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Coventry basketball coach Devon McAfee uses position to help advance growth, change

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent
Coventry boys basketball coach Devon McAfee talks to his players on the bench during a game last season.

COVENTRY TWP. While it's easy to think that sports and the ongoing social justice and racial equality movement in America mostly intersect on the professional level, where well-known athletes with millions of social media followers advocate for reform, the truth is that those issues affect all levels of sports and society.

Coventry varsity boys basketball coach Devon McAfee, who has also coached football and track at the school, knows that as a black coach who works with not only black student-athletes, but ones from a range of racial and ethnic backgrounds, that high school sports can be part of the movement for change and growth in society.

“As a coach we are not only their coach but their mentor as well as a form of a father figure to the players. During these times it is very important that my staff and I carry ourselves to a higher standard despite all of the issues that are happening in our world," McAfee said. “The life lessons that we all face help mold who we are as men in which it will allow us all to overcome all forms of adversity.”

He noted that he and his fellow coaches share their own stories of facing difficult issues and challenges from their own time as student athletes in the hopes that their mistakes and lessons learned will benefit their players.

On the issues of justice, racial equality and discrimination, McAfee noted that he's had his own experiences that mirror those shared by black men and women who have had negative encounters with law enforcement.

"I have been pulled over for no reason several times ... was it hard ... yes," McAfee said. "I overcame each moment by remaining positive and respectful even though I did nothing wrong. I was pulled over right in front of my house for no reason as my children and wife witnessed the situation. That moment in my life was very hard and heartbreaking. I reminded myself during that moment that I have to remain focused and calm. After that situation, seeing the fear in my children’s eyes was a wake up call for me to explain to them that there are times in life when things are not fair. The key is to use those moments as motivation to make yourself a better person."

McAfee is a father of six and noted that having biracial children – his wife is white – means his children will sometimes face challenges and negative attitudes in society.

He tried to emphasize the values of how to treat others with respect regardless of their race or ethnicity to his children and to communicate those same lessons to his players.

"We have a great support system in our district when it comes to any issue or issues pertaining to racial equality and justice," McAfee said. "At the beginning of our basketball season, we watched a documentary about a high school team that adapted to racial issues as well as justice for their program. We adopted a team motto, ’WE > me,’ which unifies everyone regardless of the color of their skin, their skill level or even their grade level. "

Values such as integrity, leadership, facing and overcoming adversity are central to what McAfee preaches to his athletes.

After leaving a job in the business world to work in education and coaching, he wants to see the current generation coming though the district develop into leaders who will drive continued change and progress in the years ahead.

"I really think that this generation needs more leaders especially during times like this," McAfee said. "I would definitely suggest that leaders from each team should come together and speak as a united front showing our communities that regardless of race, religion and sex we all stand together against these trying times we are facing. Being a part of a team regardless of race or religion allows us all to work together through the wins, the losses, the hard practices and the moments when the calls by the officials are not going our way."

Whenever and however sports return – questions about that return remain unanswered even as the Ohio High School Athletic Association recently announced that fall sports will be allowed to begin practicing on schedule – is something that will largely be decided by districts and leagues on a local level as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect so many aspects of daily life. But whenever they do return, the issues of racism, equality and reform will most certainly remain as part of the conversation for all involved.

Coventry basketball coach Devon McAfee looks on during a game against Akron East last season.