"Sound of Handcuffs"

The following piece is based on a true story that moved me.

"Sound of Handcuffs"

The kids call me Coach Scott

I am the football coach at Texas State Youth penitentiary

In Texas

Where African-Americans are incarcerated at 5 times the rate of Whites

Where more Black men are in prison than in the higher education system

Where 70% of inmates are Black or Latino

While they only make up 40% of the population

In Texas

Where patriotic true Americans believe in only two things – Jesus Christ and high school football

I’m ready to give up

These kids look up to me

But I don’t have the answers anymore

I’m tired of looking up at the scoreboard

Week after week

Watching these kids get beat

By schools with eleven coaches

The latest in equipment

And really perky cheerleaders

While on our side

It’s just me

Some old pads and helmets

And two or three teachers

With very little team spirit

And at the end of every game

As my players

Are put back in handcuffs led back to the bus

The other team’s parents glare at us

One kid lets a racial slur slip from his lips

His buddy punches him in the arm

“What? But it’s true! They are!”

My kids are burglars, thieves and drug dealers

We are the Texas State Tornadoes

And here we go again

I can see the stadium lights up ahead

I put on my game face although

I’d hate to say it

We’re gonna lose

We’re 0 and 8

Grapevine Christian Faith is 7 and 2

But I can’t let these kids see how I feel

I’ve gotta

Pull my confidence off the shelf

Lead these kids on to the field

And be sure of myself

I don’t remember when I started to wonder what’s it all worth

But right now I have no idea

Why God put me on this earth

While on the other side of the field

The other coach waits

The kids call me Coach Kris

I’m the head coach here at Grapevine Christian Faith

I’ve been spinning my wheels as of late

I feel so caught up trying to keep our bank account from hitting zero

I’m up before the sun

I’m home after it sets

By the time I see my wife

My boys are already in bed

So when I saw that we were playing Texas State

All I could think was each one of them is somebody’s son

So I sent out an email to everyone

I said these boys deserve more than they have

I say we take half our fans

And cheer for them in their stands

And the parents went crazy…with excitement

They printed up rosters of the kids’ names

Made signs

Made a dinner

They said, “Coach, this is a great idea, it’s long overdue

Come look, we even made a huge banner for the kids to run through”

And as Texas State arrives

Our parents run to the bus to wish them good luck

I can see the expressions on the kids’ faces

Their coach is like…

What the f-?

Are these parents…

Why are they

Are they cheering for us?

Why’s that sign say, “Go Tornadoes.”

And as my Texas State boys get ready on the sidelines

The Grapevine parents have formed two lines on the field

I figure it’s for their team

And my kids will just run around it

But the parents keep waving for my kids to run through

So I tell my players

“I know it sounds crazy

But that spirit line’s for you”

And as our captain Isaiah leads the team through the banner

I’ve never seen him hold his head so high

He says, “Coach, it felt like I had angels on both my sides”

They enter the game so energized

It might as well be the first game of their lives

And as it begins Grapevine’s fans

Yes, they are sitting on our side

Isaiah asks, “Coach, don’t they have enough room on their side?”

And then they start cheering for our players by name

And Isaiah asks, “Coach, do they have players with all the same names?

Coach, why are they booing cuz that penalty brought back OUR run?

Coach, why are they cheering for us to hit their sons?”

“Isaiah, I’m not quite sure what’s happening

You just keep playing with the same intensity”

And as the clock hits zero

We make our way on to the field

Isaiah asks if he can lead the prayer


I don’t know how to say thank you

Cuz now I see

There are people out there who believe in me

And I don’t even know any of their names.”

The boys sprayed me with their water bottles

Although we lost 33 to 14

I’m pretty sure I’m the first coach to ever go 0 and 9

And get a Gatorade bath

And sure

You can show my players the scoreboard a million times

You’ll never convince them

That we lost tonight

We are the Texas State tornadoes

But my boys are not dangerous, violent natural disasters

They’ve just never had a home field advantage

Until tonight

And as my kids got back on the bus

No racial slurs slipped from anyone’s lips this time

Throughout the stadium

It was completely silent

Everyone watched

The only sound

That of the handcuffs being placed back on their wrists

On our way back to the prison

I told my boys

I’m proud of you

For such a long time I’ve been ashamed

I was paying such close attention to the score of every game

And I thought that I was letting you down

I hadn’t taught you the right things

That somehow I wasn’t doing enough to help you succeed

You reminded me tonight

That it’s not about the score

And if you want a banner to run through

Come to me

And I will tell you how to do it

Without any paper

Without the help of any strangers

I believe in you

As long as you let go of the mistakes of your past

I promise you

We’ll dig in our heels

And we’ll run through that banner