Greg McCorkle
Seattle Sounders Lamar Naagle and Josh Ford pose for pictures with students after the assembly at Evergreen High School where they spoke about race, respect and goal setting.

SLIDESHOW: Sounders players speak at Evergreen High School

By Greg McCorkle

In the wake of the recent shooting of a teenager by another teen the King County Sherriff’s Department and the Highline School District teamed up with the expressed intent of relaying to students the importance of respecting all people no matter what their ethnicity or religious beliefs are.

Now it would be easy to have a principal, police officer, or even a psychologist stand in a packed gym and tell kids how they should act as good citizens. But King County Sheriff’s Deputy BJ Barnes and Evergreen High School Principal Norma Barrineau came up with a different approach. They were able to have two local athletes, who looked so young that they could be confused for high school students, speak of their ethnically diverse backgrounds.

To a packed and racially diverse house (gym), in walked Seattle Sounders Midfielder Lamar Neagle and Goalie Josh Ford. Both athletes spoke of their struggles growing up. Ford came from a New Hampshire family with a strict father that taught him that nothing good happens without hard work and respecting all those around you. As an African American Ford had to overcome racial bias at the University of Connecticut where on the soccer team, all were white. But he showed his team mates that what was important was what was inside a person not what they looked like on the outside, and won the starting job at goal keeper. Several injuries in his collegiate career slowed his ascension to the professional ranks but he never gave up and he now is the Sounders backup goalie and even started in a friendly against English Premier League power Chelsea.

Midfielder Lamar Neagle, who hails from Tacoma, grew up in as an ethnically diverse family as one could imagined. One of seven (mostly adopted) children Neagle, who also was adopted, had siblings of many diverse ethnicities along with a black father and a white mother. As a result Neagle never look at race as a defining factor when assessing someone’s personality or abilities. In his family, like Ford’s, respect towards others was a key tenant in his upbringing. Neagle spoke of being hassled in high school by African American students for turning out for soccer. Soccer was considered a white man’s sport by many of his peers but he explained that soccer is a global sport and most of the world is not white.

The entire gymnasium of students, which included students from AAA, HS3, TEC, and New Start High School were glued to every word said by these surprisingly soft spoken young men. Approximately ten students were allowed to ask questions of their guests and all of the questions were answered with the same thoughtful and articulate manner they showed when speaking about their lives and how they carry themselves on and off the pitch.

I was able to ask each of them what they took away from this opportunity.

Lamar responded “It’s always good to give back to kids and to see them yearning for an answer and I’m glad that I have a story that kind of relates. It’s nice being from here and having a story that kind of relates, and I was in the same exact position as these guys growing up. If I can get one or two students to change a couple of details in their lives that would be perfect for me."

Josh ford had a similar outlook. “It was very powerful for me to tell our story, which is we grew up from different areas in different places and had different things but we made it to our goals. I feel that was kind of the big thing that I wanted to stress. You can make it almost anywhere if you set your mind to goals and achieve what you what to achieve. It’s very heartwarming to be able to do stuff like this just by playing soccer."

In a testament to their popularity both were mobbed by scores of students after the assembly. The kids wanted their photos taken with Josh and Lamar who politely acquiesced to signing soccer balls, shoes, jerseys, and anything that could be written on. Teachers and staff also were caught up in the frenzy. Eventually school staff had to intervene so the two could get on with their day.

It is worth mentioning that Josh Ford resides in West Seattle. Not a bad west side story.

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