College Coaches Tried to Get Recruits to Stay during Baltimore Riots

© Patrick Smith/Getty Images Police in riot gear arrest a man who was on the street past the issued curfew on North Avenue after Baltimore authorities released a report on the death of Freddie Gray on May 1, 2015 in Baltimore.
© Patrick Smith/Getty Images Police in riot gear arrest a man who was on the street past the issued curfew on North Avenue after Baltimore authorities released a report on the death of Freddie Gray on May 1, 2015 in Baltimore.

The riots that gripped the city late last month were taking place just a few blocks away when Coppin State men’s basketball player Christian Kessee received a phone call from his mother. 

“She wanted to know how quickly I could get to the airport,” the junior guard said.

Kessee said that he and his teammates stayed together on campus and vowed to “take care of each other and ride it out together,” but despite attempts by coach Michael Grant to reassure members of Coppin’s eight-player recruiting class, some future teammates made a different decision.

“The parents were very, very concerned,” said Grant, whose team went 8-23 in his first season. “Some dealt with it pretty well, and a couple of kids we ended up losing because of the activity going on. They said that they didn’t want their kids in that type of environment.

“We tried to explain to them that ‘this can happen anywhere and by the time your kids get back here in late August, it all should be done.’ But they just didn’t want to deal with it at all. They know what’s best for their kids and their families, and what environment they want their kids in.”

As news stations around the country showed buildings being burned down, stores being looted and law enforcement officials engaged in standoffs with angry citizens, college coaches and athletic administrators from across the city embraced a variety of challenges, from making sure their current student athletes stayed out of trouble to reassuring potential ones that their campus remained a safe and sheltered environment.

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Coppin State, the college closest to the rioting that followed the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old man who died while in Baltimore police custody, was the only athletic department to report that it lost potential recruits. But all of the city’s collegiate athletic programs were affected in some ways by the civil unrest that spurred emotion, uncertainty, and in many cases, good deeds among student athletes.

“Am I concerned about the long-term effects? Yes, but you can’t really tell that right now,” said Coppin State athletic director Derrick Ramsey. “We lost a couple of athletes, but nobody else has asked for their release. I’m always concerned about it. You want to get the best student athletes, but we’re in a constant battle anyway because we’re in an urban area. It certainly makes it difficult when you see the images around the country and around the world. It was unsettling, but I think our athletes did an incredible job.”

At Morgan State, school president David Wilson sent a letter and map to parents, detailing the distance of the Northeast Baltimore university from the majority of the violence. Bears football coach Lee Hull canceled study hall for a couple of nights to help his players abide by the city-imposed curfew and spent time fielding phone calls from concerned parents and recruits.

“Obviously, the commitments that are out of state kind of don’t know the lay of the land,” Hull said. “I was very transparent when parents had some concerns. I made sure that they understood where we were located and they felt comfortable sending their sons to us. … We’re in a neighborhood where safety is not an issue.”

Along with reassuring parents and recruits, Loyola Maryland men’s basketball coach G.G. Smith called his players together to remind them to be careful with what they wrote on social media and to discuss potential safety concerns. He then had his assistant, Keith Booth, address the group.

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Source: Baltimore Sun | Jeff Zrebiec

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