Jr. Kays Football signups

Kankakee High School head football coach and Jr. Kays board member Derek Hart answers questions Tuesday evening at the second informational night and sign-ups for the Jr. Kays football program.

KANKAKEE — After much public debate and comments on social media have led to consternation on junior football in Kankakee, the District 111 school board looked to find common ground at Monday’s board meeting at Avis Huff Student Support Services building.

Member Christopher Bolen spoke on the board’s behalf during the superintendent’s report to gain some clarification on the district’s involvement in the upstart Jr. Kays, as well us the longstanding Eastside Bulldogs and Kankakee Colts junior football programs.

“This is time for this issue to be resolved as an issue with the district and the community,” Bolen read in his statement.

He said what’s happened before Monday’s meeting was irrelevant.

“What’s now important is what I believe is what happens going forward,” Bolen said. “I’m asking this board to make a request to the administration to define the proposed role of the district in the Jr. Kays. ... I also want our roles with the Bulldogs and the Colts to be defined.”

Bolen wants to make sure that the kids who participate in the programs will benefit from the experience.

“They’re the only reason were doing any of this,” he said. “Will they be better students and better human beings because of their experience in football? It’s not about the adults either as employees of [District] 111 or in the community. It only matters if it makes our children become better adults.”

Superintendent Genevra Walters said she wanted to be transparent on the district’s involvement with all youth sports.

“The amount of work that we would do as a district would be very similar to the amount of work that we’ve done with Eastside, Colts, softball, baseball, volleyball, all of basketball, track,” Walters said. “There have been times during the day, specifically myself that I’ve spent time with community youth programs. And I would assume that would be the same because that’s what we’ve done with all of the other youth programs.

“... We do have parameters for supporting youth teams. If we’re to put parameters on the Jr. Kays, the parameters for all teams should be the same.”

In response to Bolen, Calvin Works, a KHS assistant coach and a Jr. Kays board member, said a group of coaches started working on establishing a unified junior program in Omar Grant’s first season as KHS head coach in 2015.

“The concept of the Jr. Kays is not new,” he said. “It’s been around for years.”

Works said they made a strong push in July 2019 of starting the Jr. Kays and reached out to the Bulldogs and Colts.

“The parents want it,” he said. “The parents wanted their kids to be on the same team. ... The feeder program model is nothing new. The issue we’re running up against is that it’s, ‘Us against everyone else.’ It’s not. As an employee, as a coach for Kankakee School District 111, our desire is to do what’s best for the kids.

“It’s never been anything other than that. Unfortunately, we cannot come together to be unified.”

Board vice president Jess Gathing, who is also president of the Eastside Bulldogs junior football program, spoke on the issue.

“We shouldn’t be at this point,” he said. “We shouldn’t be talking about Jr. Kays football when we have a lot more on our plate here in District 111. I might have said some things, but that’s my passion. It’s my passion because it’s also my gift.”

Gathing said the Bulldogs and Colts are going to move forward.

“Whether there’s two teams in town, three teams in town, four teams, at this point we’re past it, and we’re going to move on and do what we need to do,” he said. “You want to sit down, and you guys want to talk about? We can talk about it.”

Works said statements made at the board meeting that inferred the Jr. Kays weren’t upfront with the Bulldogs and Colts about their program aren’t accurate. He said a meeting was held in November, a week after the KHS football season ended, with members of both programs.

Works said school board member Darrell Williams, Duane Tucker, of the Colts, and Theodis Pace, of the Eastside Bulldogs, were at the November meeting about the Jr. Kays. He said both programs were offered positions on the Jr. Kays board.

“When they wouldn’t combine, we had no choice,” Works said.

“If you want to call that a meeting, it was a meeting,” Pace said. “Not in my professional setting, not when you’re talking about building a powerhouse and I want a ring. That’s not a meeting.”

Pace, who recently resigned as an assistant athletic director at KHS, reiterated Gathing’s statement about moving forward.

“It was all said [Monday] night basically,” he said. “There’s a right way and a wrong way. Forty-three years of my life is tied to [the Bulldogs].”

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