The following blog post was taken from its original location, found here
Welcome to “Follow the Wildcats.” This recent basketball season I did my best to keep an accurate journal of the center-city high school basketball team for which I was the first-year head coach. “Follow the Wildcats” is a compilation of many stories, told through the lens of the Wildcats’ lives. Names and identities of people and places have been changed in deference to the people involved. But all of these stories are 100% true. Everything happened. Boy, did it ever.
I read the text message again: The cops are here arresting four of your players.
I looked around the sporting goods store for Ayo and Tony. We were here to get Ayo a new pair of sneakers for tonight’s game. I found the two boys on line at the checkout counter.
“Guys,” I said, walking past them to the exit, “we have to go. Now.”
They both stood still, shocked or defiant, maybe both. I walked back to them, whipped out my phone and showed them the text. They exchanged a quick, knowing glance and hustled out of the store with me.
“I am so glad I didn’t go into the store that day,” Ayo announced as we speed-walked between cars, “so, so glad, yo.” Tony walked in uneasy silence. I knew he couldn’t say the same thing — he’d been clearly visible on the surveillance video I’d seen.
Robbing stores, getting arrested, this was new territory for me. “I’m guessing they’re serving these four warrants first,” I said, as much to myself as to Ayo and Tony. “I don’t get really how it works, though.” I looked in the rear-view mirror at Tony as we waited at a red light. He was staring blankly out of the window.
“Ayo broke the silence. “How am I gon’ play without shoes, coach?” This likely wasn’t new territory for Ayo. He also hadn’t been with the guys when they robbed the store. He was in the clear here, and he knew it.
“We’ll figure it out,” I said, wishing this latest round with the police could be as easily “figured out” as getting Ayo some new sneaks.
We pulled up to the school. Four cop cars were parked outside, lights flashing. Two had a wheel up on the sidewalk. The other two were blocking traffic. A tall, skinny officer was waving cars by and talking on the radio clipped to his shoulder. A crowd of students mingled at the school’s entrance, and some staff members watched, too, their arms folded.
I told Tony to stay in the car as Ayo and I hopped out. If Tony got out of the car right now he could be handcuffed. Although the video didn’t show him stealing from the store, there could easily be a conspiracy charge. I knew it wasn’t right for me to shield him from being arrested. But it could mean everything to him that I keep him from being taken away, or that I least try and show him that I am aware of the threats he is facing.
A few students watching the scene unfold shouted at the police to leave them alone. “This is bullshit, yo!” I heard. “Always comin’ here when ya’ll know ya got bigger shit to handle.” One girl started crying and repeating Nique’s name.
I peered at the police cruisers. From what I could see, Nique was in one car by himself, Reggie and Tyrone were in another, Debo by himself in a third. They were surely all handcuffed, and surely some combination of angry, scared, confused, defiant.
Where in the world of education was there precedent for how to handle this?
I checked my watch. Three p.m. We had a game against Shortbridge Tech in four hours. I had no idea if these guys would play, could play, should play, but crazy at it sounds, right then my gut was telling me tonight’s game was all that these kids had.
I had four hours to find out how long the cops would keep them. Four hours to negotiate the situation with aunts, uncles, moms and cousins. Four hours to get them into a van, get their minds back into the game, and get to Shortbridge, where I knew the gym would be pulsating, filled to the brim and anxious for a home-opener win.
Fours hours to piece the Wildcats back together.
COME BACK SOON FOR MORE FROM “FOLLOW THE WILDCATS!”
NEXT UP: Hectic Negotiations Part II
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