Inspiring Our Students: Pat and I Living Our Dreams

 

By Lloyd Knight

Lloyd Knight is the Principal at Charter Schools USA, Thomas Carr Howe Community High School in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Mr. Knight began his career as a student teacher and has worked at every level including curriculum resource teacher, classroom teacher, and assistant principal. Before moving to Indianapolis, he was the lead principal of North Carolina for Charter Schools USA, he spearheaded the expansion of five new buildings and the largest portfolio of charter schools in the state of North Carolina.Mr. Knight is a trained peacekeeper, holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education from Shaw University in North Carolina, and earned his Master of Arts degree in Education Leadership from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. Mr. Knight is also a proud member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Incorporated, a public service organization founded in 1911.

 

About 9 years ago I fulfilled a lifelong dream.  

Growing up -- all I ever wanted was to be a teacher.  After 5 years at Shaw University, I was able return home to Newport News, VA, where I began living my dream.

To be from my hometown is to know that football and basketball are as important to the overall spirit of the area as much crossing the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel to get to the beach or Norfolk Scope.  

For these reasons, the other half of my dream was to coach at my alma mater Denbigh High School.  Affectionately known as “The Dirt” it is a place where many of its students come from low-income housing yet excel to become high school and college graduates.  

While at Denbigh I did well for myself athletically and desired an opportunity to mentor and mold future athletes.  This goal inspired me to apply for the head varsity coaching position at Denbigh High School.

After meeting the head coach of my former school, I was given an opportunity to be on his staff and lead the JV basketball program.  I could not contain myself with the excitement of getting my first head-coaching job.

A dream of mine had been fulfilled.  

This was a chance for me to work with students that were just like me 10 years prior.

During early season workouts with my new team, I reflected on the anxiety I felt during my first basketball tryout.  I remembered first day of tryouts with over 150 8th to10th-grade players in the gym running until the first person during the tryout quit.  

I remembered the multiple cuts that were made and the sweat required to join the basketball team.  The day that my name was called by Coach Hochman was life changing.

 

Near the end of my first tryout as the JV coach of Denbigh High School, I was faced with a dilemma.  Do I focus on the young players and build for the future or do I go for the win? Weeks prior, I went to local middle schools to recruit students to play for our JV team.  At Passage Middle School I recruited a number of students that were already in the program with summer future league basketball.

        At the end of the tryout I decided that I would focus on both.  

I wanted to win but I would also carry a huge number of 8th grade students to build for the future.  So in a move that many shook their heads at, I kept 19 basketball players for the junior varsity basketball team.

Even with that many players remaining in the program, there are still going to be students that thought they would make the team that didn’t.  Some of the factors I used for making the team really had nothing to do with basketball skills.

I wanted students that had immediate talent that could play right away, young body types at a young age that will translate to size in the future, or leadership through academics and reasonable athletic ability.  

        If a student did not fit into any of these categories, they likely did not make the team.  After cutting down the program from over 100 8th to 10th-grade students to 19 students, I felt really good about the team that was before me.  

The following Monday we began practice.  

I remember dragging them through drill after drill of running and exercise that first day, to make sure they knew that playtime was over and that it was time to work.  

        While walking to the parking lot, I ran into this little fat kid on his bike to circles around the cars.  

He had on a dusty outfit and looked like he was still in middle school.  I asked him his name and he told me it was Pat.

He also said that he had tried out for the team, but was cut.  I immediately felt anxiety and angst.

After exchanging pleasantries, I said goodbye to the young fella and went home for the evening.

        The following day, while getting ready for practice, I noticed the same young man in the corner of the gymnasium dribbling a basketball while the rest of the team was in practice jerseys warming up in the center of the court.  

I walked up to him and gave him some dap.  

He asked if he could stay in the gym to watch practice.  I told him it was okay as long as he didn’t disrupt, and stayed out of the way of practice.  

To my surprise, Pat watched intently from the bleachers as I began to implement a system for our team.  It was almost as if he was preparing to be an assistant coach of the team.

For about a week, Pat came to practices and observed -- he never disrupted anything.  

The boys on the team didn’t mind his presence either.  They would joke with him and he appeared to have a great chemistry with them as well.

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No one clowned Pat because he was cut from the team.  Everyone knew that they had been through hell to join the team and were going through hell to be a part of the team.  

At that time, my respect for the young man was growing by the day.  After a week and a half of observing practices, I decided that it was time to make Pat a permanent fixture of our team.  

After practice on that day, I made Pat a manager for our team.

For the next week or so, Pat made sure all of the basketballs and equipment were ready for practice.  This was impressive, because remember -- Pat is in the 8th grade.

He is going to school miles away during the day and then catching an activity bus to Denbigh to be a manager for the team.  Pat could have easily have said “Screw this. I’m no one’s ball boy. I should have made the team. Why doesn’t this coach see that?”

Instead, Pat became a part of the team the best way he knew how.

He worked hard and earned his spot as a manager on the team.  He humbled himself to be a part of the program.

After a week as being manager, I saw Pat starting to come down from the bleachers and participate in drills with the team.

He would grab rebounds for players and take jump shots with the team. It was during this time that I realized that this young man had some game to him.  

In a crowd of over 100 athletes, Pat would never stand out as an 8th grader.  He was a chubby kid that was neither tall nor short. He didn’t jump very high and wasn’t quick.  What he did have that I was not aware of through the crowd of students was that he had a drive and tenacity that was unmatched.  

Pat is a DOG!  

He competes at a ridiculously high level.  He doesn’t give a damn how big your are, how fast you are, or how strong you are he was going to give you his absolute best in all things.

The more and more that I watched Pat compete, the more I knew that he deserved to be on the team.  

So, after 3 weeks of working his way into the program through the backdoor, I called a team meeting.  

At that meeting, I walked in with a practice jersey in my hand.  I addressed the team about perseverance and working diligently to accomplish your goals.  I began to talk about the work Pat had done and with a smile, I put the jersey around Pat’s neck and announced he was now a player on our team.

The sound that came from our players on that day was one of joy.  

There weren’t any haters that day.  Pat was celebrated because he earned the opportunity he was given.  

For the remainder of the season Pat played here and there.  I would only coach this young man for one season as I was called to go to Chicago to continue my education endeavors.  

I stayed in touch with many of the players of that time as they eventually graduated high school and went to college.

Pat and I never lost touch for too long.  

One of the reasons for this is because of the relationship I have had with his family over the years.  

I have fraternity brothers within his family.  I have high school classmates I had with his family.  This gave me an opportunity to watch, as the little chubby kid with the tenacity to run through brick walls became the starting linebacker and Virginia All Star Game Defensive MVP in his senior year.  

Pat didn’t stop wanting to be great after the season ended with basketball.  

He was committed to being his absolute best in all areas.  Rejection and feeling wronged in a situation like making a basketball team can take you into different directions.  

I remember a kid that tried out for the JV team back when I was in high school once approached me in my senior year.  He told me that he was a better player than me at the time and that our coach was racist because he only kept the black players.  This student (who never joined any athletic team) could not recover from the rejection of not being good enough to play.

His resolve and perseverance was non-existent.  Instead, I chose to complain with his buddies over beers.

This is what made Pat so special in my eyes.  

He took his rejection and used it.  He used the fact that I didn’t think he was good enough to eventually earn a scholarship to Shepherd University where this year he earned his bachelor’s degree.  He is now on his way to fulfill his fifth year of eligibility by pursuing his master’s at Virginia State University.

There were many students at Denbigh High School that may have been better athletes that Pat in 8th grade but no one had his drive to be better.  

The proof is in the wonderful and inspiring young man he is today.  His story is one of inspiration. I am proud to have mentored and worked with him.  He deserves to be celebrated.

He’s earned it.