When Martin Luther King High School named Ed Dunn its head football coach in April, the former Germantown High Bears assistant recognized the challenges involved in leading his old team’s Thanksgiving rivals.
The move came amid worries that sending GHS students over to West Oak Lane could agitate long-standing neighborhood rivalries. Since the Bears ceased to exist in June, it also meant building a bridge between schools upon which many students would follow.
That dynamic, in part, led the New York Times to cover the story; Dunn’s team became a prism through which the challenges of the school district’s closings and funding gaps was explored.
It also brought a slew of attention toward a team that started its official preseason practices on Monday, the start of a season that launches on Aug. 30 with the opening game against Gratz.
Coach and principal see great opportunity
Speaking about the season last week, both Dunn and MLK Principal William Wade delved into the opportunity that this team represents on and beyond the gridiron.
“It’s going to serve as catalyst for change and transition,” Wade said of the team. “It’s big in itself, but the big picture is that all of our instructional programs need to follow this lead. The players merged pretty well with voluntary condition during the summer. Now, we have to do the same across all the different programs in the school.”
When it comes to perceived rivalries, and the potential for violence, Wade said that “folks with common sense will see that once the children have it figured out, the adults in the community and alumni will follow.”
He noted that the mission—embodied in the team’s off-season introductory successes—is continued improvement in the classrooms and extracurriculars.
“The fact of the matter is if we don’t live up to expectations, the same thing will happen to King that happened to Germantown,” Wade said. “We’re still a long way off from where we want to be, but we’re onto something now, and we just want people to know we’re working hard, aiming for continued upward movement toward success.”
Dunn said he hopes that his team will continue to help reach those goals.
“It’s a really interesting situation, with a blended team from Germantown, MLK and a bunch of kids who weren’t at either school last year,” he said. “We have a chip on our shoulder. We’re going into this as a team that hasn’t won a game outside of forfeit in the past two years. But we’re MLK. We’re Cougar nation. Records are not representative of what we have.”
What they do have is a bolstered coaching staff (up to 12 from around five last year), and three “core” players who have already accepted, or are fielding, scholarship offers from big-time Division 1 college football programs.
They include Dontae Angus, a behemoth offensive lineman who orally committed to the University of Florida this summer; Delane Hart, a wide receiver/linebacker who came over from GHS who has “five or six D-1 offers”; and All-City quarterback Joseph Walker who comes to MLK by way of Mastbaum High with the same number of offers out there.
“From a public-league standpoint, [Walker] may be the first quarterback since the ’80s to get this kind of D-1 interest,” Dunn said.
He said that the New York Times story prompted countless alumni and others to reach out, “wanting to get involved.”
“It was definitely a lot of exposure to what we’re doing and how we’re going about doing things here now,” he said. “A lot of people—even on staff—didn’t know what was going on. It’s definitely going to be interesting.”
It’ll start getting interesting when the Cougars face off against Gratz on Aug. 30, considering Gratz finished runner-up to Bok, a school that was shuttered the same day as GHS.
It’ll continue being interesting, though, Thanksgiving when the Cougars take on East Germantown’s Imhotep Charter, which made it all the way to the state semifinals last year.
“We’ll get the opportunity to see where we’re at quickly,” Dunn said.