Charles Welde has been the offensive coordinator for the U.S. Grant football team for the last three seasons, which is a significant statement in itself. Dan Burgess is in his third season on the staff and second as head coach, providing a type of stability U.S. Grant players haven't seen in years.
It's a sign that those men, and others on the staff, are not in their positions simply for a paycheck to hold them over until the next job comes along. They're committed to improving the lives of the kids who come into their locker room at Grant.
Welde has worked at every level of football, from high school to college to professional with the Arena League's former Oklahoma Wranglers. But his career goals have changed during his time at Grant.
He recently wrote an open letter to the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association, its board members and some area politicians regarding proposals that have been made on behalf of U.S. Grant and Capitol Hill to become independent of the OSSAA in football. Most of the content of that letter is contained below.
Those proposals have been turned away, but here, Welde presents some facts of the struggles at a school like U.S. Grant that only exist at a very limited number of schools across the state:
By Charles Welde
U.S. Grant's futility in football has been well documented. In 2012 we won our first game in 3 years. We have never won a Class 6A district game. In 2011 we scored 16 points against Westmoore, which was a record for most points scored in a 6A district game.
When I agreed to be the team's offensive coordinator in the summer of 2010, I looked at it as an excellent opportunity to prove myself as a program builder. I knew if I could coach at Grant and be successful I would be able to move to a better school or possibly even get back to coaching college football. It took me two full seasons to realize U.S. Grant isn't about how good of a coach you are or how many games you win. It's about transforming lives.
In the 2012 off-season myself, Coach Dan Burgess, and Coach Buck Blasco made a commitment to a service style of coaching. We redefined success at Grant. Instead of focusing on raising our points per game, we were going to focus on raising our team GPA. Instead of focusing on defensive stops, we were going to focus on stopping kids from quitting school. We would emphasize work ethic and education. We also wanted to make sure every kid on our team got to eat. Our coaching staff would become the support system that a lot of our players didn't have.
Our second mission was to create a football environment. U.S. Grant is a football program with amnesia. There are no records kept anywhere, there are no pictures in the locker room of former players, and there is next to no tradition. Our goal is to change that. We started identifying alumni who still live in the area and called them to invite them to games. We reached out to businesses with U.S. Grant ties and invited them to be involved with our program. We made 500 U.S. Grant football T-shirts and gave one to every teacher in the school. In 2012, our attendance was up and participation was up. Former players started showing up at practices to talk to our team. To paraphrase Coach Burgess: “in our journey of 1,000 miles we were finally taking a step off the porch.”
The outcome on the field didn't change, but lives were changing. One thing that is always left out of the newspaper articles detailing our 60-point losses is the number of injuries our team sustains on a weekly basis. In 2012 alone we lost 3 quarterbacks to season ending injuries, and had three other players strapped to a backboard and taken to the emergency room. The difference in size and strength between our team and our 6A opponents is staggering. The fear of injury is the single biggest deterrent to football participation at our school, and the main reason we suit up 25-35 players each week instead of 60 or 70.
A proposal has been presented to the OSSAA by Oklahoma City Public Schools athletic director Keith Sinor that would allow Grant to move out of Class 6A, and play an independent football schedule. We don't have the same resources as the other teams in our district and as new stadiums go up, the chasm between our program and theirs continues to grow. Going independent would allow us to schedule other schools that have the same time and financial constraints we live with, helping to create a degree of competitive fairness. U.S. Grant players would also have a significantly decreased likelihood of injury which would lead to a spike in participation. In December, the OSSAA voted 8-5 against the proposal.
Courage is fickle. It may be with you on a daily basis, but the handful of times when you need it the most it can be very hard to find. Courage is like athletic ability in a way. If you don't nurture it you can lose it. The question about allowing U.S. Grant to go independent in football is a question about courage.
Personally I feel like a great deal of my inner courage was instilled in me through my upbringing. Other coaches and athletes I have spoken with have said the same thing. But what if you had no true “upbringing?” How does a kid find and nurture his courage in a foster home, or while he's living at a friend's house because his dad's in jail? How is courage cultivated with no positive role models and no structure?
The outsider's perspective is for Grant to “get better”. To them, I would like to extend an invitation to spend a few days with us and see what life is like. We have shorter practices, significantly less access to strength and conditioning programs, and operate on a budget that is a fraction of the other teams in our district. It would serve our kids and our community to create an environment of competitive fairness that will encourage students at Grant to run towards after school athletics instead of running away from it. As coaches, we can't help kids who aren't on the team.
We have redefined success at Grant. We “win” when we keep a kid from dropping out and see him graduate. We “win” when one of our student athletes goes to college. We “win” when we are able to send weekend backpacks full of food home so our players and their brothers and sisters can eat. It's not about scoreboard success, it's about teaching a kid to be a man so he can break the cycle of poverty.
It takes a great deal of courage for a kid to play football at U.S. Grant knowing he will spend the majority of the season on the wrong side of a 60-point beatdown. The 19 players who stuck with the program in 2011 showed a great deal of courage in doing so, as did the 33 who finished this year. I would like to call on the OSSAA to reciprocate that courage and do the right thing for these kids, regardless of the popularity of the decision. I would like to see the OSSAA have the latitude to make special concessions in situations of special circumstance. Leaving Grant in Class 6A benefits no one. Allowing us to play football as an independent benefits our players, their families, our school, and our community. It's time to do the right thing.