The mother of eighth grade special teams player Freddy Mercado, Jajaira Mercado, has sent some of her older children to the Rogers and has seen wholesale changes at the school since football was implimented.
“I’ve seen a lot of kids with anger issues, issues at home … things like that,” she said. “And [football]is the one thing that they have. I don’t know, it would just bring a smile to their face and they could feel good about themselves.
“It’s just so good for them. I talked to a lot of the kids, but I didn’t even have to talk to them to see it.”
Science teacher and assistant coach Grady McClinton’s classroom has two vertical rows of desks facing each other. The seating arrangement accommodates about 30 students.
Posters around the room display the periodic table of elements, different stages of evolution and charts with equations on them. At the back of the room next to the windows, two disco balls hang down from the ceiling.
Sam Roman, an eighth grader and linebacker, gets out of his chair. It screeches a little bit, but the students in the fairly quiet room aren’t disturbed by it. Neither is McClinton.
He walks over to the disco ball nearest his seat in the back, touches it, and looks up at the array of white circles of light cluttering the classroom’s tall ceiling.
He surveys the entire ceiling – his eyes dancing around from side to side– and then Roman spins the disco ball, trying to make the white circles in the dim classroom move quicker.
“If you do it slower it’ll work better,” interjects McClinton in a casual tone but strong voice. He goes on to talk about prisms and the changes in light. Roman doesn’t seem too bothered, his eyes still peaking up at the ceiling. He spins it again, this time at a slower pace, and the white circles slowly bounce around the walls and ceiling.
McClinton smiles and focuses back on the grading he was doing. Roman’s peers are getting more distracted by the second, and now they – like Roman – are staring around the room, their eyes darting from wall to wall.
This is one of two classrooms with a study hall at the Rogers. The team won its game over Mildred Ave. Middle School a day earlier.
The coaches emphasize all year that academic success will carry most of these students farther than football will. After the season is over, the work doesn’t stop. Shavis and the other coaches make sure the players stay on top of their homework.
“Academically, yeah, (football) keeps them tight,” said Shavis. “With Play Ball! and being able to hold that over their heads a little bit, it does keep them straight.”
But the first marking period academically for the middle school doesn’t occur until football season’s almost over.
Shavis and the coaches have found a way to keep these students on top of their academic game throughout the whole school year.
“Now you add in the fact that you have high school coaches who are actually coming down to see the kids play.
“You get into the locker room and tell them, ‘Hey, BC High was out there, [Archbishop Williams], Catholic Memorial was out there.’ But if you’re not pulling those grades throughout that whole year, that’s going to dwindle. They want to keep the grades going all year long.”
Shavis brings up eighth grader Jurgens Michel, who is an honor roll student and linebacker/running back. “Jurgens … he’s probably at the library right now,” he says.
Michel is one who understands the importance of education. He’s not the only player who does his work consistently, though.
“These kids love going to the library,” said Shavis, who reminisces on his time spent at the middle school in the early 1990s. “We didn’t really go to the library like that when I was here. Play Ball! brought in a different dynamic to the school.
“You had school spirit and things like that, but now you have school spirit on steroids.”
Shavis thinks the camaraderie is stronger now around the school community. The students rally around the football team and they motivate each other to do academic work.
“You have other kids who have no problem – if they know you’re on the football team – telling you, ‘Yo, did you hand in that homework assignment?’ or ‘Hey, did you go to the library? Because you know if you don’t pull your grades up you’re not playing,’ ” Shavis said.
“Kids that aren’t even on the team are telling kids that are on the team to go to the library and do their homework.”
Six days after the semifinal games at Harvard Stadium on Nov. 9, Edwards Middle School faced Rogers in a back-and-forth championship game at White Stadium in Jamaica Plain. Continued...