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'Build the Bridge' program brings 60 Northeast Ohio players to Hall

'Build the Bridge' program brings 60 Northeast Ohio players to Hall

06/23/2020
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Maybe it’s no surprise a high school football coach would consider football America’s greatest game.

But Kahari Hicks has seen first-hand not only how it shaped his life, but also the lives of the young players he works with each day at Cleveland Heights High School.

“Each day can bring a new lesson,” Hicks said Tuesday at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “What we can teach these kids would not happen without football.”

When he said “these kids,” Hicks was speaking of the nearly 60 players from schools across Northeast Ohio participating in a morning-long event at the Pro Football Hall of Fame under the umbrella of a program he launched called “Build the Bridge.”

His initiative seeks to bring together coaches, players, parents, administrators and community members from predominantly black teams and predominantly white teams. The mission is to empower, develop and unify programs across Northeast Ohio – and beyond – regardless of race, class or creed.

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Kahari Hicks of Build the Bridge with HOF President David Baker

Tuesday’s event was the first regional program for Build the Bridge. Similar large-scale efforts are planned with the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium and at Oberlin College. On a smaller scale, schools are pairing up for team-building activities, 7-on-7 practices and meals.

In a way, Build the Bridge traces its roots to the triple-option offense.

When Hicks wanted to install that attack at Cleveland Heights, he reached out to the coaching staff at Olmsted Falls, a school with a much different racial composition. Conversations about football soon evolved into conversations about life, he said Tuesday.

Then, Hicks said, following recent instances of social injustice across the country, “Some white coaches reached out and asked, ‘What can we do?’ We knew we couldn’t build a wall. We needed to build a bridge.

“Bridges connect people. … These kids will make connections today. They will make friends from other schools. That’s what this is all about.”

Hicks said coaches from Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City nationally and Germany internationally have expressed interest in replicating Build the Bridge in those areas.

The program at the Hall on Tuesday included a moderated discussion on race and social issues and a tour of the Hall. Players and coaches could see how the Hall’s #HuddleUpAmerica initiative has been influencing wider and deeper conversations about many of the same topics they are tackling through Build the Bridge.

AVI, a partner of the Hall’s, provided each Build the Bridge participant with lunch, and the Hall of Fame offered free admission for every player and coach.

“We’ve been looking forward to hosting this program since we saw what Coach Hicks and (head) Coach (Mac) Stephens started,” said Jacob Ray, manager of the Hall’s Youth & Education programs. He saw a feature on a Cleveland TV station and reached out to the coaches.

For Ray, the highlight of the day was seeing the coaches and players engage in the Q&A about race.

“The kids and coaches were open and honest, and there was great dialogue between everyone,” he said.

That kind of dialogue will build bridges today that last into the future.

Program Recap

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