MORE THAN A GAME: Lumpkin coaches plan to tackle racial awareness

  • Lumpkin coaches plan to tackle racial awareness
    Lumpkin coaches plan to tackle racial awareness

When Lumpkin County’s student athletes return to sports activities this week, coaches are preparing to have a difficult conversation; one which can not be ignored nor avoided; surrounding the death of George Floyd and the ensuing worldwide protests on racial inequality and police brutality with their players.
The Dahlonega Nugget reached out to Lumpkin County’s coaches and Lumpkin County superintendent of schools Dr. Rob Brown in an effort to get their stances on racial inequality and to ask what message they will be giving to their athletes in the wake of Floyd’s death and the ongoing protests.
Several coaches and Dr. Brown responded to The Nugget’s request and spoke out about the issue.
Given the sensitive nature of the discussion, The Nugget has included their responses in their entirety. It must also be noted that their responses are their own personal opinions on the matter and are not necessarily reflective of the Lumpkin County school system as a whole.

Q: Given the current state of the nation, where do you stand on the issue of racial inequality?

“The issue of racial inequality isn’t even debatable,” said David Dowse, head coach of the LCHS girls basketball team. “Quantitative data and empirical evidence substantiates the fact that racial inequality exists; including incarceration numbers, access to public resources, political representation, etc. For anyone exposed to the numbers, the issue isn’t one of acknowledgement but one of personal responsibility. I’m not going to discuss politics, but for me the events of recent weeks are not about politics. They are about humanity and the decency of one human being toward another. They are about genuinely caring about one another. They are about celebrating and embracing our differences. They are about listening and learning and growing to create a society where everyone is afforded an equal opportunity to share in the promises of our forefathers. I am a Christian and, as such, I believe that God has made us all in his image. For other Christians, that alone should be enough to embrace the belief that everyone is equal. We were put on this Earth to love and serve one another, not to fear or judge. As it says in Matthew 10: 43-45, ‘But it shall not be so among you. Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever among you would be greatest must be servant of all. For even the Son of Man can not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.’”

“Racial inequality is a reality,” said Don Brock, head coach of the LCHS girls soccer team. “It occurs in every society and does in ours as well. The numbers don’t lie, but are often twisted to muddy the waters. That is politics, and I will not get into those issues. Mass incarceration, lack of access to educational, financial and health resources and a lack of representation is very clear. The existence of racial inequality is undeniable. The issue, for me, is common humanity. The events over the last few weeks are not new to this country, and it speaks to our compassion and empathy. Social media has not helped. Humanity transcends race, but is far more apparent in race relations. The issue is how we treat one another as human beings. Forget the color of our skin; we are all human with the same insecurities, aspirations and feelings. I am a Christian and raised by a Methodist minister. I was raised and taught that we are all God’s children, created in His image and our differences should be celebrated. I was taught that we came into this life as sinners and will always need to ask for His forgiveness as we continue to sin. That is why He gave his only son for us, for all of us. My parents instilled in me a need for a life of service to others, not just to those that look like me. A life not spent serving others is not a life well spent for me. We are here to love and care for one another. To lift each other, never to push another down or hold another back. the Bible I was raised on laid this out very clearly.”

“I stand against racial inequality on any level, wherever and however it exists, and try, as best as I can, to understand the world view of a person experiencing life differently than me,” said Bryan Fagan, head coach of the LCMS girls soccer team. “As a coach, the things I say and do while in a training session, or in my personal life, demonstrate to my players my character and communicates my core values.”

“The murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery have brought the issue of racism to the forefront of our country,” said Michael Parker, head coach of the LCHS boys basketball team. “The videos were shocking and awful. Racism is evil, period. It is never ok to treat someone as less due to the color of their skin. I firmly stand against racism and I stand for justice. Our life experiences all take us different places and allow us to see different things. I have been fortunate enough to have taught and coached in many different diverse schools. With these diverse settings, I have many coworkers, former players, fellow coaches and friends that are black. Unfortunately, I have seen firsthand my black friends and players get treated differently, and treated poorly. It’s heartbreaking, and a personal issue for me. My family had one of my black players live with us for over two years. He became a big brother to my daughter, and is still a part of our family today. While he lived with us, I saw him get followed in stores, and saw him get treated as less, simply because of the color of his skin. These experiences helped open my eyes to the racism that still exists. I still don’t fully understand it all, and don’t have all the answers, but I think it’s extremely important that we speak less and listen more so that we can all have a better understanding regarding this issue.”

“I am deeply disturbed by the murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery,” said Caleb Sorrells, head coach of the LCHS football team. “The videos of both murders are haunting. And, I’m heartbroken and shell-shocked to hear the stories of less deadly, but still very real, oppression and prejudice that nearly every person of color has experienced, many of whom are my close friends, colleagues and current and former players. I want to be part of the solution, so I’m committed to doing much more listening than talking.”

Q: What is the message you are relating or will relate to your student athletes about this issue?

“To date our team has not met to specifically discuss current national events or other issues related to race,” Dowse said. “I hope some of those conversations are taking place at home. I know they are in my family. I hope the message being sent to and within the team everyday, not just in times of heightened racial awareness, is one of genuine love, respect and concern. That’s not to say that we won’t one day have a voluntary discussion of racial inequality, race relations, political policies or personal responsibility. My door is always open to our players for any and all such discussions.”

“I have not been able to meet with my team to discuss this yet,” Brock said. “It is something I want to talk about with my players in person. Unfortunately, that is still not possible. I have too many athletes to meet with them all under current guidelines by the state. My players very likely know how I feel about this, as I am an open book on this issue. We strive to convey love and respect through our program. Respect extends to our teammates and our opponents, although that may not be apparent during the match. We express that it is essential to reflect this in all that we do every day, not just now that it is at the forefront. I hope to be able to have an open conversation with our team about this at some point, and that they are having discussions now with their friends and families.”

“The message I send to my players is inequality, favoritism, ethnocentrism and hatred have no place in youth sports, and repeatedly mistreating anyone, for any reason, will ultimately limit their success as a player and the future contribution they can make to society,” Fagan said.

The message to my players and team is relatively simple,” Parker said. “You are leaders. The school and community look to athletes and watch what you do and say. Lead the way. Treat all people with love and respect. I believe that the basketball locker room is a great model for our society: young men of all backgrounds coming together for a greater purpose. I truly believe in the young people in our community, especially our young men that represent Lumpkin County basketball. My hope is that they lead the way in unity, love and respect, on and off the court.”

“I told our players on Wednesday [June 3] that the world needs football teams now more than ever,” Sorrells said. “Obviously I’m biased, because I believe in our game. But, I think the unity that everyone so deeply longs for gets fleshed out on a football team perhaps better than anywhere else in our country. It takes so many different kinds of people to make up a great team, and those people have to lay aside their own agendas to work toward a common goal. And, in my experience, the process almost always creates a better appreciation for and understanding of people who are different than me.”

Brown said that he believes that the example that sports, coaches and student athletes set helps facilitate a sense of togetherness that can be seen and heard by the public at large.
“We love all kids of every color and background,” said Brown. “These kids make up our teams and we all become purple when we band together to train, practice and compete. As we seek victory, there is no time or need to worry about our differences. We know many things are not good in this world and we can work as individuals and as teams to make the world a better place. High school sports sets a great example for the world to follow.”
Although the conversation about race relations and racial inequality may be a difficult one, many of the coaches of Lumpkin County appear ready to tackle it in order to convey the right message and to lead their players into a brighter future for all.