By Travis M. Smith | KBEC Sports
A sand volleyball court in Waxahachie is proving one serve at a time that sports have a way of uniting communities.
And, in a world currently void of amateur sport but heavy on hate, the friendly competition has also proven capable of healing, too.
Despite racial and COVID-19-related tensions climbing, roughly three dozen young people have regularly gathered on the campus of The Avenue Church to prove both of those hypotheses true.
A third scientific assumption could also likely be formed and confirm that there is a sports-fueled uniqueness that organically promotes a relative void of racial tensions in Ellis County and, in particular, Waxahachie. That is not, however, to say that the county and county seat do not have unresolved issues.
For those who haven’t yet visited the church’s campus, the sand volleyball court sits a few paces behind Buffalo Wild Wings along US Highway 287 in northern Waxahachie. There is also a full-sized basketball court a little closer to a retention pond. Both are located outside the church’s front doors, a safe haven that has seen several dozen Ellis County student-athletes accept Jesus Christ since opening its doors.
Two of the regular attendees of the then-almost-daily volleyball and basketball games were Caleb High and Kaiden Calvert.
During a game on a Tuesday in June, High said he first showed up to the sand volleyball court without knowing any of his fellow competitors, who have since turned into friends.
“I just felt like getting active and was tired of sitting at home,” said High just before hollering to a friend on the court, “you see me talking,” and adding a hearty laugh. The 2018 Waxahachie graduate has since departed to resume his collegiate football career at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, Okla.
“I think we have a pretty strong community, especially in Waxahachie,” High added. “Take The Avenue; all of these people here on a normal basis would probably not be hanging out with each other. But coming out here and just being able to play sports together and have fun, I think that is how that culture has started. We are all young now, but in 10 years from now, we will all be adults and can pass that culture along to our kids.
“[…] A lot of people from Waxahachie will leave, but they usually come back, and that helps foster generational love.”
Calvert stood and nodded in agreeance as High spoke. He then dropped a little knowledge on the root of racism that more than a few grown people could stand to learn.
“I feel like racism is something that you allow to go on,” Calvert stated. “You see people, and really families, that whatever their viewpoint is on something, then that is what your viewpoint is going to be. But, sooner or later, you learn right from wrong and learn that ignorance comes in all colors.”
Calvert explained he grew up with a grandfather self-described as “real southern and real old school.” Unfortunately, we don’t have to read between the lines too much to understand what the 17-year-old meant.
“But then, my brother, who my mom basically adopted, he’s African-American,” he added. “So I’ve seen ever since that, no matter what the color of the skin is, I’ve known that everyone is beautiful in their own way. Everybody has to be loved, especially our brothers through Christ.”
The conversation and topic were had while the country at-large continues to learn to deal with the “new normal” amid a global pandemic. It also came while many civic and community leaders continue a century-old fight to end racial injustice, especially within minority groups.
The push for equality was first brought to the global sports scene when two Black sprinters, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised a black-gloved fist while standing on the medal podium of the XIX Olympiad. The act occurred during the playing of the U.S. national anthem inside Olympic Stadium in Mexico City on Oct. 16, 1968.
Nearly five decades later, former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick borrowed a page from Smith and Carlos’s book and took a knee during the playing of the anthem ahead of a San Francisco 49ers preseason game in 2016. His actions — aimed at bringing attention to police brutality against minorities — were met with much scrutiny in the media and at dinner tables.
Since then, and following the death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis, athletes and leagues across professional sports have taken knees, placed calls for equality on the backs of jerseys, donned patches and taken stands on social media.
High contested that many athletes and fans chose to ignore the true reasons behind why Kaepernick protested during the national anthem during his final season in the NFL.
“But now? People are recognizing that this has to stop because it’s affecting more than just the Black community,” he explained. “You can see that our nation, at the time, is burning. People know that this has to stop right now, or it is going to go downhill real fast.
“Black people are tired. But it’s not just Black people who are tired anymore. It has to change and fast.”
Part of that change will soon occur naturally inside amateur locker rooms, as high school and collegiate programs begin to return to campus.
“In the locker room, there was no Black, white or Hispanic,” High said. “We were all brothers, and we were all there for the same reasons. We all wanted to go to college and we all wanted to win. We didn’t really ever have time to argue about ‘this guy is white, so I can’t play with him.’ We were always hanging out so much.”
High noted that the love extended beyond the locker room, too, as a large group of parents made themselves readily available to each member of the Indians football team.
“Out of our  senior class, there were about 20-30 of us and only about five had dads. The coaches weren’t just worried about our development on the football field or X’s and O’s, they were worried about developing us off the field.”
High added that former Waxahachie head football coach Jon Kitna, who is now in the same position at Burleson High School, checked in with 10 members of the 2018 senior class a few weeks back. According to High, Kitna asked how the group was feeling about the current state of the country and protests.
“And then he just told us that he loved us,” High recalled. “And, I can tell you right now, that out of that group chat, only one of us has a dad. It’s great to have a father figure in your life that helps fill that void.”
“[…] A lot of teammates, I didn’t see them as teammates, I saw them as family. So their family is my family,” he added.
High and Calvert were also quick to agree that Waxahachie only having one high school has helped to enhance race relations significantly.
“We all go to one school, and that is how the bond is formed, especially on the football team,” High explained. “I know, for instance, in Mansfield, you have one school that is primarily in the Black area and another in a predominantly white area, so it’s separated.
“[…] But, here in Waxahachie, we all have to go to the same school and it doesn’t matter about our background.”
Both agreed that a second high school with an athletic program could “be a problem” for race relations and community unity. They also both agreed that communication — or a lack thereof — combined with empathy, is the main component missing between minorities and police officers.
“A lot of people want to worry about how it is affecting them, but they don’t want to take the time to think about how it is affecting the other person,” High explained.
High then used protestors and looters as an example. He noted that the group that lumps the two together is missing the protestors’ true stance and, instead, has projected a negative view on the peaceful group and looters — who he labeled as vandals. High also made it clear that the opposite is true.
“I’ve seen Black people screaming at cops who weren’t even part of the situation,” High added. “They are screaming at a cop who is probably a good person. But, just because of what those other cops did, they are taking it out on him.
“The Bible teaches us that it’s OK to be angry, but you cannot let that anger control you and cause you to sin. Of course, you are going to be angry, and it’s going to be hard to not be angry at the situation. But we all need to take a step back and breathe because violence isn’t going to do anything. We have to find a way to bring change without being angry.”
Calvert quickly interjected, “It really is up to us, and our generation to change the viewpoint.”
And all of that brings to question, how do we fix this? How do we, as a community and a country, repair the seemingly irreparable damage that’s occurred over the past 260-plus years?
From political bickering on social media to police brutality to day-to-day racial slurs, what’s the answer? Well, just ask the god-fearing student-athletes.
“I was raised to spread God’s love, so I can’t just react based on how [people] react toward me because then I wouldn’t be raised to do what I was taught to do,” High iterated. “I have to spread love because that is the only thing that is going to stop all of this hate. If I give out more hate, it is just going to make everyone else hate more.
“[…] I feel like the only way this can truly be solved is if we spread more love. It’s hard for people to show love for some reason because they feel like it makes them look weak. But, in the end, we are all human, and we are all either going one place or the other. Love is key to solving all of this.”
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith