Douglass football team gets full-time academic coach

Football players at Douglass have a full-time academic coach this fall helping them not just to improve their grades, but to navigate the requirements for college admission.

The 1st and Goal program is a pilot initiative designed by the Family League of Baltimore. Douglass received a grant from NFL Player Engagement to fund the program, which focuses on improving all aspects of student athletes' lives.

Douglass athletic director Tina Queen said she hopes to expand the program next fall to include all sports, but because more student athletes play football than any other sport at the school, the 1st and Goal program is expected to have an immediate impact.

"Our school already has some programs as far as at-school tutoring and blitz classes for HAS (High School Assessment test)," Queen said. "[The academic coach's] job is to monitor every student’s GPA, their test scores, what is needed to move them in the right direction."

The school will formally kick off its 1st and Goal program Thursday at 11 a.m with a ceremony on the Ducks’ new artificial turf field. Principal Antonio Hurt will welcome Harry Swayne, a former Raven representing the NFL; Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; and Jonathan Rondeau, president and CEO of the Family League.

Michelle Harper, the academic coach, will work with the players keep them on track to graduate and help those who want to play college football reach that goal. The Ducks are 3-0 this season after qualifying for the regional playoffs last fall for only the second time in school history.

"This will help our student-athletes to be better prepared to move on to the next level, realizing and understanding what it takes to get there and learning about admissions and financial aid and things like that that they need to know," said Ducks football coach Elwood Townsend, last season’s All-Metro Coach of the Year.

"Having someone dedicated to that, it’s a great thing, because with the everyday rigors with guidance counselors and their case loads, and the athletic director and her case load, and myself coaching football, it's hard to govern 70 or 80 kids and monitor the constant turnover in our student athletes."

Hurt brought the program to Douglass by applying for a grant from NFL Player Engagement.

"At Douglass, we believe that our athletes must be students first, and this partnership affirms the comprehensive development of young men in the West Baltimore community," Hurt said in a statement.

"The development of a comprehensive student-athlete program is going to catapult the football experience here."

A similar initiative has proven its worth at Patterson, where academic coach Kelley Bagdasarian’s program began in 2000 with a grant from the NFL’s Play It Smart program. It has evolved into an all-sports program with a 100 percent high school graduation rate among student athletes who have taken part over the last 13 years.

Dunbar and Digital Harbor are in their second year running a similar program.

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