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Despite having a student body where Latinos have been the second-largest racial demographic for years, Lowe says there’s nothing unusual about only having had two Latino starters throughout his eight years as head coach, arguing that players have to be able to put in the effort for him to work with them.
If other things become priorities in their lives, Lowe says, he can’t work around that. It may have been these kinds of conflicts that lead to his remarks about Hector dying in a gang fight, a misinterpreted comment that Lowe says was not dismissive of Hector’s athletic future.
Ranee Tademy has spent the past 25 years working with underprivileged youth, especially minorities, through his nonprofit athletics program, the Boys to Men Foundation, in Salt Lake City. Tademy, who is acquainted with Ellefsen and Lord, is sympathetic to their quarrel with Lowe but in general terms, worries that both players and coaches struggle with the economic reality of high school athletics.
He says many underprivileged kids who can’t afford summer-conditioning camps are priced out of developing their full potential. They also struggle with team participation because of competing interests.
“Some of these kids don’t even have a ride to school,” Tademy says. “Or they may have a younger sister and have to babysit—there are so many issues.” Going the extra mile to develop the performance of these students is not easy, he says.
“It’s difficult, it would take programs and it would take money,” he says, echoing Lowe’s concern.
“I face challenges now from a socio-economic perspective,” Lowe says, “as far as getting kids to and from practice and workouts and other things are concerned.”
Joseph Fangalua, a youth instructor who runs Glendale Middle School’s after-school program, is well aware of the challenges of engaging underprivileged kids in high school sports.
“There’s a difference between our west-and east-side kids in actual organized sports,” Fangalua says, noting that many kids of economically stable homes can afford to be enrolled in conditioning camps from as early as age 6. “Unless [underprivileged] kids are involved at the Sorenson Rec Center, they’re usually only playing sports on the streets, so there’s obviously a disadvantage.” Another aspect that may affect Latino participation, Fangalua says, is that many Latino youth generally aren’t as interested in basketball, compared to sports like soccer.
Tademy, a licensed social worker, accepts hundreds of applications every year for his summer program, which gives underprivileged youth the chance to improve their game—so long as they also improve themselves. He says coaches who care about their players—all of their players—get a team that will play their hearts out for their coach, arguing that the most exceptional coaches “established relationships with their players. From the player that starts to the player that sits on the bench, now they have family, and they care for them like a family.”
But Lowe emphasizes that he has reached out to youth at Glendale Middle School to recruit players, especially Latinos, for East.
“The past two or three years ago, I and an assistant coach would spend a couple days down at Glendale,” Lowe says. “We were doing that as a way to make everyone feel that as long as you’re a good basketball player and do the things required of a basketball player … that you can play.”
Fangalua is also impressed by the outreach from East, but remembers differently about who it was who reached out first. He says it was Matheson who set up a clinic with Glendale’s after-school program three years ago. “He’s super helpful,” Fangalua says of Matheson. “He kind of just came on his own, really, because he saw some of our better kids who are super-talented and super-smart that, when they get over to East High, they kind of get lost in the shuffle.”
Fangalua says after the first year, Matheson brought Lowe into the recruiting and in subsequent years, they’ve arranged mini-tournaments for some of the after-school teams as a way to show off their talent and get to know the coaches at East.
“[Matheson] just wanted to get connected with our kids,” Fangalua says, adding that the first kids Matheson approached at Glendale are “still hanging out with [Matheson] to this day. He’s super-connected to them.”
The Leopard’s Spots
Among East High’s Leopards, Lowe remains the top cat in the food chain. But can a leopard change its spots? Lowe says his coaching style is a continual learning process, but, ultimately, he works with those who work with him. But that also means he won’t be working with Lord or Ellefsen, the only basketball coaches who could claim a winning season for their freshman team from the 2010-11 season.
Ellefsen now sits sidelined from the game he loves, looking for another coaching gig while awaiting a response to his May complaint to the Salt Lake City School District for being fired for retaliation. “I never wanted this to happen,” Ellefsen says. “And I know it sounds Disney-movie cheesy, but I only did this for the kids. I just wanted to coach basketball.”