 6:30 or 7 every day out on the field with the Cross Keys football team, drilling them in skills and also making sure they do their homework. (Every Tuesday and Thursday, there’s a mandatory study hall with tutors for the first hour of practice.)

So what if Cross Keys hasn’t had a winning season since 1994, or had a single non-forfeit win since 2006? They’re still out there every day, practicing, learning and improving. And this season, playing against only non-region teams, Cross Keys has a 0-2-1 record, and has put 43 points on the board.

Mpaza Kapembwa... remember that name!

Plus, there are some real bright spots on the team: namely, Mpaza Kapembwa from Zambia, who moved to the U.S. four years ago and is a kicker with a 4.1 GPA, currently talking to Williams College. And quarterback Diego Gaytan from Mexico who is smart, hard-working, and has a great arm. And the new kicker who can punt the ball 40 yards with ease but has never been on a football field before. The only hard thing about coaching for David Radford, it seems, is watching some of his best and brightest denied a state college education because of immigration issues. “We’ve got some great kids here, that have worked hard and really deserve a chance to succeed,” he says succinctly.

Coaches Radford, Banks and Whiting (Coaches Green & Hurd were working with the team).

Hopefully, this Friday night will be a Cross Keys victory – but win, lose or draw, the Cross Keys Indians are winners in my book. The coaches who work so hard, the boys who take the risk to learn a completely new sport against great odds, and a team with such heart that “if you didn’t look at the scoreboard, you’d never know they weren’t winning, they’re playing that hard,” as Coach Radford puts it.

My $100 today goes to the Cross Keys football banquet (that last year was supported by 3 moms cooking – yay Moms!! — and a $5 charge per person).  I’m so psyched to support  these coaches and young men! To join me, click here and ask for Coach Radford.

6 thoughts on “Friday Night Lights it ain’t.

  1. Betty: Your recent favorite team is the FOX 5 Team of the Week and will host the TV station at their pep really Thursday – you should go and soak up the excitement of the team’s first victory on the field in four years! They bested North Cobb Christian 54-18 last Friday. They are not used to the attention and support but thousands voted for them to win this honor:

    Thanks again for the generous offer to enrich their team banquet!

  2. Thank you for bringing attention to this team and school. Our nation’s schools are filled with bright, diligent students with “immigration issues” who deserve our assistance and compassion, not condemnation. With two girls of my own who have given up the prom dresses for college, I’ll definitely check out Athena’s warehouse as well, Kim. Inspiring story about a great teacher and coach. . . . keep ’em coming!

  3. These coaches probably get more joy out of the smallest achievement than some other coaches get out of winning championships. Sounds like a future movie to me — let’s just hope Hollywood doesn’t ruin the story.

  4. Also, please take a look at Athena’s Warehouse if you haven’t already (I searched the archive and didn’t see them). There core mission is to outfit low income teen girls with prom dresses. They also spread the love around by fundraising for various causes that get their attention. They took good care of our Cross Keys divas last spring and deserve a look. See:

  5. Thank you very much for your fun and informative blog about Cross Keys High School Indians Football team! We are very blessed to have such an incredible school in our community. Your readers would probably be interested in knowing that Cross Keys is an AP Honors School among other accolades and produces some of the best and brightest in the County, State, and Country. Here’s three minutes of bragging I did in front of the Board of Education earlier this year:

    Mpaza Kapembwa is an extraordinary young man who is Ivy League bound without a doubt. Here is a statement he made in support of the YMCA Partnership. He put this statement together on the way to the public meeting – very impressive, indeed! Watch:

    You have an amazing blog and I am so happy that our young people have graced the pages of it! Your sponsorship of the team’s banquet is very, very appreciated and your readers share in my gratitude.

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