January 6, 2021
Originally Published by

Our Boys Are Dying to Play

“Our Boys are Dying to Play” – Former Star Raider Player Says  

Over 30 shots tore through a home in Southeast San Diego. Famous for drive-by shootings, this neighborhood had another fatal drive-by and struck an innocent 17-year-old football player 3 times. He was visiting a friend’s house, hanging with him, when the shots tore through the house. Devastated family members, coaches and friends are having a hard time dealing with this loss. Unfortunately, many other young students are facing similar and other challenges in this time of Covid 19. One tragic result of Covid 19 is that suicide attempts are skyrocketing in our communities and depression is affecting nearly every one of our young students. Just ask your own kids. It is time to address this problem as a dire emergency and not as statistics that don’t affect us personally. It is time to address this problem.

The most popular place on campus at Lincoln High School is the football coach’s office to hang out with the coaches. Head Coach David Dunn has street cred; He was a star wide receiver for the Raiders in the NFL and is legendary for his career at Morse High school and his time at Fresno State. Players and parents love him, and he will tell them the real truth.  Coach Dunn and his assistants have partnered with Lincoln’s Athletic Director David Lai to reach out and provide an avenue for their players to hang out with the coaches. This interaction is what is missing oftentimes in other schools. The opportunity for daily interaction between a coach and his players. Now this is not possible with Covid 19 breaking.  The players miss Coach Dunn and his staff.  They miss the guidance. They miss being held accountable. They miss the tough love. They miss what they possibly are not receiving at their own house. What they get now is just plain unfair. 

Another star player’s brother was shot in the face this past week (expected to recover) and it is only one of many gang related shootings in San Diego (called America’s Finest City) this month alone. This is the highest rate since the dark days when it seemed every beef ended in a shooting and retaliation. Leaving bodies and broken homes. Multiple suicide attempts are occurring. We must not allow this to happen again. 

Captain Scott Wahl of the San Diego Police Department (and former high school coach) agrees and says “Isolation is having a major impact on the students forced to stay away from schools today. Intangibles that normalize a student’s lives are gone. Interactions and communication lines are severed. Coach to player, teacher to student, it is gone… there is a gap in filling the void until they learn the new ways of doing things. Structure is critical for these kids. Even more so when a home may be broken…. Sitting around all day by themselves. Gang violence is up. Suicide attempts are way up, and we need to normalize and give them their lives back.”

Coach Dunn’s player was struggling in school, with the distance learning, distance from his friends and coaches and he was falling deep into the cracks. His grades were bad and he was embarrassed. He stopped going to the approved football workouts which the district supported. He told his mom he was going to quit football and that he didn’t like it, but in reality, he didn’t want people to know he was failing. He was depressed and failing.

Coach Dunn noticed he wasn’t at practices and one of his players told him he quit the team. Dunn and his coaches couldn’t call him into the football office like they would have done if school was in session, so Coach Dunn got into his mobile office (car) and drove to the neighborhood where he hung out. Dave also talked to the guys hanging out on the nearby corners as only a former star NFL player and one who grew up in the neighborhood could. These guys, many former athletes, supported Coach Dunn’s efforts to keep the young athletes off the streets and in school, playing sports and breaking the cycle. Depression is real and we must let the Kids Play. 

I had shootings happen twice during my time as head coach at Hoover High School and know the feeling of despair when you get that late night phone call that your player had been shot. One did not survive as he was hit in the back, heroically covering up the intended victim and the other survived a bullet in the middle of his chest. I call it the “magic bullet” because it should have killed Shawn. 

Coach Brian Ufoa has a solution. While CIF and the Governor are cautiously waiting, players and coaches are impatiently preparing for the season. Coach Ufoa has become one of the first coaches in America to form his own league and form teams to play. The Tipping Point for him was the Suicide of a student athlete at Steele Canyon High School where Coach Ufoa is a walk-on Asst Coach. Coach Ufoa gave his reasons for starting the team. “The suicide got us all past the Tipping Point. Our AD Charles Tyler and I agreed something had to be done and I decided to put myself out there. My intention was not to offend anybody but it is necessary to get our kids the opportunity that so many other states have had. Our kids are suffering from anxiety and depression. I had to impact as many people as possible in a positive way. We had been talking about Club Teams since summer and if the worst case happened, we could do it. The worst case has happened because other states have proven that it is possible to play in a safe manner. We’re going to create a safe neutral league and play a short season. We are going to support these kids and give them the opportunity they are looking for. They want engagement, normalcy and we are going to give it to them.” 

Coach Dunn and other coaches can’t risk their programs or jobs in the political educational game. One board member, teacher, parent or administrator can end a career with a witch hunt. Coaches do not have protection from powerful teacher unions like teachers do. I have experienced this with an unethical and out of control school administration and was not afforded protection from the teachers union. You have no protection but to sue the district. 

Coaches’ hands are tied but Torrey Pines Head coach Ron Gladnick has risked his career by delving into the political arena and quagmire. He is a successful retired businessman and can afford to have his team stripped from him. Coach Gladnick has one agenda. Let the Kids Play. He currently has a Facebook page of 10,000 players, coaches and parents who want the same. “The strategy is simple. Give us the opportunity to present real data from our state and the 39 states that have already played a full football season. Or organize 6000 coaches statewide working in our communities with thousands of volunteers to collect recall signatures.” The threat is real. You can join his movement and join the Facebook page LET THE KIDS PLAY. Lets get politics out of high school sports once and for all. 

- Coach Jerry Ralph

Coach Ralph was the 2000 NFL High School Coach of the year. His teams won CIF in 2005 and 2006 and Lincoln and in 2018 at El Camino High School. He received a National award from Jon Gruden And Dick’s Sporting Goods for his work with Hoover High School and invented the CrossCheck APP at Crosschk.com to help coaches and teachers to communicate about student success. Coach Ralph has started the CoachRalph.org Raising Hope Team non- profit.  Coach Ralph played nose guard and rugby at the University of San Diego. He is married to Kindergarten Teacher, Sue Ralph and has three successful kids, Riley 26, DJ 19, and Courtney 15. He can be contacted at Jerome@Coachralph.org or @coachralph. 

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