Much time in Seattle is spent these days discussing the many millions needed to fund another sports palace. Inevitably, laments pile up over the absence of similar funding lesser enterprises and younger kids.
One man who is attacking the problem, from the ground up instead of the mayor down, is Donte Robinson, who has an open invitation to athletes around the area: Show Up or Shut Up.
That’s his name for the flag football tournament he began last year and plans to crank up again July 14-15 at Franklin High School. The sole purpose is to raise money to help replace the football team’s outdated equipment.
As an honorable-mention All-Metro running back at Franklin in 2002, Robinson recalled a moment in the locker room when he picked up a battered knee pad, still in use, with writing on it. It was an autograph from a player who graduated 20 years earlier.
The knee pad outlasted any sense of shame the school had for outfitting its players so poorly.
Anyone involved in prep sports, especially in big cities, knows Robinson's epiphany is one anecdote among many that describe the failing financial health of many school districts, and the inevitable response: reduction and even elimination of sports programs, arts programs and anything extracurricular that these days are branded as luxuries.
It often falls to the students, via participation fees, and parents, via booster groups, to help athletic programs survive. The need for money serves as a barrier to the neediest families who want their kids engaged in something other than gangs.
Robinson took it upon himself to do something. Last summer he brought together 22 teams of 11 players each for a seven-on-seven, round-robin tournament. Through his connections as a sports agent, he coaxed playing appearances out of numerous Seahawks who were locked out of their workplace: Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Golden Tate, Walter Thurmond and Richard Sherman, along with Brandon Gibson of the St. Louis Rams, and NBA players Nate Robinson, Aaron Brooks and Trevor Ariza.
Entry fee for the tourney was $250 per team, all proceeds to Franklin football. No cut for Robinson, no trophies, no pocketing the concessions money. Just $5,000 that Franklin otherwise wouldn’t have for new equipment.
Now that brain trauma is receiving the attention it deserves among athletes playing sports, the costs to insure and protect is going up even faster. Schools have to come up with ideas, somehow, somewhere. Yet, worthy as is his flag-football tourney, and supportive as has been Franklin coach Jim Wright and school alums, the school for legal reasons can't be a sponsor or endorser.
“But,” said Robinson, smiling, “They can’t stop me from giving money to my school.”
Even though NFL players can’t play this summer, players such as Seahawks cornerback Roy Lewis will show up in support, as will Gibson, the wide receiver from Puyallup who became Washington State's all-time leading receiver. Returning will be hoopsters including Robinson, the former Huskies great, other local NBAers Aaron Brooks and Terrence Williams.
Donte Robinson says he expects to see his old neighborhood pal, Isaiah Stanback, the former Huskies quarterback who will return shortly to the camp of the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, where he won a Super Bowl ring.
As of Friday, 27 teams had signed up, and a sponsor, Muscle Milk, was added.
The double-elimination tournament, in which teams play two 20-minute halves, runs from 9 a.m. Saturday until 4:30 p.m., and Sunday from 10 am to 3 p.m. Room remains for those interested in an all-day football party to turn rags to riches by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't have to play to enjoy, or help.
"Always wanted to do this," said Robinson.
One sport, one school at a time, it has to be done, because the new normal means there's no other way.