Courageous Cougars: Karr High School football team shows success on and off the field
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - For years, playing winning football has come easy for the Karr Cougars. But everything that leads up to their games, oftentimes, comes after their games it gets harder by the day.
Keyron Ross’ killing back on Jan. 26 was the latest ‘loss of life’ from Karr’s student body.
Ten months prior to that, someone shot and killed another classmate and teammate, Caleb Johnson.
The cycle of violence and these football players’ ability to rise above it is the focus of a new documentary called, “Algiers, America”, set to debut next spring.
Jackson Fager is the project’s creator and director.
“What I have done here is I’ve followed one community, one group of people, one team, and a group of characters during two and a half years”, said Fager.
Through both a pandemic and Hurricane Ida, Fader and his film crew remained alongside the people that love Karr the most. Even when those same people weren’t all-in on opening themselves up to a stranger.
“And this is a really tight-knit community, as in this whole city’s tight-knit,” said Karr alum Dr. Ashonta Wyatt. “Everyone knows everyone. right? And so, if you want to get the buy-in from one person, well, there’s 20 other people connected to that person who also have to agree.”
And Dr. Wyatt is one of those ‘connected’ people that wanted to know Fager’s motive.
“I was leery about people coming into my community, telling the same old story, you know, all of the tragedy without the triumph. I just tried to let them know that I thought what they were doing was incredible and I would be honored to be a part of it,” Wyatt said.
Being a part of it meant, letting the people that give this school life, tell their stories like Brice Brown, who is Karr’s head football coach, but he wears more hats than that on a daily basis.
“I think that’s what goes with any head coach at any school, you know. You have to wear these hats because so many people are counting on you,” said Brown.
In Brown’s case, counting on him to have the right words to say when times get hard.
Because at Karr, few have had to deal with the pain and the truth of death quite like Brown has. He’s lost 17 players to gun violence since he’s been coaching here.
But, his pain goes even further than that because gun violence also took his father’s life. Which is why the tough conversations that Brown has with his players are so important
“That’s the approach for every coach. We were once where they were,” said Brown. “If you are a 15-16-year-old young man who lost his dad due to violence, we can relate to that. You have three or four coaches on this staff that can relate to that scenario. We have to be willing to have a tough conversation. And sometimes that conversation leads to tears, leads to a certain type of emotion where they’re not comfortable expressing.”
Brown believes that when you speak in black and white, it’s a responsibility that people don’t people understand about, specifically about black male coaches because they have to take on a role.
“A lot of our coaches are focusing on things that have absolutely nothing to do with football,” said Dr. Wyatt. “But you have to take care of that thing to get to the football. And we understand that Brice understands that he takes on that responsibility. And he does so without complaining about it.”
And the reward comes on National Signing Day. When the players commit to play college football somewhere, anywhere.
“That’s important. And yeah, it’s important because they have to feel like and they have to understand that there is a place outside of here where you can have success, and where loss of life or drugs or gun violence is not normal. And we have to be able to present that to them,” said Brown.
It ends up being a real page-turning moment for these kids. A chance to experience something beyond the hard life they’re living in Algiers.
Quarterback AJ Samuel is the headliner of this year’s senior class. And while he’s looking forward to what comes next, he’s also mindful of what the school will need from him when he eventually comes back.
“That’s what our main goal is. Not just keep knowledge you learned and the skills you’ve learned, but to give back to the people who were here after you. That’s what those previous guys did, guys before them and helped you out. That’s what the main goal is.,” said Samuels.
Samuel won’t be the only Cougar getting an opportunity to further his education and playing career because Karr sends double-digit numbers off to play college football every year.
And while Brown sees this simply as him following through on his commitment to his players, it’s much bigger than that.
“His wins and losses, in my opinion, are bigger than what happens on the football field,” said Dr. Wyatt. “He’s saving lives. He’s putting children in college. He’s helping to raise boys into men.”
Dr. Wyatt believes Brown’s job goes far beyond just X’s and O’s. She sees Brown as a father figure for a bunch of young men that don’t have fathers in their lives.
“I think what I see too is the legacy of what all of these people actually poured into coach Brown. Him giving back to his community and to his scholars.”
This is why many think this documentary and Karr’s story, needs to be told now, more than ever.
Because their work to save a child’s life and the wait to celebrate a child’s achievements never stops. Especially in “Algiers, America.”
“If you can save at least one of these children, you are successful,” said Brown. “Don’t look at these championships here at Karr and think that that is real. Those championships to me have no substance and no value. The substance and value is when you see these kids who are living at home, sometimes don’t have a meal, and they graduate on May 15. And they walk across that stage, that’s substance. That’s value. Those championship rings they’re collecting dust on the counter.”
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