The day will come when we won't notice anymore. We'll no longer find it newsworthy to note how many African-American head coaches are on the high school football sidelines.
That day might not be far away.
Fort Wayne Community Schools has three African-American head coaches this fall, the most in any one season, as new North Side coach Mike Brevard begins his first season, South Side's Roosevelt Norfleet enters his fourth season and Wayne's Derrick Moore enters his third season.
Considering Fort Wayne has had only 10 African-American head high school football coaches in history – including Norfleet twice, starting at Elmhurst – this carries significance.
“It's a good thing for the community to see,” Norfleet said, “and a good thing for African Americans to see, that we do have prominent men in positions when it comes to the sports arena in Fort Wayne, Indiana.”
Moore says having African-American head coaches at three of its five schools sends a positive message to FWCS athletes and students.
“If you work hard and want it bad enough – black, white, blue, brown, purple – you'll make it,” Moore said. “It could have come quicker and it could have been easier and we could have had easier access to become a head coach, but I'm blessed that it came when it did.”
Norfleet, 43, and Moore, 41, grew up on Fort Wayne's south side. Due to district alignment and busing, Norfleet attended and played sports at Northrop, Moore at Snider. Brevard, 25, grew up in Indianapolis, played college football at the University of Saint Francis and settled into Fort Wayne after college.
Norfleet, Moore and Brevard serve as high-profile examples of FWCS' willingness to embrace diversity in one of its most-visible positions.
“The youth, and the guys coming up behind us, can see it's possible,” Moore said. “If you work hard and get an education, it can happen.”
Paving the way
Verbie Walder was the first African-American head football coach in Fort Wayne, leading North Side in 1974 and 1975. The next two African-American coaches came in 1983, when John Hester took over at South Side and Tom Smith became coach at Elmhurst.
Hester, now an assistant principal at South Side, led South for 11 seasons, the longest run for an African-American coach in the city.
“The younger generation, they don't see race, they don't see color a lot of times unless we bring it up or bring it out,” Hester said. “Kids don't pay much attention, but we do. To have three African-American coaches in the city says a lot about Fort Wayne Community Schools and the progress.”
Hester was 26 years old when he took the South Side job.
He doesn't remember any extra hurdles as an African-American coach.
“There probably were, but I was too na´ve to even know,” Hester said. “The way my parents raised me was to do your best. If you do your best, you'll normally come out OK. I talked to (then-Northrop basketball coach) A.C. Eldridge. He was, and still is, a great mentor to me.”
Hester led the Archers to four winning seasons and the 1990 sectional title, their first and one of only two in school history.
When Hester stepped aside, his assistant Grady Pruitt, also an African-American man, took over. Pruitt coached for five seasons. Jeff Olden became North Side's second African-American coach in 2001 and coached three seasons.
Norfleet took the Elmhurst job in 2002, a reclamation project if there ever was one.
“Being an African-American head coach, sometimes you get the team that's not the powerhouse,” Norfleet said. “Most of the time, you get the team that's down in the dumps.”
When Norfleet took over now-defunct Elmhurst at age 28, the Trojans hadn't won a game in five years. Elmhurst was 0-10 in Norfleet's first season.
“I wasn't afraid of it,” Norfleet said. “I love being the underdog.”
Then came the game that earned Elmhurst, and Norfleet, notice on ESPN and USA Today. The Trojans ended their 64-game losing streak with a season-opening upset of No. 1 Bishop Dwenger.
“I was coaching defensive line at Warren Central,” Moore said. “I can remember them beating Dwenger and us going crazy, cheering for them. I always followed this guy.
“Even though we had Hester and those guys before, Norfleet was kind of the pioneer for us,” Moore said, alluding to his age group. “He kind of relieved that pressure. I can't imagine being him and being the only African-American coach in the SAC. But we had two and now we have three and that kind of alleviates the pressure.”
Wayne hired its first African-American coach, Robert Brown, in 2011 and he stayed for three seasons before moving to Anderson. Norfleet took over at South in 2014 and Moore at Wayne in 2015.
Dealing with pressure
Moore, whose brother Dennis Springer is an assistant coach at Northwestern University, loves his job. All aspects of it. Even the after-hours parts.
“You're a father. You're an uncle. You're an Uber,” Moore said. “You're not just the coach. Coaching might be 35 percent of it.”
Norfleet and Moore both said they knew they would be coaches early in their careers. For Norfleet, it came in high school, with his interest increasing after he coached AAU basketball. For Moore, it dates as far back as Metro league. “I played for the Rams and our coaches made it look so fun,” Moore said.
Both men also said they had no idea how challenging the job would be before they became head coaches. Both were coordinators first, which Norfleet says is almost a standard requirement.
“Guys like (Snider coach Kurt) Tippmann and (former Northrop and Concordia coach Dean) Doerffler, all the way down the line made it look easy,” Moore said. “You look at that and you think, that's what I want to do, be the head coach. Then you get into it and it's almost like, 'Wow, how did they do that? How do they handle the Friday nights going home after a tough loss?' ”
The pressure to win is there for any coach, young or older and – in Moore's words – whether you're black, white, blue, brown or purple.
“At first, when you get the job, you feel there's an underlying pressure because you're an African American, you're a minority, you have to come out and win,” Norfleet said. “Most of the pressure you put on yourself.”
Paying it forward
Moore hired Brevard and installed him as defensive coordinator, a position that gave Brevard ample responsibility. He also had a chance to observe some of the pressures that come with being a head coach.
When the North Side job opened, Brevard jumped at the opportunity.
“I took my age out of the equation,” Brevard said. “My biggest thing, prepping for the interview, was that I wanted to be the best. The best type of preparation is for separation. What can I do as an individual to separate myself from other people who applied for the North Side job?”
Brevard created a 365-day plan for the team and the student-athletes. It's a plan he's using today.
The plan isn't easy, and it's geared toward winning. Brevard played at Ben Davis High School before he went to Saint Francis. He's used to winning.
“Starting off, we had a lot of guys drop out because I wanted to establish this new culture from the get-go,” Brevard said. “Right away, we found out what guys were with us and what guys weren't with us. We told them, if you buy into this process, you'll be successful.”
Brevard points to his mentors, including Ben Davis teacher and coach Dennis Goins, Ben Davis coach Mike Kirschner and Westfield coach Jake Gilbert, as helping prepare him for the opportunity he has at North Side.
After graduating from Saint Francis, Brevard, a social studies teacher, spent a season as linebackers coach at Northrop, then a season as Wayne defensive coordinator.
“The biggest thing I've learned in my experience in coaching is that everything rises and falls on leadership,” Brevard said.
Effective leaders come in all shapes, sizes and, yes, colors.
Perhaps the best part of the progress being made is that Brevard's age might have been the biggest obstacle to landing the North Side job.
“To get a head coaching job at 25 is really unheard of,” Norfleet said, “especially to be an African-American male.”
The unheard of is becoming more common now in Fort Wayne football coaching, a step forward in every way.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at email@example.com.
For more on local sports, follow Reggie Hayes on Twitter at reggiehayes1