INDIANAPOLIS — It’s football season once again and high schools across Central Indiana are strutting their stuff on the sidelines – getting ready for those Friday night lights.
For one east side football team, it’s not so much about their flash or showmanship or even about filling the win column; but rather banding together as brothers to make a better life for themselves and the communities they call home.
Purdue Polytechnic High School along East Washington Street is new, their football team, even newer. The field they practice on is not theirs, their helmets may not match and some players don’t even get pads of their own – what some would call setbacks, this team calls steps on the way to success.
“For us, it’s a lot of hope. We don’t let these challenges stop us because it’s just life,” Head Football Coach at Purdue Polytechnic High School Dante Cook said. “Equipment-wise, we truly are building from scratch. Nothing. You know… we’ve got nothing, right.”
Hope, like water, can be hard to come by when there are only three water jugs and 34 thirsty athletes.
“There’s things that, you know, you don’t know that you don’t have it until you come and you need it,” Cook said. “And we’re talking really basic things. Even meals. Right? A lot of these guys, you’d be surprised, we’ll come up pregame… some of these guys haven’t eaten all day. These are some of the unique challenges we have.”
Helmets, shoulder pads matching jerseys, proper equipment any football team would need to practice in, these boys of fall need most of it all.
“Teams that have been around for 15 years or so, they have a need, they go into the equipment shed and they fix it. We don’t have a shed, we have a bag and there’s a lot we need,” Cook said. “The football program is in its third year but it really feels like year one.”
Cook started this football team three years ago, the first year was met with its own challenges, starting practice merely 60 days before their first game, and last year was dominated by COVID. He could honestly care less about the wins on gamely, his vision is grander.
“We talk about ourselves being a leadership development factory disguised as a football program right? Really this team is the only outlet for a lot of our kids,” Cook said. “The statistics for kids in this area, you know, IPS or inner-city kids right, the numbers aren’t that good typically.”
His roster represents a resilient lot. Boys who have overcome much to even make it to the practice field on a daily basis.
“Most of them don’t have fathers. Most of them are in single-parent homes. Most of them have come from traumatic situations,” Cook said. “We have actual deaths from violence and gun violence and what I see. And what I tell these guys and they think they see it too is an opportunity to be different. I’m gonna be the first in my family to do this, right? To make something of my life and be great.”
It’s an opportunity Purdue Polytechnic Senior and Captain Carter McDowell doesn’t take lightly.
“We gotta get out the mud. Literally,” McDowell said. “This football team is a safe place to come to and like you can say or like speak your feelings and not have or be beat down about it.”
McDowell’s got an internship lined up at Citizens Energy. He wants to become the first in his family to be a computer programmer.
And for that, he thanks his coach.
“Having the structure of leaders like my coach and stuff, having to model myself after them when I go into internships or jobs it just helps me a lot,” McDowell said. “If we didn’t have the discipline they give us, we wouldn’t… we wouldn’t have a chance of winning anything at this point and I mean life too.”
Practice without pads. Hustle without helmets. Wins without water… proves it’s not always about how you look or what you have, but how you hope along the way.
“These stories… our guys, I think for me, it creates an opportunity for hope,” Cook said. “For our guys, it’s an opportunity for a world-class education and a world-class athletic experience that’s really going to keep them out of trouble and teach them the character and discipline they need to be successful on and off the field of life.”
The football team has created a list of equipment items like sports tape kickoff tees, towels, water bottles, and cleats they need to help them build and grow their team. You can view it on their Amazon Wish List.