Monday, July 08, 2002

Schools compete to find harmony

Taft-Goshen program tries to bridge kids' racial divide

By Michael D. Clark,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Taft High athletic director Eric Martin and Goshen AD Bill Schmidbauer.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        GOSHEN TOWNSHIP — In less than 60 days, a Greater Cincinnati racial diversity initiative will be wrapped around a Friday night high school football game.

        On Aug. 30, busloads of football players, coaches, officials, cheerleaders and fans from the predominantly African-American Taft High School in the West End will drive deep into rural Clermont County.

        Their destination will be predominantly white Goshen High School, but in a sense, officials from both schools hope to reach a more racially harmonious place — one that has been elusive for some in Greater Cincinnati.

        Players, coaches, cheerleaders and school officials will dine together in a mid-afternoon, pregame meal at Goshen hours before the Friday night kick-off before an expected crowd of 4,500.

        A party-like mixer will entertain fans from both schools and pregame speeches will extol the virtues of combining intense athletic competition with mutual respect, regardless of skin color.

        The prep football game, and its special pregame activities, are the most striking results to date of Anthony Munoz's activism to join Greater Cincinnatians of different races.

        “This is a big step. It's huge,” said Mr. Munoz, former Cincinnati Bengal and NFL Hall of Fame lineman who was chairman of last month's Billy Graham Mission in Paul Brown Stadium.

        Last month, Mr. Munoz's annual football camp at Sycamore High School included 100 inner-city Cincinnati boys who normally wouldn't have had a chance to learn from some of the area's most acclaimed high school football coaches.

        But it was the recently formed Anthony Munoz Foundation's Youth Leadership Seminar in April that led to the Aug. 30 game. The seminar, held at Xavier University's Cintas Center, attracted more than 400 black and white students from dozens of Greater Cincinnati high schools (STORY).

        That event included speeches from the black and white coaches who inspired the Hollywood hit movie Remember The Titans. Until then, Taft Athletic Director Eric Martin, an African-American, had never met Goshen's head of athletics, Bill Schmidbauer, who is white.

        Quickly, the two discovered a shared passion for sports and its character-building potential. A friendship developed and, conveniently, their football schedules each had a hole on Aug. 30.

        Their schools' differences in race, income and geography — Taft primarily serving low-income, inner-city families, with Goshen catering to primarily middle-class, suburban and rural families — were potential opposites, they thought, that could attract.

        “We're as white as Taft is black,” said Mr. Schmidbauer while relaxing during a recent meeting with Mr. Martin at Goshen. “Diversity to us is having a red-haired kid sit with a brunette.

        “We wanted to do something assertive for our kids and try to make this a learning experience for them. We want our kids to sit across the table and talk ... to open up a dialogue and friendship between two diverse schools,” said Mr. Schmidbauer.

        Mr. Martin, himself a Taft graduate, also sees the game — and its pre- and post-game activities — as a learning experience for racially isolated black Taft students who rarely get a chance to interact with white teens.

        “I don't think our kids have enough peer-age experience with whites,” said Mr. Martin, who grew up in Over-the-Rhine and went on to graduate from predominantly white Wilmington College in Clinton County.

        “I'm a strong believer in the power of young people. That's where you can change things,” he said. “I believe it and I've lived it.”

        The football game is just one part of the new cooperative effort between Taft and Goshen. Goshen's boys and girls basketball teams will later travel to Taft to scrimmage and non-athletic student programs are planning a series of exchanges.

        Goshen sophomore Amanda Tedrick described collaborating with Taft as “an adventure” for her and many of her classmates, who have little if any contact with African-Americans.

        “It will prepare us for the outside world when we grow up and starting it in sports is a good idea,” said the 15-year-old, who attended Mr. Munoz's leadership seminar and plays basketball, volleyball and track for Goshen. “It will gives us a chance to learn more about what African-American teens think.”

        Taft junior LaTia Webster, a football cheerleader, already is appreciative of having met white suburban teens at the seminar, which dispelled one stereotype for her.

        “I thought they would all be preppy but the seminar made me look at white students different,” said the 16-year-old Westwood resident. “Now I want to see how their life is out there and they can see how I am.”

        Neither athletic director suffers the delusion that a single football game, or a student exchange program, will change the world, but both steadfastly hold out for the possibility of progress.

        “Maybe other schools will take this chance,” said Mr. Schmidbauer.

        Said Mr. Munoz: “I'm glad this is the first, but I hope it won't be the last.”


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