A new era is ahead for Akron students as Kenmore and Garfield high schools come together to merge as a single unit. The transition has already begun on the football field as players have spent several weeks working together before the season officially begins.
“There’s no more Kenmore. There’s no more Garfield," said senior Billy Carper. "It’s just, we all look at each other, we’re all one unit, undivided.”
This year’s theme is pretty clear. The word “undivided” is written across the back of each practice t-shirt, worn by both high school football players and staff members.
“We’re the first sport out of the gate every school year,” said Kenmore/Garfield head football coach Kemp Boyd. “What we do one the field will translate to the amount of pride our students take in our school.”
Kenmore and Garfield football players were once on opposite sides of the field. That changed after school officials made the decision to close several schools, including Kenmore High School, following a drop in enrollment and increasing costs for the Akron school district.
“I’ve heard people talking about how there could be problems, people not liking each other, trying to represent their own school,” said Carper.
Carper is originally from Kenmore High School. His friend, Coleone Williams, also a senior, is originally from Garfield.
“It’s kind of like freshman year,” said Williams.
The concerns of a combined schools were brought up almost immediately after school officials announced the closure.
But despite the concerns, Boyd said his players, both new and old, are setting the stage for their classmates.
“[Your classmates] should be able to lean on you to be the ambassador in this school for what this should be and look like.”
While the district is in the process of finding a new name and mascot for the school, players have opted to wear Kenmore jerseys and Garfield helmets during practice.
For students, it’s a sign of teamwork and optimism for the future.
“We’re all here to get an education, play sports, go to college,” said Carper. “We can’t really fight about where we’re from. We’re all inner city. We just got to get it done.”
Transitioning in the Classroom
There’s more to the transition than what’s happening on the football field. The school year begins at the end of the month for students in the Akron Public School District. For some, it’ll be the first time they will be experiencing their newly combined school.
The school district has teamed up with Project Ujima to help students and families transition after the merger of Garfield and Kenmore high schools and the closing of Kent and Innes middle schools.
The organization has spent the summer opening discussions with students and their families with questions or concerns.
“Our focus is on using discussion circles to help people address issues of shared concern and then go from talk to action,” said Crystal Jones, executive director of Project Ujima.
Anyone interested in learning more about the transiition or would like to be involved in upcoming group discussions are encouraged to contact Project Ujima.