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