Friday, October 9, 2015

Former Oakland mayoral candidate Bryan Parker's game plan for East Oakland

Bryan Parker, center, helped Castlemont High's 
football team raise $14,000 for new uniforms.
OAKLAND | On a blustery late afternoon at Oakland’s Castlemont High School in July, members of the football team’s receiving corps ran play after play. “Thirty-two-in!” called out former Oakland mayoral candidate Bryan Parker. The play, a simple 10-yard slant route toward the teeth of imaginary defenders, can be intimidating in real life, and in this moment caught the receiver out of position. “Why are you there?” Parker asked the disconsolate young man, who pounded his fist to the ball.

The Castlemont Knights have long been just as downtrodden on the field as the depressed area surrounding the East Oakland school. A group, including Parker, is hoping to rebuild pride in the school and the community through efforts to build up the football program while also instilling confidence in the young men on the field.

On the surface, the team’s set of uniforms were worn, mended haphazardly, and generally raggedy. The scoreboard is temperamental; during Castlemont’s first game this season, players and fans were left to guess how many yards were needed for a first down and what quarter it was. Castlemont’s artificial turf is degrading; its long plastic blades are matted and frayed, and feel more like thick carpet than an approximation of real grass.

But these problems are cosmetic compared to the fact that many of Castlemont’s players are underprivileged. Castlemont head football coach Edward Washington, a star cornerback for the Knights a decade ago, said some players would pull him to the side and ask, “Coach, I don’t have any food at the house; could you come through for me?” Other times they would ask to borrow a dollar here and there for snacks or a soda, he said.

Castlemont clearly needed help. Washington, in his second year as head coach, earns only a one-time $1,700 stipend to coach the team, nowhere near enough to put back into the team. Attracting talented football players to Castlemont is also a hard sell because of its location.

Castlemont’s enrollment should be around 1,500 to 2,000 students but is 500. “How do I bring up a football team if everything is against me?” Washington asked.

Enter Parker and others.

In late 2013, as Parker ramped up his campaign for Oakland mayor with house parties and fundraisers, Washington was drawn to Parker and attended an event. The subject of Castlemont football’s plight and Washington’s plan to turn it around intrigued Parker. He then offered to help raise money for the cause.

“The only thing is,” Washington told Parker, “if you help out, you have to be consistent, because these kids are used to inconsistency in their lives.”