The obstacles stacked up: classroom grade requirements, language barriers, paperwork and fundraising.
Professors Joseph Ewoodzie Jr. and Dan Layman undersold themselves on the potential difficulties of coaching the West Charlotte High School men's soccer team. Let's get past the clichés of "challenging" and "rewarding."
Try frustrating and glorious, dispiriting and inspired.
The idea to resurrect the program, defunct since 2015, grew out of a conversation between Ewoodzie and West Charlotte High School Principal Timisha Barnes-Jones '92, Ph.D.
Ewoodzie, the Malcolm O. Partin Assistant Professor of Sociology, partnered with Layman, an assistant professor of philosophy, to coach the team. They rounded out the coaching staff with Joe Johnson, longtime manager of the West Charlotte High School cafeteria, and Richy Tovar '19, a Bonner Scholar at Davidson.
The professors learned as they went, leaning on their own experiences in youth athletics as much as their careers as classroom teachers. The games were tough–a promising first half would give way to a crushing second.
"Most of the teams have played together for a while," said West Charlotte senior Manoah Tsegai. "We had to fight our way to the top. I've learned to accept that losing is a part of growing. Once you lose you learn what you did wrong, and the next game you get a lot better."
Barnes-Jones said when students are passionate about an extracurricular, that passion, commitment and feeling of belonging translates into academic performance.
"We want to build a positive mindset of who they are and what they can become," she said. "We tell our students that your dreams are on the other side of your grit."
Last year, 86 percent of West Charlotte students graduated on time, compared with 56 percent in 2012, before the school became the beneficiary of a public-private partnership known as Project LIFT. Barnes-Jones, a music major at Davidson and former teacher, just reached the 18-year mark with Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, the last six as West Charlotte's principal.
West Charlotte's rising graduation rate helped push it off North Carolina's low performing schools list this year and, for the first time, earn the designation of "high-growth school."
"Not only are our kids graduating, but they're graduating more college and career ready," Barnes-Jones said. "I'm excited to change the narrative in the community about West Charlotte to something really positive, because it's a great school."
Like their coaches, the five seniors and eight underclassmen on the West Charlotte Lions soccer team didn't really know what they were signing up for, but they stuck through intense practices in the late summer heat, through loss after loss. Most of them will be back next year. So will Ewoodzie and Layman, who plan to expand their coaching to helping with academics and preparing the students for college.
Those obstacles don't look as big anymore.
Prof. Joseph Ewoodzie Jr., Prof. Dan Layman and principal Timisha Barnes-Jones '92, Ph.D., partner to bring the men's soccer program back to West Charlotte High School after a two-year hiatus. Along with Joe Johnson, the school's cafeteria manager, and Richy Tovar '19, a Bonner Scholar at Davidson, the professors guide the inexperienced West Charlotte Lions through an unforgettable season.