Coach to football community: It's cool to be kind

Grant County High School football coach Kevin Siple works with Grant County student, Breanna Nickell.

Grant County High School football coach Kevin Siple works with Grant County student, Breanna Nickell.

Nearly all high school students – at one time or another – have suffered the indignities of being the object of someone’s joke, rude behavior or indifference.

Imagine how uplifting school would be if the school’s most visible students – its athletes – stepped in to make things right.

If Kevin Siple’s vision comes to fruition, that would be the norm across the Tristate.

“I don’t think high school kids even for one second consider what the person feels like that’s being made fun of,” said Siple, head football coach at Grant County High School on the southern edge of Northern Kentucky. “They’re just interested in the laugh for themselves. I think empathy is a learned behavior that someone has to teach them.

“If kids would just walk around and greet somebody, it just goes such a long way. It doesn’t cost anything to be nice. I just want to teach our kids how to be compassionate and empathetic.”

Siple thinks the solution might start with athletics.

“One day I was sick of reading and seeing stories about these kids being bullied and abused, suicides, you know? So I wrote a letter,” Siple said.

“I don’t have some master plan. I just wanted to see if other people were on board.”

Siple, former head coach at Indian Hill High School, sent an impassioned plea for compassion at school to all the football coaches on a Northern Kentucky listserve to get the conversation started.

“There are kids that get on the bus in the morning and come to school and they’re just ignored. They’re not talked to. Or they’re laughed at,” Siple said. “I know it’s been going on a long time. I think the internet stuff – now it makes it so public for these kids to be harassed. Maybe there’s something we can do.”

But why sports? Why football coaches?

The logic in Siple’s answer is sound.

“Our players generally are the public kids,” Siple said. “Whether they deserve it or not, they typically are the ones looked up to. So if they change it, maybe it’ll be cool to be inclusive instead of exclusive.”

Vocal leaders

Dan Woolley

Dan Woolley

Scott High School football coach Dan Woolley did a double-take walking down the hallway.

“I saw one of my guys sweeping a teacher’s floor,” Woolley said. “I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, he’s in trouble.'”

The broom treatment wasn’t some kind of punishment, though.

“The room was messy, and he just offered to clean it,” Woolley said, laughing.

It’s the kind of story Woolley dishes out with pride these days as he encourages his football players at Scott to improve their school. He has a leadership program with some of the juniors and seniors on the football team.

“I meet with them once a week at lunch,” Woolley said. “We talk about being vocal leaders – not just on the football field but in the classroom, in the school.”

Ron Rice

Ron Rice

Woolley got another report from a teacher recently about one of this players. It’s a simple thing, but Ron Rice, a junior lineman, finished his assignment early and went, unasked, to help some of the other students in the class with their work.

“If I see someone who looks down, I ask them what’s wrong,” Rice said. “Try to help out around the school.

“We have this system. When a player does a good deed around the school, we get a star on our helmet to symbolize their character and what they did.”

For Woolley, it’s part of building a football program and school community based on respect and kindness.

“I agree 100 percent with what Kevin was saying,” Woolley said. “The littlest things, they can really go a long way helping somebody out a lot. It might not be much to you, but you never know, it can mean the world to them.”

The holistic approach

At Milford High School, head coach Shane Elkin is leading a football renaissance (the community is still buzzing about the Eagles’ season-ending win against neighborhood rivals Loveland) through what he calls a holistic approach.

“I just feel that if you’re a winner, you can’t just win in athletics,” Elkin said. “You can’t compartmentalize your life.

“I want them to be the leaders, the people that our community aspires to be.”

Players can earn what is known as Eagle Pride status by demonstrating high levels of empathy, leadership, academic achievement, community service time and athletic participation.

Milford High School head football coach Shane Elkin instructs his players during a practice.

Milford High School head football coach Shane Elkin instructs his players during a practice.

“Personally, I love giving back to the community,” said junior Clay Knecht, an all-conference player who has played for Milford football teams since he was in the first grade. “I feel like football has given me so much.”

Like the Scott football program, Milford has a leadership council. Elkin meets with a select group of players bright and early at 6:15 Monday mornings. With 30-some seniors set to return next season, Milford hopes to contend for a league championship. The Eagle Pride buy-in from the players, showing more compassion for their community, is part of that turnaround.

“The attitude on the team itself is completely different,” Knecht said. “Everything about the team looks like it’s on the rise.”

The next step

The response to Siple’s initial email has been huge.

“I got a lot of positive feedback,” Siple said. “I have a whole group of coaches who want to be involved in Kentucky.”

Even a local restaurant or two expressed interest in helping out. Siple envisions putting together a professionally developed curriculum for coaches, maybe something they can use to talk with their players about empathy once a week during the season, he said.

“If we talk to our kids for 10 minutes a week for a 10- or 12-game season, if everybody would do that, I think that would start something and then I don’t know, see where it goes,” Siple said. “I just think that kids have to be taught. I think you have to show them examples.”

Have an idea for Play it Forward? Email your suggestion to

Have an idea for Play it Forward? Email your suggestion to

Siple had examples as a kid at his Fort Thomas home, where his mother raised three boys on her own.

“I can remember: Somebody was in jail for robbing and home invasion. And my mom and my grandma said, ‘Well, maybe he didn’t have any food,'” Siple said. “They just always looked at the good in human beings instead of dwelling on the negative. They tried to find the positive.”

And Siple had examples at Highlands High School, where he starred on the Bluebirds football and baseball teams.

“I had a lot of coaches who were good to me and influenced me to do the right thing,” Siple said. “It affected the way I am as a husband, the way I raise my children and I think it will affect the way my children raise their children. It’s generations. When you teach people to be empathetic, it changes you. It will go generations.

“That’s how important I think it is.”

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