In my 34 years of covering high school sports in St. Louis, I cannot remember a more turbulent football season than the one we are experiencing this year.
Last week’s events added to the turmoil as two head coaches from teams in the midst of winning seasons were relieved from their duties. Trey Porter was dismissed as head coach at Roosevelt High School just as his team was on the cusp of repeating as champions of the Public High League.
Just a few days later, the entire staff at Cardinal Ritter College Prep, which included head coach Brandon Gregory, was fired just a couple of weeks before the state playoffs, where the undefeated Lions were one of the favorites to win the Class 2 state championship.
The circumstances in which these two coaches lost their jobs are quite different, but there is one common denominator in both situations. The people who will be most impacted by these events are the students. As is it usually the case, the kids are the ones who will be hurt the most. And that is a shame.
The reasons for Trey Porter’s dismissal at Roosevelt haven’t been made official as it is a personnel matter in the St. Louis Public Schools. In interviews, Porter said he was let go because he violated the school’s policy of following his students on social media. With all of the bad things that have been happening to young people in our community, Porter has used social media as a way to keep in constant communication with his players and make sure they stayed safe and out of harm’s way.
I do not profess to know all the policies of the SLPS, but what I do know is that Trey Porter has been a godsend to the young men at Roosevelt, on and off the football field. On the football field, the Roughriders went from PHL doormats to back-to-back PHL champions in just a short period of time. That is just a small part of the story.
Off the field, he has been a leader, mentor, big brother and father figure all wrapped up in one to a group of young men who have been craving for his leadership. A native of Southeast Missouri, I watched him impact the lives of kids in the boot heel for years before he came to St. Louis a few years back. Roosevelt students staged a walkout at the school in support of Porter on Monday morning.
A few miles away, Brandon Gregory was accomplishing some tremendous things in building Cardinal Ritter into a state power in football. Cardinal Ritter had enjoyed some pretty good success over the past decade, but Gregory was taking the program to another level.
The Lions played for a Class 3 state championship last season and were a strong contender to win a Class 2 state title this season. The Lions were undefeated and currently ranked the No. 1 small school in the nation, according to Max Preps. The program was stocked with talented players who have already gone on to and will go to collegiate programs around the country. Ritter was set up to be a state power for years to come. Like Porter, Gregory is loved and respected by his players.
However, one bad decision made by Gregory caused everything to crumble like a house of cards. The Lions were cited for using an ineligible player in their first game of the season. Running back Bill Jackson was ejected from last year’s state-championship game against Trinity. By state rules, he must sit out the next game, which turned out to be Ritter’s opening season game at Chicago area power Nazareth Academy.
Not only was the decision made to play Jackson in the game, but also to put him in a different jersey number under a different name in the program. It was a high-risk, low reward move to begin with.
Once the infraction came to light, the punishments were swift and harsh. Cardinal Ritter had to forfeit all seven of its victories this season, and Jackson was ruled ineligible for the next eight games. The biggest blows came when Gregory and his entire staff were dismissed and the Lions’ season was shut down immediately. There will be no postseason at Ritter or no possible state-championship run. Just like that. The Lions’ season is over. All because of one very risky gamble where there was so little to gain and so, so much more to lose. It was too big a risk to jeopardize what he was building at Ritter, not to mention the reputation of a great school.
And the ones who lose out the most are the kids. In the case of Cardinal Ritter, there will be no Senior Night for those students. Those seniors have seen their careers come to an unexpected and abrupt end. There will be no opportunity for them to compete in the state playoffs or put together that valuable film for the college recruiters during a state playoff run. The eight games that Jackson has to sit out is basically his senior year.
As for the kids at Roosevelt, they are losing much more than a football coach. Should Porter end up at another school next season, it will be a huge loss for those young men. The fact that Roosevelt’s students staged a walkout at the school on Monday morning to protest his firing gives a strong indication of the impact that he made.
At this point, I really feel for those kids at Cardinal Ritter and Roosevelt.