Fort Myers is caught in something that needs to stop: violence effecting our local Lee County high schools.
For the second time in three years, the Fort Myers community was dealt with the loss of one of its students, a football player for Cypress Lake.
Tarvese “Nuk” Johnson was shot to death along with his uncle, Andrew Chisholm, on July 2 at the Thomas Street Apartments.
Two years earlier, Fort Myers was dealt with the loss of 17-year-old Jiatarious “JoJo” Brunson of Fort Myers High in a shooting at the Renaissance Preserve housing development. Brunson was an athlete for the Greenies, too.
It’s two deaths too many.
But the response is what matters. How have we responded? It’s imperative the athletic community uses these tragedies as a platform for growth and education.
Because the city itself needs to improve. Over three years from 2011-13, there were 54 murders in Fort Myers, with a 13-year high of 24 in 2012.
Nationally, Fort Myers is far behind the state average per capita.
So how should the athletic community, which has been faced with this problem, facilitate change?
We need to lean on men like James Chaney. Not only is he the head coach of Lehigh football, but he’s a graduate of Florida State University and North Fort Myers. He understands the lives of young men like Nuk Johnson.
He took to Facebook after reading of the loss of Johnson and wrote, “Coaches in all sports on all levels all races [sic], it’s time to take our responsibilities to another level. Winning games is not enough anymore. We are in the business of raising young men and saving lives.”
Chaney grew up in Dunbar. He used football as a means to earn a scholarship to Florida State. He graduated. He came home. He became a teacher. He raised a family in Fort Myers.
He became a leader in the community long after his playing days were over.
What Chaney does best is communicate. That began years earlier during his time with Pop Warner clubs, but it’s extended to his brief time with the Lightning program.
“I’m still involved in a lot of my kids lives that I’ve coached, going back those years when I first started,” he said. “I had no idea I’d be a head coach at a high school.”
He’s used his role as a mentor to teach beyond the game of football.
“Men don’t communicate and they don’t share their feelings,” he continued. “So what I try and what I do, and this started even in Pop Warner, is that I sit down and talk. I say, ‘Let’s talk.’ No Xs and Os. I like to see their looks. But I don’t judge them.”
Little by little, change can occur with people like Chaney, with athletic leaders who truly take charge in the face of tragedy. Men like Earnest Graham, Sam Sirianni Jr., Xavier McCray, Anthony Dixon, Brian Conn and Larry Gary need to become more than football coaches.
They need to teach beyond the wins. Success isn’t about what you do between the lines on a grass field. It’s teaching kids how to find themselves when those days on the playing field end.
Two years ago, Fort Myers coach Sirianni was thrust into the same position. He did really the only thing that came to his mind.
“It really puts things into perspective on how fragile life is,” Sirianni said.
“And you hope that in some way, you just try to rally together the best you can and be there for each other. You be there for the family.”
Sometimes, though, even that’s not enough.
To direct change, you need to create action.
“The old saying is that it takes a village to raise a child,” Chaney said. “But I believe it takes a village to affect change, too.”