By Kevin Kuzma, Online Editor
The teams, at this age, are chosen mostly from geography and friendship. The boys who happen to live on the same streets and go to the same schools ask to play together, and usually the coaches oblige.
As coaches, we know that player selection is a serious business because if you choose one or two of the wrong kids, your baseball team can follow their lead and go crashing into oblivion — ruining your child’s interest in athletics for life and sparking an affinity for something less … healthy. Well-behaved kids are usually chosen first, and then we go for familiarity, or a reference from another player.
That’s how the team I coached last summer came together and it’s how I came to know Tye and his father. After consulting with my son — who told me Tye lives on his street and was in his kindergarten class — I made my pick based on a familial nod. I circled Tye’s name on the daunting roster of unknown players.
On the first day of practice, Tye was delivered to the field by a good-sized, serious-looking guy whom I mistook as his brother. That was my introduction to his father, who wore the familiar hip-hop look, dressed in baggy jeans and shirt and a baseball cap crooked to the side. On him, though, they weren’t merely a matter of style. I could tell they were the markings of someone who’d grown up but not out — someone who had never left the associations he’d made as a kid with life on the streets.
Tye’s dad came to practices. He shook my hand before and after play. He came to games, and questioned me once or twice about Tye’s batting stance. Should he be left- or right-handed, he wanted to know. We decided on left and not long after that, it seemed, our eight-game season came to a close.
After the brief intensity of summer ball, the boys go their own directions, as do their parents. You see them sometimes at school conferences, plays, and other events. But for the most part you lose touch until winter passes, the weather warms and the field can be taken again.
One morning in February, as I was dropping my son off at his mom’s house, she asked, “Have you heard about Tye’s dad?”
On the night before, he had been shot and killed — in an area of town known for its dangerous gang activity and weekend nights that ring with random gunfire. He was shot while walking down the street and talking on his phone with his wife, Tye’s mother. The night was bitterly cold, and from what I understand, his family wasn’t sure what he was doing in that part of town so late. Because being there for any reason is a risk, the natural assumption was that he was there to buy drugs.
The newspaper reported the facts of the shooting in a few sentences in their Metro section, not mentioning his name or those of the grieving family left behind – only the street, his gender, and his race. The headline was so general it could have referenced a thousand other nameless deaths.
So why does this story matter so much? Given my background, I have a tendency to process the meaning of events through a lens of education and its impact on human potential. While reading about his death, I didn’t see an unreachable thug. In Tye’s father, I saw a man who’d never found his talents – or lost them along the way – and was struggling from misfortune or short-sightedness—or maybe, as I always think–from a lack of educational opportunity.
Ironically, this happened right in the middle of the gainful employment debate, when we were thinking that by proving to the Department of Education that its rule was biased and eliminated student choice that it might somehow be defeated. The ability to choose which programs to enroll in and what direction in which to take your career was something we’d all taken for granted.
Even with potential changes in the air, we saw enrolled or potential students who might be denied choices as them simply choosing another program or college. I, for one, never considered how changes to educational choices might affect another audience – those who might never find their way because a program had ceased to exist.
I don’t expect that Tye’s dad would have considered traditional college or universities as an option for turning his life around. His only choice would have been a career education, and I would have presented it to him if I’d thought to. An education might not provide an immediate solution, but it does provide a chance. Eliminating programs and educational choices then eliminates chances–second, third, or in a case like this one, final chances.
All the vehemence, all the eloquent arguments – expressed both in official testimony and written letters – couldn’t keep gainful employment from going through. The final rule might be diluted by our arguments, but it’s still here to do its damage to accessible educational programming. The true cost of that, in lost chances and lost lives, may never be known.