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Jenni Carlson: Home disadvantage

by Jenni Carlson Modified: August 22, 2009 at 10:55 pm •  Published: August 23, 2009

photo - John Marshall linebacker Ken Berry is able to stay positive and dedicated despite playing for a program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2002. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman
John Marshall linebacker Ken Berry is able to stay positive and dedicated despite playing for a program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2002. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman
Others must go to work after school. Their jobs aren’t side gigs to make a few extra bucks. They are necessary jobs that help pay the bills at home.It’s a harsh fact — the Oklahoma City Public Schools are teeming with kids from poor families and impoverished backgrounds. Oftentimes, extracurriculars take a backseat.Berry considers himself lucky; he doesn’t have to work his job at Sears during the season."I’m blessed to have parents who can help me out,” he said. When keeping the electricity on and the refrigerator stocked is more important than football, it’s understandable. Apathy is more difficult to swallow. Alex Levescy struggles to understand it every time the number of guys in the locker room at U.S. Grant drops. One day, the Generals will have 40 or 50 players at practice. The next, they might have half that."Just laziness,” said Levescy, a junior lineman. "People aren’t committed.”Gavont’e Bonds nodded."Some days, we practice really, really hard,” the sophomore said. "The next day, people don’t show up because they’re tired. They say they’re sick.”"Some of them,” Levescy added, "I’m sure they’re telling the truth, but most of them ... they just throw out excuses.”Levescy and Bond endured a one-win season a year ago as the lone Oklahoma City district school playing in Class 6A. Both say they’re back this season because they love football. Not even a 55-6 loss at Tulsa Union drove them away."We took, at most, 28 players,” Bonds said. "And they had like 2,800.”Levescy said, "Their locker room, they had carpet in there. They had big lockers. Their stadium looks like a college stadium.”Teams like Union are the envy of the Oklahoma City Public Schools. Ken Berry makes no bones about it — he wants what powerhouses like that have. It’s not about their stadiums or their stuff. It’s about the way they play."They have players that understand that if they do their job when they’re supposed to do it, then the rest of the team will succeed,” he said. That comes with experience, something that is in short supply at John Marshall. Many of the varsity starters have only been playing football for a year or so.Berry knows that makes a difference. "We have a lot of talent,” he said. "We never think of it as we’re not good enough to play with those teams. Every game we lose — ‘If we could’ve done this right here, we could’ve won.’"They never think that we’re out of it.”Berry understands what makes a great football team. He gets it. But even though he recognizes his team lacks what the powerhouses have — experience and repetition chief among them — he refuses to concede.Maybe that’s the optimism of youth, the bravado of a standout player. Then again, playing football in a district where victories are few and reasons to quit are many requires a certain attitude.A positive one.
by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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A three-part series on football at Oklahoma City’s public schools
→Saturday: U.S. Grant coach Terrell Love has a big task in front of him — trying to turn around the Generals’ football team. He’s up for the challenge, though.

→Sunday: John Marshall’s Ken Berry is trying to follow in the footsteps of George West and Gerald McCoy — players who stayed at OKCPS schools and went on to play big-time college football.

→Monday: A look at what is being done to improve the football programs across OKCPS, and several people offer up their ideas for how football can be revived in the district.


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