Cross Keys High School in Brookhaven has received $10,000 from the foundation of renowned NFL Coach Bill Belichick to fund its football program and draw its diverse students that are more interested in soccer. The money will be used in part to “debunk safety myths” about the sport, according to language on an agenda item approved by the DeKalb Board of Education.
The grant comes from the Bill Belichick Foundation, a nonprofit formed by the longtime coach of the New England Patriots, who has a record six Super Bowl wins. The money was approved by the DeKalb Board of Education at its March 4 meeting.
The money is planned to be used to purchase equipment, like footballs, uniforms and dummies, and provide stipends for to hire and certify coaches, Cross Keys football Coach Mark Adams said. Adams also hopes to start up football summer camps.
But he also hopes it further his bigger goal of exposing a largely international community at the school to an American sport.
The school is located in an area with a historically high Hispanic and immigrant population. Most students are more drawn to soccer, and the school boasts one of the best teams in the district, but Adams hopes the money will help him start camps and recognition ceremonies that could help interest more students.
The school will also host parent education sessions to “debunk safety myths” about football. Adams said he does believe that some of the fears about safety risks are overblown.
“Done properly, football is not a brutal sport,” said Adams, who also teachers health and physical education and coaches baseball and wrestling. “A lot of fears parents have come from things they hear or see without proof.”
Under a well-trained coach, football is no more dangerous than any other contact sport, Adams said.
“It doesn’t involve high-impact collisions regularly,” he said. “A lifetime of super violent football is completely different than high school career coached under a well-studied coach.”
Football and the NFL have faced controversy for the many concussions, head injuries and other risks that the sport can cause. The concern for concussions has trickled down to high school athletics in recent years after several retired NFL players sued the league in multi-billion dollar lawsuits alleging they were not warned of the serious risks of brain injuries. A Georgia high school football player died last year after a head injury caused cardiac arrest, according to media reports.
The Georgia High School Association in 2015 set limits on the amount of full contact during practices as one way to reduce the number of concussions.
Janelle Driscoll with a public relations firm representing the foundation said the safety education is not a requirement of the foundation and that it cannot comment on it.
School Board member Marshall Orson, who represents that area, said at the March 4 work session that the “safety myth” education will not downplay actual dangers.
“I want to ensure people that we are very cognizant of the concerns about safety,” Orson said during the meeting, which is archived in video online.
“We’re trying to separate fact from fiction. There are legitimate concerns around a number of sports.”
Adams said football is “unique in what it can offer a student athlete.” The sport is one of the few opportunities to learn about “sacrificing yourself to potential physical pain to protect another teammate,” he said.
Linda Holliday, the executive director of the Bill Belichick Foundation, said the school received the grant because it checked all the boxes for what the foundation looks for applicants. Holliday visited the school in February and was “even more impressed and proud to support their growing football program,” she said in a written statement.
“We were drawn to Cross Keys Football’s needs to grow their program at a school that has such a high demand for soccer,” Holliday said. “We want to help schools be able to provide proper resources giving their students opportunities to play and learn new sports.”
Belichick filmed a video congratulating Cross Keys on the grant and said the foundation was “happy to support” the school’s program.