- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 22, 2009

CITIZEN JOURNALISM:

On the grassy hill known as a home field to the Friendship Collegiate Academy Knights football team stand JaRon Gillespie, Gabe Smith, Nick Walker, Richard Washington and Anthony Elliott, who are practicing for the upcoming season at their new colleges. Each of the players took time out of his busy practice schedule to discuss using the sheer physical willpower of football and the drive to excel in high school and make it to college.

All five student-athletes attended Friendship Collegiate’s Feb. 4 signing-day event - the first in the charter school’s 10-year history.The football team encountered many fumbles from the beginning of the season, including not having a football field at their school in Northeast and having to play at other schools. However, the team eventually scored, leading all five athletes to victory with full scholarships.

Mr. Elliott will be attending Morgan State University; Mr. Gillespie, Eastern Michigan; Mr. Smith, Hampton University; Mr. Washington, North Carolina A&T; and Mr. Walker, Elizabeth City State University.

The student-athletes had to overcome obstacles that far too often reflect the harsh realities of urban life in America - single-parent homes, rough-and-tumble neighborhoods and peer pressure from friends with less academic drive.

Some acknowledged that if it were not for athletic scholarships, they would not be able to attend college. They also gave their coach a lot of credit for focusing them and supporting them.

Mr. Washington didn’t hesitate. “No,” he said, he would not be financially eligible to attend college.

Mr. Gillespie said he “couldn’t have done this without Coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim.”

Mr. Gillespie had to sit out his junior year in high school because his grade-point average was too low. He transferred to Friendship Collegiate, where he graduated with a 3.0 GPA.

Despite the fact that the team has no home field, Friendship Collegiate is cheering its athletes on to victory.

Mr. Abdul-Rahim said it was all about perseverance and positive choice that lead to positive outcomes.

The coach is the founder of Positive Choices Inc., a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide an educationally, athletically and socially enriched environment for all economically disadvantaged youths. The organization focuses on such things as college preparation, life skills, character development, youth mentoring and community service.

The players said Friendship Collegiate CEO Donald Hense is a major supporter of the athletic program.

The young men stressed that Friendship Collegiate’s focus on academics helps them as athletes, and that Positive Choices reinforced Mr. Hense’s emphasis.

Mr. Washington said it was important to learn “what it takes to manage both academics and an athletic career.”

Mr. Smith said, “Being smart is the key to successfully to managing an athletic career.”

Mr. Elliott, who will be attending college in Baltimore because he wants to stay close to his mother, who is ill, said one of the most important lessons he learned is, “Never say I can’t.”

• Lavon Shepherd, an intern with The Washington Times, is a graduate of Friendship Collegiate Academy and a rising sophomore at Kentucky State University.

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