Story by: BY EBONY CARRINGTON OF OOWEE SPORTS NATION
It’s a classic story of cause and effect. The newly famed South Oak Cliff High School Football team reached the height of achievement last season when they won the state championship title, marking Dallas ISD’s first UIL title since 1950. The Golden Bears’ title was the first UIL recognized state title since Dallas Sunset’s title in 1950, and the first Dallas ISD title since Booker T. Washington won a PVIL title in 1958.
Such a victory may not have been possible, if not for the backing of the community, students, faculty and staff who rallied to challenge and protest on behalf of the school’s worsening conditions. Following a two-year struggle, the 68-year-old school received a $60 million extreme makeover — just in time for football season.
“Having the right equipment is key in any sport. With a new practice field and facilities, we finally had all the pieces for things to begin to click together,” Running Back Coach Keith Davis said. “We were better able to hone our craft and really focus on being successful.”
Before the renovation occurred, the SOC football team was displaced. They had no facilities to train or a field for practice. They would bus to Kincaide and Sprague Stadiums, which caused inconsistency and hardship when players couldn’t attend due to late hours and distance. Offensive lineman (#72) Dennis Jones shared that the team had less time to work out going back and forth to various places for practice, up to 30-40 minutes a day was lost.
Jones (18) said the team was first displaced, then COVID hit. There were a lot (including himself) who felt really down and low. Yet, it was the support from the coaches that kept them going during those bad times, and the promise of better days with the assurance of better conditions ahead. He said the new facility was a game changer, and with it the team was able to put in more time. Everything they needed was already onsite and readily available when class let out.
“This win means everything — not just for the team, but for everyone. It’s given the city morale, put the school on the map and given a legacy to the kids now and into the future,” Coach Davis said. “[The Mecca] will be talked about for years to come.
In response to the win, the SOC football team received an outpouring of love and support locally — parades in their honor, recognition from the City with a proclaimed South Oak Cliff Day, including a gift of a custom-made suit, complete with a gold jacket.
Defensive Line Coach Kyle Ward said he can’t help but see the parallels of what has happened for SOC as an inner city school and the growing popularity for athletic programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
“SOC was the definition of the struggle that HBCUs are currently undergoing [in athletics] with rundown facilities, but a whole lot of potential inside,” Ward said. “People had to fight for SOC to have district funding. If we could brave that battle, imagine what having the support of an alumni and having a village mentality can do for an HBCU. It’s the same principle, just another level.”
As a former Alcorn State University football player (for one year), Ward experienced the camaraderie of being at an HBCU, but also the neglected conditions of a struggling athletics program.
“I ended up [at Alcorn] Fall of 2003 when I overshot during my recruiting process. I committed there on a 50/50 scholarship where I played football and ran track,” Ward shared. “It was an extreme culture shock being in the middle of nowhere. It was more homegrown, and I was just used to being exposed to more. There was a lack of resources and only one cafeteria serving per day. Just a total lack of familiarity.”
In recent years, committing to an HBCU hasn’t been the top choice in athletics. Ward said he thinks it had a lot to do with the makeup of HBCUs (primarily in football). There’s been a formula in place for several years where they relied heavily on D1 transfers, not necessarily recruiting top tier players on their own. However, there seems to be a shift occurring.
According to HBCU Gameday, “the focus on ‘stars’ in HBCU football recruiting is arguably higher in 2021 than it has ever been … between the push for higher visibility of black colleges in athletics, increased coverage by media outlets and Deion Sanders arrival at Jackson State University, the level of attention paid to HBCU recruiting has never been higher.”
“What’s going on at Jackson State with football is amazing,” Ward said. “I think it’s in the beginning stages. We’re all seeing what HBCUs could be, what they could be like, and we’re all rallying behind that. But, creating the opportunities doesn’t automatically mean [HBCUs] will be in the running — there’s a progression to it.”
Ward said he’s been at SOC for the past 7 years working with linemen and chipping at the iceberg for a championship. He shared that things didn’t come easy, that it was a process, just as it will be for HBCUs to rise back to success. He said for some, it will take boosting their marketing — Texas Southern University recently created a Twitter page. For others, it could be requesting support from alumni to build up facilities or get better uniforms.
“HBCUs are at a deficit in comparison to the other D1 schools vying after these kids. We are generally not known for having the best or at being competitive,” he stated.
“I think the NIL is changing a lot of things, giving kids more of an opportunity. But for HBCUs, alumni have to be more involved in recruiting and standing up the school. We’re always looking for the kids to save us, but this time, it has to be us standing up and building something for these kids to want to go to.”
Ward hopes there will be more of an interest in committing to HBCUs for the next season’s signing class. Of the 12 seniors committed to colleges this year, only one has committed to an HBCU. In the last two weeks, (Dennis) Jones made the decision to commit to Texas Southern University, where he feels he will fit right in.
“Over the summer, I attended a camp where I was able to showcase my skills,” he said. “I met up with the O-line coach and established a relationship, then just a few weeks ago, I was invited to come and visit, then offered a spot on the team.”
Jones said the experience was a lot like what he feels at SOC, like it’s home. He said he felt supported, like there were people around that cared. He even shared that there was a spark or a bit of soul nestled at TSU that would be hard to find elsewhere.
“I’ve been to visit schools like OU and TCU. Yeah, sure they had great facilities and even better funding,” he shared. “It’s so obvious, the one time they gave funding to an inner city school — we made it all the way to the championship. Imagine if schools like Grambling or TSU were to receive that same level of support, just imagine what they could do.”
He said what he’s looking forward to the most is changing the program. TSU isn’t known as a program that wins, he stated. But with a new head coach and other athletes being brought onboard (like Jones), he thinks TSU will get ahead, maybe even obtain a SWAC (Southwest Atlantic Conference) Championship.
Jones feels there’s yet more work to be done. There have been strides to host HBCU combines, which he feels is a step in the right direction — but he also doesn’t understand the separation. He doesn’t feel like it’s sending the right messaging, instead showcasing that they’re not on the same level.
“People aren’t going for HBCUs because their advertisement isn’t there. When you have to search to find the games being shown on a completely different channel than mainstream games, that’s not change,” he said. “I think we all agree that Deion is doing the right thing, trying to get the word out about HBCUs. I just hope it continues to be enough.”