A group of like-minded Shelby County Schools student-athletes and their parents gathered outside SCS headquarters Wednesday morning (Sept. 16) to express their anger and frustration with SCS Supt. Joris Ray’s decision to cancel all fall sports because of the COVID 19 epidemic.
“We were all just really sad,” said Kaleb Almo, a protest organizer and Kirby High School football player. “I saw all our senior players at Kirby walking with their heads down. We’re just really frustrated.”
A late media advisory Tuesday (Sept. 15) delivered word that “all sports are being postponed until further notice.”
The advisory read in part: “…While we are all virtual (learning), we will not resume athletics. However, as we explore in-person options, we will indeed consider offering families the athletic option to return to play.
“Despite collaborative efforts in the district and locally to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, there is still far too much uncertainty to move forward with athletic practices and competitions at this time…”
Ray said the decision is “yet another unimaginable consequence of an unprecedented time.”
A request for comment from Ray was declined. Media relations officer Jerica Phillips said the superintendent directs the media to Ray’s released statement and video.
Jaylon Jordan, a junior at Kirby High School, said it was important to be at the protest.
“I have been playing football since the age of 7,” said Jordan. “We found out yesterday that all sports were cancelled. It was important to be here to just let the superintendent know that football is more than just a game for us. It is a part of our lives. This decision was shocking and devastating.”
Jordan’s father, Derrick Jordan, said it was important to come out and support his son as well as the other teams.
“Football is a great outlet for these kids,” said the elder Jordan. “These kids need football and other sports in their lives. The superintendent gave parents no platform to speak or have any kind of input in this decision.”
Almo, and Marcus Taylor II took to Twitter Tuesday afternoon about protesting in front of the SCS administration building, and the event sprang out of posts from players voicing their frustration and disappointment.
“Collierville and Houston High get to play,” said the elder Jordan. “Our kids are at home watching them play, and it’s just not fair to them. Why didn’t Dr. Ray get with the districts out in the suburbs? They are doing something that works because they are playing sports this school year.”
Farren Alexander, mother of Aaren Alexander, said she was afraid for how “the players’ hearts and minds feel. I told my son to pray,” Alexander said. “There will be no sports, no cheerleading, or anything connected to school sports. It’s just very sad.”
Marcus Taylor, father of Taylor II, a co-organizer of the protest, told the protesting players that it would be a peaceful protest.
“We will not let anyone control this narrative,” said the elder Taylor. “They ain’t going to cuss and clown, because we are going to do everything decent and in order. Repeat after me – ‘decent and in order.’”
The crowd of players gathered around Taylor responded in unison, “Decent and in order.”
Taylor is a cultural coach and mentor for boys and girls all across the district.
“We have already lost one player, and we can’t afford to lose another,” Taylor said.
“Demetrius Robinson at Whitehaven was only 90 minutes from a scholarship offer – 90 minutes from a scholarship offer. We just can’t afford to lose any more of our babies.”
Robinson, a Whitehaven football player, was fatally shot earlier this month.
Almo said football for many seniors was their last chance at getting to college.
“We want to know how much of a thought process went into making a decision about black kids playing football,” Almo said. “Ridgeway is right down the street from MUS. MUS can play, but Ridgeway cannot. Come on, now.”
Jordan is raising his son, but many of the kids who play sports do not have a father figure in the home, he said.
“These coaches offer a sense of stability. They offer a sense of strength for these kids,” said the elder Jordan. “Playing sports builds their character, and for many, this is their one shot to make it out of poverty. Now that’s been taken away.”
SCS School Board Chair Miska Clay Bibbs addressed the situation in Tuesday’s (Sept. 15) news release:
“With so much at stake, major decisions like this are not easy but are made in the best interests of our students, families, and staff.
“Their safety is our top priority and I commend Superintendent Ray for weathering the storm in order to protect our student-athletes, coaches and the community.”
Almo said school leaders failed them by not including them in the decision-making.
“Not one time did he ask a football player or a cheerleader or any student who plays sports what they thought,” Almo said. “These privileged schools get to play sports, and we do not. Nothing is fair about that.”