Leading up to the week, both Jackson County High School (McKee, KY) and Shawnee High School (Louisville, KY) both struggled to find an opponent to play this Friday evening.
For the former, several teams canceled on them due to Covid-19 concerns and issues. For the latter, Carroll County backed out due to safety concerns surrounding the ongoing protests in Louisville just two weeks after the school had to beg Trimble County to travel to Louisville to play on Sept. 18.
When Jackson County head coach John Hallock heard of Shawnee’s scheduling issues – as originally reported and covered beautifully by Jason Frakes of the Courier Journal – he reached out to see if they were interested in playing this week.
“I was on my Twitter, and I saw an article from Jason Frakes for the Courier Journal, he did a story on Shawnee and some of the schools that canceled because of security concerns,” Hallock said in an interview with KSR this morning. “When I read the article, we needed a game, they needed a game. … I reached out to the AD and said, “Hey, do you want to play? If my administration’s good with this, I’m good with it. If you all are good with it, let me know.”‘
Realizing Jackson County was nearly 150 miles away from Louisville, Shawnee wondered why they would travel all the way from the mountains and back for a random out-of-conference matchup.
The reason? To show there are more similarities between an all-white football program from McKee, KY – a town that has voted Republican in presidential elections since the Civil War – and a football program out of the West End of Louisville with mostly Black players, than differences.
“I was moved and compelled by the fact that these kids are in Louisville right now. They’re hurting,” Hallock told KSR. “… The athletic director at Shawnee was taken aback a little bit – he’s a great guy – he was like, “Well that’s a little far for you guys? We’re in Louisville…” I said, “Do you want to play? We’re willing to come, we’re willing to show support in solidarity.”
“He talked to the coaching staff, Coach Harrington, who’s a top-shelf man, coach, and mentor for his kids, they said, “Yeah, coach, we want to play.” So I brought it to my administration at Jackson County and they didn’t blink an eye. They said, “Coach, if you think this is a good opportunity for these kids, their kids, it’s a good opportunity to show support and solidarity with a community that’s hurting. Let’s go and do it.” The rest is history.”
While the players may look different, Hallock says the players from both schools and areas in general deal with similar struggles and come from “broken backgrounds.”
“A lot of my kids come from broken homes,” he said. “They don’t have a silver spoon, there’s a lot of poverty in that community. A lot of my kids have to be in school just to eat. There’s a lot of struggle that they go through, they have to earn everything they get.
“If you look at Shawnee, some of their kids struggle and come from broken backgrounds. Coach Harrington is doing a phenomenal job mentoring them. If you really look at it, we share a lot of things in common. We shouldn’t be divided by the color of our skin. Everybody wants to label and divide, hate each other because of this label and that label.”
With this game, Hallock feels Jackson County and Shawnee can come together and dispel those labels and focus on one race: the human race.
“At the end of the day, we’re humans,” Hallock told KSR. “It’s not about the color of our skin, it’s about the essence of our being and our character, who we are as people. The platform that [Coach Harrington] and I have been given this week to teach and educate our kids, to have this opportunity, you bring a conservative county that’s all white to Louisville that’s probably a little more liberal to say, “Hey, when humanity is hurting, no matter what you are – Black, White, red, Latino, Republican, Democrat, Independent, whatever – we are humans.”
“When we see human beings suffering, we have the responsibility to elevate all people. I said this to my assistant on Monday, but 60 years ago, we might not have even been able to play this game. We have a platform to show solidarity. Two polar opposite communities coming together as one.”
Jackson County Coach @JohhnytheBull gave a Pregame Speech to the Two schools that nearly had me in tears
This is what Kentucky is about pic.twitter.com/R7ck8QPdbi
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) October 2, 2020
For the full interview with KSR, listen below:
Shawnee and Jackson County will kick off at 6 p.m. ET, with both sides looking to pick up their first victory of the season.