COACH KEN CARTER … MOVIE BASED ON HIS LIFE, COACH CARTER; PORTRAYED BY SAMUEL L. JACKSON … HEAD COACH, RICHMOND HIGH SCHOOL (RICHMOND, CA) BASKETBALL TEAM, 1997 2002 … GRADUATED AS RICHMOND HIGH’S ALL-TIME LEADING BASKETBALL SCORER … RICHMOND HIGH SCHOOLLETTERED IN FOUR SPORTS PLAYER Coaching is nothing more than eliminating mistakes before you get fired. L OU HOLTZ, legendary college football coach Everything I am and everything I am not I owe to sports. Practice does not make you perfect. Practice makes you better. Average is not good enough. COA CH CARTER 56 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME Ihad an advantage over other high school athletes because my brother was a high school All-American. I saw how hard he worked, and I knew success came with a price before I even walked into the gym. I had a real good high school career and left as the team’s all-time scoring leader. What I’m most proud of is being the first one at practice and the first one to finish his running, and if I wasn’t playing well, my coaches would pull me over and discuss it with me and not treat me like the other kids.
They did this because I think they recognized how motivated I was and they saw the drive I had. Why was I like that? In my family with seven sisters, you learned to take orders well, making it very similar to a team situation. What Coach Carter didn’t say is that Richmond, California, was the most dangerous city in the state. Fifty percent of the kids who entered high school there did not graduate, and students were eighty times more likely to go to jail than to college. He was way ahead of the game, defying the odds just by going to college. THE MOMENT: 1999 Coach Carter cares about you, it’s as simple as that. He won’t let us fail. WAYNE OLIVER, former player I put my sporting goods business on hold to take over the Richmond High basketball program. First, I instituted a nineteen-point pledge that each player had to sign. They could stay in the program if, among other things, they kept their grades at a minimum 2.3 average, attended all classes, and sat in the front row. The next season, our team was undefeated, going 13-0, but as I made rounds to check on my team grades, I discovered that fifteen of the forty-five players in our freshman, JV, and varsity program were failing. These kids were so caught up with their success on the court that they would not do their classroom work and were not responding to my crackdown. So I locked the gym.
I saw too many COACH KEN CARTER 57 high school legends left behind by life and I did not want to see that happen to these kids. I made them study every day until their grades came up. In the meantime, we forfeited two league games and made national news for putting school first. The team ended up 19 5, losing in the second round of the state tournament. Many people were upset, but the message came through to those kids and they knew they had only themselves to blame for the suspension. KEY I tell kids they have to make up their minds early that they won’t do drugs and that they will go to college, in order to be successful. If you make up your mind you will not cut class and will not smoke, when those things come in your path you will walk away. It’s the people without defined goals who are the most vulnerable. THE MOVIE We had so much national press that we had studios and producers calling me to do the movie on our team. Once the deal was done, I made sure to be on the set every day because I had to make sure the story was accurately told. I fought to get this done the right way. Even though they were making a movie, I felt as if I were still coaching. Samuel L. Jackson was a true pro. He didn’t stumble on one line, and he spent time with my family and my team. By the end, he was actually coaching in a live game. In the movie, they were actually playing and they had to make their shots, with no cutting away.
I made them get players and not actors to play my team and the other teams, and that, I think, was key to the movie’s success. THE MAGIC OF WRITING THINGS DOWN One day when I was eight years old, I came home from school and found my mom crying because she couldn’t pay the bills. I went into the other room and wrote down the following on a white piece of paper: Mom, one day they will make a movie about me and I will pay off all your bills and you will never have to cry ever again. It took thirty-five years, but it happened, and I still have that note today. 58 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME FINAL THOUGHTS The most important things in life are scores. Think about your grade point average and your credit scores. Those are numbers by which we are judged. Sports is decided by numbers and it’s how our team is often defined. So how is sports different from life? It isn’t. It is life. I always tell people to enjoy the process of earning a degree or buying a house, because often the process is more enjoyable than attaining the actual goal. MY WRAP You know from the first word that comes out of his mouth why a movie was made about Coach Carter. Myriad messages can be taken from his story, from writing down goals to the need for a strong family structure. Anyone who can book this coach as a keynote speaker should. He’s got an important message that parents and players need to hear. COACH KEN CARTER
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