August 4, 2020—Student-athlete football players from Shaker Heights High School and Kirtland High School will partner this year in the Build the Bridge program, which strives to create opportunities for all team members to build relationships and mutual respect between diverse communities, regardless of their race, class or creed. The program partners predominantly Black teams with predominantly white teams and builds a coalition of coaches, players, parents, administration and community members to foster the success of student-athletes through social-emotional, educational, and athletic advancement.
“We’re excited for this partnership because participation in sports has so much potential to break down barriers and stereotypes,” says Alex Nicholson, Shaker Heights High School Varsity Football Coach. “For many of our athletes, it’s about building trusting relationships. The students can have these honest conversations and learn to empathize in ways that can shape their outlook and build relationships that can last a lifetime. Our student-athletes, from both schools, wouldn't have this opportunity if it wasn't for sports."
At 1 p.m. on Saturday, September 5, the Shaker Heights High School Raider varsity football team will face the Kirtland Hornets in the Raider’s only scheduled home game for the season. The two teams were not originally scheduled to face each other this fall in competition, but decided to schedule the game because of their partnership in the program. The game will be available to watch on the Shaker Heights High School Athletics Live Stream.
Shaker Heights High School Varsity Football Captain Noah Foster, who is a senior, looks forward to having open discussions with his peers from Kirtland. “It’s important that we look at this as a long-term relationship,” Foster says. “If it wasn’t for Build the Bridge, we wouldn’t have this opportunity to play Kirtland or to get to know each other.”
Athletic Director Michael Babinec, like Foster, has his eye on the long-term possibility of the program. “This can’t be a one-time thing,” he says. “Once we emerge from COVID, students from both schools could have the opportunity to engage in ways that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”
For now, Babinec says the teams are considering virtual possibilities such as online video game tournaments and connecting via social media. When COVID restrictions ease, the teams will consider in-person meetings that follow physical distancing guidelines.
Shaker Heights High School principal says that the Build the Bridge program presents all students with an opportunity to find their voices.
“Our students are very much aware of the racial tensions that exist in our country,” says Mr. Juli. “As schools, it’s our job to help students develop their voices as citizens. The program helps them do just that.”
The Build the Bridge program was established by Cleveland Heights Varsity Football Coaches Mac Stephens and Kahari Hicks and Beachwood High School Varsity Football Head Coach Damion Creel. More than 80 Northeast Ohio high school football teams have already signed up to participate in 2020. Additionally, the program has earned the support of the Cleveland Browns and 850 ESPN Cleveland.