Having owned FootballScoop the past eight years I've had the good fortune of meeting and speaking with thousands of high school football coaches across the country. In getting to know many of these good men, I hear a consistent theme from them -- they coach high school football to help the young men in their programs. Nearly every coach I've spoken with loves helping young men just as much, if not more, than he loves the game. Quite simply, that is why they coach.
So, I ran across a story yesterday that really gave me pause. As you'll read below in a second, in this case the coaches did exactly what we would all hope they would do...and because of an antiquated (and ambiguous) rule on the books from who knows when, the state athletic association is going to take wins away from the school. C'mon man...
The story begins back in 2010 when a young man from a single parent home recognized that he wanted something better in life. Willie Allen was in eighth grade living in New Orleans with his mom and other siblings. Times were tough. Bad elements surrounded them. To get him out of the city, for a while Willie lived with his uncle. However, when his uncle lost his job, Willie moved back in with his mom. Willie's uncle knew his nephew could thrive; but wanted to get his nephew out of the struggling New Orleans public school system to a place where he could flourish. Together they found John Curtis Christian High School, located in a suburb on the west side of New Orleans. Willie and his uncle loved the school and the fit but Willie's mom's house was in the middle of the city itself and his uncle's home was in a suburb on the eastern side of the city.
Willie enrolled at John Curtis in the eighth grade. Living at his mom's house, Willie would walk each morning about a mile to hop on a streetcar, ride that to the end of the line, and then wait for a city bus to pick him up to take him out to the suburb where John Curtis was located. If he hit it just right and the streetcar was on time and then the bus was on time...the one way ride might have been a little under an hour. If something wasn't on time (we're talking public transportation in New Orleans...), there is no telling how long this trek might take. Getting home at night was even more challenging. You get the picture.
During his freshman and sophomore years Willie was often late to school due to the commute and frequently coaches, friends, or parents of friends would see Willie waiting well past dinner time to catch a city bus. They would offer him a ride back into the city. The struggle was real but worth it. Willie loved going to school at Curtis. This education and experience was putting him on the path to what he really wanted in life.
During his sophomore year at school, Willie's mother approached one of her son's high school football coaches asking if there was a family who might have room for Willie to sleep there during the school week. She was seeking a safer environment for her son to live in and a father figure to give him direction in life. One of the assistant coaches (Jerry Godfrey) invited Willie to live with his family. For the first time in his life, Willie had a father figure living with him. He experienced a complete family life. He experienced faith and love. His mom would come from time to time come to the coaches' home for family dinner. Willie was thriving and his mother was truly thankful for the selfless act by this assistant coach and his family.
This is what we as parents, as Christians, as football coaches are called to do. This is everything that is right about America. This is a wonderful story. Come to think about it, this sounds an awful lot like The Blindside featuring Michael Oher.
During his senior season at John Curtis, I've read that ESPN did a story on the fact that Coach Godfrey and his family took Willie in and the love that they now share with Willie, his mom and his siblings. The local newspapers wrote stories about it. This is a great story. Everyone is happy.
Willie wound up earning a scholarship to play football at LSU and his life is on a great trajectory. This young man's future is truly unlimited, and that's only possible because of his uncle, his mom, and the people and coaches at John Curtis Christian School.
In the past weeks, someone at the Louisiana High School Athletic Association decided that by Coach Godfrey opening his home to Willie, John Curtis was in violation of a "recruiting" rule that had been on the books for years. Yesterday John Curtis appealed to the executive committee of the LHSAA -- and, truly, to common sense -- but their appeal was denied. LHSAA Commissioner Eddie Bonine stated, "You have to understand I don't make the rules, I enforce the rules. Going forward, this rule could change, but at present this is what's on the books."
C'mon man. You're the commissioner, if the rule isn't something you believe in or are willing to stand for, work to get it changed (school principals vote on rule changes). Allow common sense to prevail. Do the right thing.
The rule Bonine stated was broken was the following:
"Athletic recruiting" is defined as the use of undue influence and / or special inducement by anyone connected directly or indirectly with an LHSAA school in an attempt to encourage, induce, pressure, urge or entice a prospective student of any age to transfer to or retain a student at a school for the purpose of participating in interscholastic athletics.
Curtis head coach JT Curtis, in their appeal, stated that this was not a violation of the recruiting rules because the school had not recruited Willie. Willie spoke as well, adding that he never considered leaving the school despite the challenging commute adding that if Coach Godfrey and his family had not offered him a place to live then he simply would have continued to walk / ride / whatever he needed to to get to and from school.
So, the LHSAA is going to "strip" John Curtis of approximately 20 wins, which might include their 2013 state championship, as a result of this ruling. The school will have to pay a fine and Coach Godfrey will have to attend some additional class...
I'll leave you with this final thought. If the coaches at John Curtis, or any other school, were to see a player in the exact same circumstances today and wanted to help as Coach Godfrey did by opening their home to the player, I'm 100 percent positive that they would do the same thing over again, even knowing the cost. Especially knowing the cost. Young men's lives matter more than wins, even if the wins shouldn't be taken away in the first place. That's why we all do this. That is why we coach.
I say good for you Coach Godfrey, and good for you John Curtis Christian School.