Coach's Corner: Sam Knopik 4/3
By Sam Knopik Pembroke Hill Head Coach
Last week Kansas City area high school football suffered a loss with the resignation of University Academy’s Damon Paul.
We have all known the plight of Kansas City’s lack of quality educational experiences in the urban core. However, through the red tape and political gamesmanship that continues on year after year there are a few individuals who rise above the blight and give young people in their sphere of influence something about their schools in which to be proud.
There are wonderful educators, administrators, and council members in the Kansas City School District, however we rarely hear about their accomplishments or efforts in a positive light. Some, like the founders of charter schools such as University Academy have attempted to create real change with sound vision, hard work, and most importantly- good people.
It was a fortuitous day when Damon Paul walked into the warehouse building that once housed a newly established University Academy. He was looking for young people who might want to be a part of his youth football club, where he could work to teach them lessons through the game.
You see Damon Paul is a businessman. When he wasn’t buying/selling real estate in at least two states he was doing his best to raise his own young family and the lessons of sports were always a part of that process.
Disenfranchised with the way youth sports were going in the city, like other aspects of the educational process, he started his own club. All that changed though when University Academy recognized that this man, looking to work with their kids, might just help elevate their entire school.
Paul was soon hired as the school’s first football coach and athletic director. He became instrumental in the foresight that went into the development of the school’s current location on 68th and Holmes, one of the most picturesque pieces of architecture in the area.
Paul quickly went to work carving out a niche for the fledgling school and athletic program. He never shied away from an opponent of any size maintaining that the process would only make his boys stronger.
The first few years were not pretty, if you were keeping score with the box score. However, those of us who were getting to know Damon, his vision, and his philosophy understood that those young people at University Academy were getting the best of education: a good school, and teachers/coaches who were going the distance for them.
By their fifth season the Griffins were perennial winners making trips to the post-season annually. By the time this Class 1 squad put over 60 points up on a Class 3, state ranked opponent last fall, everyone around was catching wind that there was another city school to be reckoned with.
However, Coach Paul and his staff had been following the same formula since day one. Their summers were spent taking the team on a college visit caravan playing in 7-on-7 tournaments around the country.
While their prowess in this phase of the game also began to show in the fall it was not even close to the primary reason for the summer road trips. Coach Paul wanted to change the paradigm of his kids. He wanted them to see college campuses. He wanted college coaches to see his kids. Mission accomplished.
The Griffins currently have several players on college rosters throughout the country from Division 1 to NAIA schools. College coaches know that a Damon Paul coached player is going to know how to study, train, interact with adults, and of course play the game.
Coach Paul is not alone in having done a superior job with his teams in the city. We have some great coaching staffs in our urban core. These are special men who are standing in the gap for families and young people. Nevertheless, Coach Paul will be missed. I hope some others were paying attention and are willing and able to pick up the baton.
For more information regarding what each of us can do to create and assist in the solution towards answering the call in America’s educational crisis I encourage you to visit Waiting for Superman
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