Young Black Males: Shaping a New Era for Scholar Athletes

By Meta J. Mereday

With a great deal of conversation that maintains stereotypes that young Black males are low achievers and have little motivation to succeed in life, I present the scholar athletes of the Freeport (N.Y.) High School’s Conference 1 championship team.  

This team consists of a diverse group of young Black, Hispanic and Caucasian males who struggled together to achieve greatness.

The 2010 Freeport High School Red Devils not only broke the scoring record in their championship game in a 62-35 win, but also the record for the highest number of Rutgers Awards, for outstanding team. This prestigious award is decided by the area coaches and Freeport has received the coveted prize a record 11 times. 

Dubbed the “comeback” kids because of the number of times they came from behind or overcame serious challenges to win, even their Coach Russ Cellan told the audience at the Varsity Sports Award Night that this team “was never fazed and never gave up.”

The young Black males on this team showed they not only had the athletic ability that they are so often singularly labeled with, but also the academic chops to remain at the top scholastically as well. In the face of daunting statistics and negative visuals, there is a great hope for the future of the Black community

In 2007, the National Urban League issued a report entitled, “The State of Black America: Portrait of the Black Male,” and the findings highlighted significant problems impacting young Black males including:

 –  Half of Black men in their 20s were jobless in 2004, up from 46 percent in 2000.

–   In 1995, 16 percent of Black men in their 20s who did not go to college were in jail; a decade later, it’s grown to 21 percent.

 –  Studies show, Black male achievement begins to decline as early as the fourth grade and by high school, Black males are more likely to drop out; in 2001, only 42.8 percent graduated from high school, compared to 70.8 percent for their White counterparts.

Where are the examples of productive and proactive young Black males? In the Freeport High School example, leading the way for this team and its phenomenal season was its junior quarterback, Isaiah Barnes, a personable young man whose on the field maneuvers made for high drama and nightmares for defensive players who tried to catch him. 

He said he “saw the holes that his offensive line made for him and took them.”  This offensive line includes junior offensive tackle Kenneth Berryhill, who proudly covered Isaiah’s “blind side.”

Along with his offensive line, he had a powerful backfield with versatile wide receivers who – all combined – showed their opponents momentum, courage and perseverance.

Isaiah also leads by example off the field by maintaining a 90 plus average in his school work and leading almost a dozen of his teammates towards induction in the National Honor Society. 

         Freeport represents a changing dynamic in suburbia as the racial makeup has increased in its diversity with more Blacks and Hispanics living and working in the community. 

While many might say that this would cause a shift in the focus from education to athletics, it is clear that education remains a top priority for the parents as evidenced by the grades these athletes maintained.

These young men celebrated their victories, but also talked about their future careers as engineers, architects, lawyers, etc.   This is a testament to the supportive family and friends who have stayed behind these young scholar athletes and who continue to motivate and encourage.

                 This should represent the rule and not the exception for young Black males who continue to be stereotyped and pigeonholed by society. 

We, the educators, parents, advocates and supporters should continue to speak up and step up to “bridge the gaps” and to “open the holes” to progress for our young Black males. 

We should be as vocal at school board meetings as we are at football games to guarantee that all of our children, but especially our young Black males who face even greater challenges, continue to excel.

Mereday is a contributing writer for Regal Black Men’s Magazine, a publication dedicated to the African American community.

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