JUSTIN KENNY: Why did Shabaz Khaliq leave North Side for Richmond?

After successful stints at both Elmhurst and North Side, Shabaz Khaliq is leaving Fort Wayne and heading to Richmond. (News-Sentinel.com file photo by Dan Vance)

It was barely five minutes after my appearance on a local radio show last week regarding the departure of North Side basketball coach Shabaz Khaliq that I received a text.

“Thanks for speaking up for us, my guy,” the text read.

The message, from a person with past experience both coaching and teaching in Fort Wayne Community Schools, was referring to the answer I gave to the question of why Khaliq, one of the most successful young basketball coaches in the state, would leave a seemingly great job directing one of top 25 hoops programs in Indiana for a Richmond squad that has two sectional titles in the last 22 years.

On the surface, it looks puzzling. But upon rudimentary investigation, it’s not that hard to figure out.

According to the Indiana Department of Education’s latest figures, Fort Wayne Community Schools is the largest school system in the state with 29,469 students. Over 68 percent of its students receive free and reduced lunch. Its ISTEP+ scores over the last few years consistently hover about 10 percent lower than the state average.

And I could go on and on about the school corporation’s endless battle with costly infrastructure improvements.

In short, due to its size and scope of students of various socioeconomic classes, FWCS deals with a myriad of issues on a scale rivaled only by Indianapolis Public Schools. As a byproduct, athletics does not get the attention and focus that many smaller school districts are able to give their schools’ programs.

As other school districts invest in turf for their football fields and multi-use auxiliary gym facilities, Northrop and Snider must share old, crumbling, leaky Spuller Stadium and South Side football is stuck with a practice field no more than an empty patch of grass across S Clinton Street. While other districts can dangle a gymnasium largely devoid of student use, FWCS basketball coaches must utilize facilities that lack consistent upkeep and are trampled on by kids during the school day.

But it’s more than just facilities. A seven-period school day at the high school means most teachers who double as coaches have students in the classroom for six periods a day. As a graduate of North Side, I know how stressful being a teacher in FWCS at the high school level can be. Plenty of nimrods and stooges to deal with (even myself on occasion) over the course of the day.

While most teachers head home after a long day in the classroom, coaches then head to direct their teams, putting in countless hours of practice and game time over the course of the season, not to mention off-season conditioning and workouts.

It is a difficult and taxing way of life, particularly if you are a coach who has a family that never sees you in season. Add to that the fact that FWCS pays one of the lowest coaching stipends in the state, and you can see why some successful coaches are easily wooed by other school systems.

While some school districts can offer six figures to someone to work only a few hours a day and coach their sport, many coaches within FWCS are putting in 12-to-14 hour days between the classroom and the playing field.

These are not the only reasons Khaliq is now heading to Richmond (that is for another column), but they were big factors for him and his family to consider.

To be fair, much of this is out of the control of FWCS. The district puts greater emphasis on meeting student needs in other ways rather than paying coaches big money to strictly win on the football field or in the gymnasium, and for good reason. But as the district loses the Shabaz Khaliqs and Barak Coolmans of the world to more enticing jobs, perhaps more can be done to make those dedicated individuals who tackle the challenge of both teaching and coaching our youth feel a little bit more appreciated.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Justin Kenny at jkenny@news-sentinel.com.

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