This year is different at Whitney Young Gifted and Talented Leadership Academy. For the first time, the East Side school will play varsity football.
Sure, it may not seem all that significant when you learn Whitney Young was established in 1971 and only added high school in 2003. But the idea for a football program had been in the works for years. With only 402 kids in grades two through 12, it had always been a struggle to get enough players. Last season, though, the Warriors fielded a 25-player junior varsity squad.
"We're the first team to actually step on the field as a varsity team," says Michael Wilkins, a senior running back, cornerback and kick returner. "We're always going to be remembered. It's an honor."
Vincent Hunt, the team's first-year head coach, recognizes that more is at stake than wins and losses. One hundred percent of Whitney Young's seniors have graduated in the last four years, and the team will allow students to "stay home" instead of playing for another Cleveland Metropolitan School District school. "A lot of great athletes went somewhere else to showcase their talents," Hunt says.
An intervention specialist and special education teacher, Hunt moved to Whitney Young from John Adams High School to be closer to his players. "Your boys need to see you," he says. "Athletics is cool, but at the same time, it's about mentoring these men, making sure they achieve academically. ... We're trying to teach all aspects of life in preparation to be successful."