Bay Area basketball community and coaches around the state unite to speak out after senseless murder of Richmond High player Rodney Frazier Jr. It’s a school well-known due to the “Coach Carter” movie and it’s a community that has suffered this kind of tragedy before.
“It’s time to put our foot down.”
“ Lip service is a waste of time.”
“It doesn’t matter if you have a fancy car or an expensive Italian suit, or $200 Nike shoes, what matters is to know you have substance to your life and positive influences, and are developing your brain by using all the educational opportunities available.”
Those are the words of Richmond boys’ basketball head coach Rob Collins.
Back when I was in high school in San Francisco at George Washington, with kids of all races and religions from mostly the Richmond and Fillmore Districts comprising the student body, we had our share of rumbles and fisticuffs.
There were bullies and some groups of kids that hung out together and were known to cause trouble.
There were also problems that we kids knew about in some areas of San Francisco and Oakland during my time in the late 1960s and early 1970s but the only gangs that came to my mind in those days were the ones I remembered from the stage play and movie West Side Story. Gangs were an East Coast and in particular a New York problem.
Oh my, how times have unfortunately changed. Gangs now not only proliferate in large metropolitan cities all across America but they have found their way into medium size and small cities and towns as well.
I took some sociology courses in college but I’m no sociologist and do not pretend to have an answer as to how we dissuade youngsters (mostly boys) from embracing a lifestyle that gets many of them, and innocents as well, placed in a coffin.
What I do know is the killing must stop.
Athletes are rarely caught up in the gang-banging lifestyle, but when it comes to being an innocent victim I personally have seen way too many athletes that were bystanders minding their own business get shot and killed in my 32-years of covering high school sports in California.
More often than not it isn’t the high profile athletes that get caught up in the mayhem that’s a byproduct of gang violence. Sometimes it’s just a regular kid, or possibly a standout on a team that doesn’t get all the hype and props, a kid like Rodney Frazier Jr.
The incoming Richmond junior was slated to be the point guard for head coach Rob Collins and the Oilers.
Instead, on Nov. 7 just after 9:00 p.m., and while riding the dirt bike he liked to work on, Frazier was shot multiple times outside his residence in North Richmond before stumbling up the driveway and collapsing in the bushes and dying.
The appalling result is that Frazier was a young man who was well-liked and a leader at Richmond. He had no gang affiliations and was just being a kid outside his house, and he has been wiped out for no reason.
Violence the preceding days of the tragedy, which included nine people in Richmond and North Richmond being shot with two people dying, may have prompted the attacks, according to law enforcement officials. Richmond police issued statement on Facebook attributing the increase in violence to “interpersonal conflicts, turf conflict between rival gang members and some unintended targets.”
The People Speak
This past Wednesday evening in Richmond almost 600 people showed up at the Richmond Civic Center Plaza for a memorial service to remember Frazier and make a statement about peace and love and putting an end to the senseless killings.
The event was organized by Collins and his roommate and Berkeley boys’ basketball head coach Mark DeLuca – and they did it in just three days of planning with the help of community leaders, police and some other dear friends.
Besides the Richmond mayor and police chief, Collins was a speaker, as was one of those friends, De La Salle boys head coach Frank Allocco.
The Real Coach Collins
“Rob is a very dear friend and when he called me crying to tell me his point guard had been gunned down he was devastated and distraught. I told him whatever he needed I was there for him,” said Allocco, who has known Collins since the Richmond coach’s days at Acalanes of Lafayette and Amador Valley of Pleasanton.
When Collins called back the next day to say he and DeLuca were organizing a peace rally, not only did Allocco agree to come and speak, he brought his entire team to Richmond on Wednesday.
Above it all, Allocco has seen the good his friend is doing in a community that desperately needs any help it can get.
“The mayor and police chief spoke but what touched me the most is when Rob spoke I could see tears in the eyes of young kids, eight and 10-year-olds that have to live with the violence.”
Prior to Collins taking the Richmond job, the Oilers had a coach named Ken Carter that got a movie made about himself, and with it made a lot of money that was supposed to be shared with the Oilers’ sports programs. Not surprisingly, not only did Carter disappear, but monies never materialized, according to several sources.
Now, the Oilers have Collins and it appears to be a match that in its own way hopefully can at least help put some kind of damper on the violence and killing.
“Rob Collins is the real deal. He’s coaching for all the right reasons,” Allocco continued. “He didn’t have to go to Richmond. He was called to Richmond because they needed him. I believe when a student is ready the teacher will appear and Rob fits that bill. He’s had to overcome more challenges than any coach I know. If there’s a movie to be made, it should be about Coach Collins.”
On A Mission
I have to admit that when I saw Coach Collins on the television news the day after the shooting crying about Frazier’s death, I was moved to make a statement of my own by giving Collins a chance to talk about learning from the past to make a better future.
“I’m not going to let this get me down. There’s too much work to do,” Collins remarked and then continued. “I don’t have to coach at Richmond but I’m on a mission to help these kids learn that style over substance is no longer working.”
Putting His Foot Down
While the senseless shootings and killings have not stopped, the actions of Collins and DeLuca in organizing an event like the Frazier memorial rally have increased awareness about the acuteness of the problem.
“Six kids were shot this week,” Collins said last Friday morning, a week after Frazier’s death. “The police are doing everything they can but they can’t do this alone. Lip service is a waste of time. I’m putting my foot down and for all of us it’s time to put our foot down and take this crime out of our communities.”
Personally, I’ve seen too much of what Collins is lashing out about and couldn’t agree more.
For Richmond, it’s not the first time an unintended target who turned out to be an athlete with no gang affiliations has been gunned down in the city. It brought back memories for Allocco and he addressed them to the crowd.
Terrence Kelly, a star De La Salle football player from Richmond, was shot and killed near his home, days before he was to leave for school and football at the University of Oregon.
There also have been high school athletes who’ve become murder victims in similar cases in recent years in Stockton and Sacramento.
Change Of Lifestyle
David Henderson of San Francisco Lincoln, who had one of the best prep careers in CIF San Francisco Section history, was unable to shake the lifestyle of the “hood” from his Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood.
In 2011, and after being unable to launch a college career in football due to off-field problems, but after apparently turning his life around and looking to try out for the University of Nebraska, Henderson got caught up in a robbery attempt and was shot in the Bayview-Hunters Point and killed, six months after a cousin suffered the same fate in the same neighborhood.
Ronnie Flores, the managing editor of Cal-Hi Sports, publisher of GrassRoootsHoops.net, and someone who’s seen his share of murders in his nearly 20 years of covering high school sports in the Los Angeles/Southern California area, was rattling off the cases faster than they could be written down.
Flores pointed to a recent conversation he had with 1993 All-State selection Terrill Woods, an Edison-Fresno grad who played alongside future NBA player Torraye Braggs on the Tigers’ frontline.
“I just asked him out of the blue about his teammate Mel Mason and how he was doing. He told me that Mason had been shot and killed in East Oakland.”
Flores also pointed out several cases he could recall of kids that were hoopsters and gang-bangers at the same time. Many met their demise, but some turned their lives around with or without basketball.
“I’ve ran across a lot of kids where I’ve wondered what these kids could have done with their lives if they had made difference choices,” Flores said.
The reality is high school is only the beginning of good decision-making about what path to take.
“It doesn’t end in high school,” Flores remarked. “Kids have to continue making the right choices. Sometimes you hear about guys getting killed in the streets years later.”
The hope in all this starts with people like Collins and other adults kids can look up to and learn from about making the right decisions – and all of us joining Collins in stopping the lip service and putting our feet down.
“It’s not as bad as it was 20 years ago (in L.A.) but it’s still bad,” Flores concluded. “What we need to remember is right now during football playoff time some kids are worrying about Friday night, while some kids are worrying about just getting home from school safely.”
The question remaining is what are we going to do as adults to help kids that need help steer clear of the violence and killing?
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Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend