In these times of the COVID-19 pandemic it has been hard for students to find an opportunity to share a classroom with fellow classmates not to mention actually getting to participate in a group activity such as school sports. This was certainly true for the JCHS Generals football squad. Jackson County has been hard hit by the coronavirus. Currently, 17 Jackson County families have lost loved ones due to the disease. The incident rate has been too high to allow in-person instruction until this week (Monday, October 05th was the first in-person day this year). The Generals football players have seen several games cancelled due to high risk of possible COVID-19 transmission.
The Generals luck changed when Head Coach John Hallock read about the struggles of Shawnee High School (Louisville, KY). Shawnee has also been struggling to find an opponent to play. Not only has COVID-19 been an issue for the Golden Eagles but many schools were hesitant to travel to Louisville due to the social unrest surrounding the death of Breonna Taylor and the protests connected to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Coach Hallock reached out to Shawnee Head Coach Jalen Harrington to see if they were interested in playing last Friday. Coach Hallock also reached out to the parents of his players and told them that he had talked with the athletic director at Shawnee and had been assured that the students would be safe. The game was being played far from the area of the protests and the bus route would not take them through any areas of concern.
Coach Hallock understands that the objectives of a coach extends beyond the X’s and O’s of the game and even beyond the wins and losses of the season. The primary objectives involve teaching each player the value of discipline and working together as a team to accomplish a goal, to respect one another as well as each opponent. In essence, the real objective is to nurture each player to become a better human being. Given the current political and social storm it is important to realize that we are all brothers and sisters.
Travelling to Louisville was an opportunity for Coach Hallock and the JCHS football program to show there are more similarities between an historically all-white football program from McKee, KY and a football program out of Louisville composed mostly of Black players, than differences.
At first the Shawnee athletic director was a little surprised and confused at Coach Hallock’s offer to travel to their home field and play. Coach Hallock recalled, “He said, “Well that’s a little far for you guys? We’re in Louisville…” and I said, “Do you want to play? We’re willing to come, we’re willing to show support in solidarity.”
Coach Harrington talked with the Golden Eagles coaching staff and his players. They were excited about the opportunity to play the Generals. Coach Hallock then brought it to the attention of the administration at the JCHS. Coach Hallock recalled them saying, “Coach, if you think this is a good opportunity for these kids, their kids, it’s a good opportunity to show support and solidarity with a community that’s hurting. Let’s go and do it.” The rest is history.”
In an extraordinary and memorable moment, Coach Hallock delivered an impassioned pre-game speech to both teams. He stressed that while they may feel different because of the way they look or where they are from, the players on the two teams have far more things in common than they have differences. Players from both schools (and areas in general) deal with similar struggles. “A lot of my kids come from broken homes,” he said. “They don’t have a silver spoon, there’s a lot of poverty in the community. A lot of my kids have to be in school just to eat. There’s a lot of struggle that they go through, they have to earn everything they get. If you look at Shawnee, some of their kids struggle and come from broken backgrounds. Coach Harrington is doing a phenomenal job mentoring them. If you really look at it, we share a lot of things in common. We shouldn’t be divided by the color of our skin. Everybody wants to label and divide, hate each other because of this label and that label.”
Addressing the Shawnee players Coach Hallock said, “Your program, people don’t talk about Shawnee.” “They don’t talk about Jackson County. But tonight we’re taking two communities … and showing what it looks like — not just for our community, our state and the country — to come together in a common brotherhood. We drove 143 miles because we ain’t really that different. We are going to show the city, the state, and the country what unity, love, and harmony look like and get rid of the hatred that is putrid and running through our country right now.”
With this game, Coach Hallock feels the players and the programs in Jackson County and Shawnee can come together and dispel those labels and focus on one race: the human race.“At the end of the day, we’re humans,” Hallock reported. “It’s not about the color of our skin, it’s about the essence of our being and our character, who we are as people. The platform that Coach Harrington and I have been given this week to teach and educate our kids, to have this opportunity, you bring a conservative county that’s all white to Louisville that’s probably a little more liberal to say, “Hey, when humanity is hurting, no matter what you are – Black, White, red, Latino, Republican, Democrat, Independent, whatever – we are humans.”
“When we see human beings suffering, we have the responsibility to elevate all people. I said this to my assistant on Monday, but 60 years ago, we might not have even been able to play this game. We have a platform to show solidarity. Two polar opposite communities coming together as one.”
Kentucky State Rep. Charles Booker was at the game and spoke to the two teams afterward. “I grew up on 35th and Market," Booker said. "My mom's house is right around the corner. Y'all my team. Y'all represented for us today. Listen, this is huge. Everything that's going on in our city, our country, y'all putting us on y'all's shoulders right now. We won because you showed up tonight."
Jackson County scored more points during the football game but that hardly seems important. By coming together in solidarity both teams were winners. Coach Hallock is looking to arrange an opportunity for the Generals to host Shawnee and welcome them to the home field in McKee in the future.