It was lunch time in Upper Marlboro, and a steady stream of men were shuffling in and out of the Prince George’s County courthouse. Correctional officers talked loudly to one another while men just released from the county jail joked at a nearby bus stop.
But at the Old Towne Inn, just down the street from the courthouse, a quartet of football players from Wise High School, sporting shirts, ties and hats from several colleges sat amid the judges, court clerks and Prince George’s County politicians. They were joined by family, friends and coaches, as they watched ESPN’s coverage of “National Signing Day” –the day when high school football players announce where they are going to college.
As an ESPN reporter talked about other prep stars from across the country, Marcus Allen, a strong safety for Wise, adjusted his white Penn State cap. Isaiah Black, the team’s quarterback, was wearing a hat from Saint Anselm College. Tight end Mica Till’s cap had a big red S for North Carolina State and corner back Joe Shelton had a sweat shirt that read Alderson Broaddus University, which is located in Phillips, West Virginia. They were all celebrating the promise of the future.
“This means a lot because it is a culmination of four years of hard work,” said Wise head football coach Delawn Parish who reflected on the day he accepted a scholarship to play corner back at Wake Forest and all of the great rivalry’s head playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
All afternoon, the players’ parents beamed. Even though their sons have yet to play a single college football down, they still expressed a sense of accomplishment from years of parenting, car rides and games.
Durwood Till said that he knows that his son is ready for college because he instilled in him confidence. “Everyday I showed him that I believed in him.” Shawn Allen said he and his wife always took their responsibility as parents seriously. “We understood where our responsibilities were in terms of guiding our sons, working them hard and trying to facilitate the process as best we could.”
The players said their ready as well. “Having a scholarship means a lot,” said Marcus Allen. “it is weight taken off my mother and my father’ shoulders. A lot of people don’t have the blessings to go to college.” Allen’s sentiments were echoed by Shelton who said “I plan to major in Business Administration.”
Till, the youngest of four boys, said he was ready for college. “I don’t feel pressure because it has always been instilled in me that I can do whatever I wanted to do,” he said.
Isaiah Black credited his father, Kenneth for helping him to remain on the right path. “My father always told me that as a black man eyes are always going to be on you and the only way to take away the negativity is by putting something positive there,” he said. “I want to be a young man who gets his school work and not hang out with the crowd.”
As he stood in the Old Town in Kenneth Black looked toward rear door leading into the kitchen and said, “They used to call this place the judges’ chamber and at one time blacks had to come to the back door to be served.
Donnell Long, an African American who purchased, remodeled and revamped the restaurant in 2006 said he has tried to support the Wise program the entire year because it is stark contrast to the scenes older black men who encounter the criminal justice system in Upper Marlboro.
”We are proud that these kids are graduating from high school and are trying to do something positive in their lives,” Long said. “We have the jail, we have the high dropouts, but these kids have decided to do the right thing and we have to reward that.”