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Coach Carter’s turnaround at Richmond High School

Ken Carter waves around some money. Photo by Meghan Williams.
Few things can capture a crowd’s attention like waving money around. And few people can wave money around like the now-famous Coach Ken Carter.

Shortly into his recent presentation at the College’s Commonwealth Auditorium, Carter pulled a $20 bill from his wallet. After inviting a young boy onstage, Carter crumpled the bill, dropped it on the floor and stepped on it. He compared the bill to a human being, saying that life would treat a person poorly but that people retain their value. He then asked the boy if he wanted the money. With this lesson, Carter gave the boy the $20.

Value was a concept Carter emphasized. “You do not get paid by the hour,” he said. “You get paid by the value you bring to the hour.” Another mantra involved the power people have to control their own future circumstances: “You must always do more than what you’re paid for as an investment in your future.”

Carter, a high-school basketball coach from California, has been made famous by the movie Coach Carter, in which Samuel L. Jackson played the title role. Carter started receiving national press attention when he banned his undefeated basketball team from practicing, Though he was criticized sharply by many people, including parents of the boys on the team, the decision was not a controversial one for Carter.

Returning to Richmond High School, where he had previously attended school, had been a trial for Carter, he explained. Students were 80 times more likely to go to jail than go to college. “I was embarrassed when I walked on our campus,” he said. But he soon saw that there was a more serious problem beyond the surface-level disrepair. “The school didn’t need my money, the school needed me.”

Carter came in and instilled discipline in the school by way of the basketball team. He developed a winning strategy, reflected in his team’s undefeated record. “Our boys were like rock stars, walking around the campus and walking around the community,” Carter bragged.

But they were rock stars with mandatory study halls. Although the school board had its own requirements, Carter raised the minimum acceptable GPA for participation on his team, convinced he had to invest in the future. When several team members fell short of his requirements, he benched the entire team, locking them out of the gym and sending them to the library instead. The school’s administration and basketball parents disagreed with his action, but Carter said his players were on the same page he was: “They knew they had messed up.”

Several of the parents complained that their sons would be good enough to play with the NBA if Carter continued coaching them. While he encouraged the boys to dream big, Carter also mandated a back-up plan, explaining that fewer than 5,000 jobs are available for professional athletes on men and women’s teams. By continually emphasizing education, Carter eventual reaching the goal of sending 100% of his team members to college, and taught them to set higher goals.

“I don’t want to be like Shaq,” he explained, “I want to be like the man or woman who pays Shaq.”

Carter also strongly suggested writing down goals as a method to make them seem more real, and consequently more worth pursuing. Working to make goals happen could be a trying process, he admitted, but remained optimistic that planning would do wonders: “When you’re properly prepared and you’re all prayed up, great things will happen.”

After his speech, Carter took questions from the audience, many of which asked about the veracity of events in the movie. Carter described the film as “98.5 percent true.” He also signed autographs and stood for pictures with fans from the College and the community.

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