By Kathy Chouteau
Ken Carter, the former Richmond High basketball coach portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson in the 2005 movie “Coach Carter,” recently returned to Richmond to help out the Nystrom Elementary School basketball team, where his grandson Damien Carter is a player.
Fondly known as “Coach Carter,” the basketball guru helped Nystrom Elementary School Coach Kevin Armstrong run drills on Friday to prepare the team for a first-round playoff game in the West Contra Costa Unified School District’s (WCCUSD) Richmond Elementary School Sports League. Sixth-seeded Nystrom was matched up against third-seeded King Elementary Saturday in the seven-team tournament.
Although Nystom’s team lost to King 29-14, Nystrom Sports League Site Coordinator Andre Shumake, Sr. said that they took away some great lessons from Coach Carter such as good sportsmanship and having confidence.
“They learned to take the skills from the court—that same aggressive effort—and bring it into the classroom,” said Shumake. “They are students first, then athletes.”
The WCCUSD’s Richmond Elementary School Sports League, which is co-ed, is currently in its third year and supports both academics and athletics for fourth and fifth graders at 12 elementary schools throughout Richmond. Coach Carter gained notoriety during his coaching days for emphasizing the importance of academics.
When asked why he wanted to help out with Nystrom’s basketball team, Coach Carter said, “I came in from Texas to do a little coaching with them and to get them organized. Because this [experience] is going to change some of these kids’ lives. Hands down. Whether you’re educating kids in Texas or educating kids in Richmond, it doesn’t matter, as long as we’re educating kids.”
Coach Carter said kids need to be taught they “don’t get paid by the hour, they get paid by the value they bring to the hour.”
“Being part of a team and being disciplined, being respectful is the greatest thing you can be in your life,” Coach Carter said. “And working hard is a skill. And being respectful—that’s a skill. People in Hollywood couldn’t remember my name but they called me ‘the real polite young man.’”
According to Craig Lazzeretti in a special report for the WCCUSD, “The merging of athletics and academics is at the heart of the thriving co-ed league for 12 Richmond elementary schools, which is now in its third year.” In order for students to participate, teachers must sign off that they are working hard in class.
The sports league also includes a flag football tournament and soccer season and emphasizes core values such as sportsmanship, respect, responsibility and discipline, per the WCCUSD report.
Asked what it means to his team to have Coach Carter involved, Coach Armstrong said, “It’s a huge deal and the kids love it. To have a coach and a celebrity like him taking the time out to show them the keys and the ropes of the game—it’s a big deal.”
Although the team’s basketball season is over, they have plans to get together and watch the movie Coach Carter together at the school, according to Shumake. He noted that Coach Carter donated the team’s uniforms this year and said that he “hopes other companies will adopt a school [in the future] like Coach Carter did.”
Learn more about the WCCUSD Richmond Elementary School Sports League here.