By Mike Max

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Willie Howard played for the Minnesota Vikings, hurt his knee and decided to stay in town.

He became the football coach and dean of students at Robbinsdale Cooper High School. He’s introduced a new program there, maybe the only one where a coach strives for ties.

What Howard wants from his football team is that they become more than football players.

“The important part is that they understand that they’re students first, athletes second,” Howard said. “And being a student means discipline, integrity, hard work, good worth ethic and most importantly teamwork. Being able to represent not only themselves but their family as well as this building.

So he’s developed a program that emphasizes character, using motivational messages and making his players where a shirt and tie twice a week to school. The effect is startling.

“It makes us feel ready. It makes us feel successful and like I’m going to do something throughout the day,” Phoenix Sproles said.

And inside these walls, the movement is taking shape. It’s changing not just the football team, but the student body.

“As of now they think it’s great too. We’ve had about 30 people who have asked to join us and take part in the movement,” Tony Madison said.

Because if the people that wear the uniforms on Friday nights can feel the pride of another uniform, maybe they can change their own self-image. And maybe they can change the heartbeat of an entire school, and that’s what they’re feeling these days at Cooper.

“It’s spread like a weed in the grass. It’s hard to tame now because it’s so much positive from the community, our superintendent, our assistant superintendent, our principal. They all are talking about cultural relevancy, and that’s what’s important at Cooper High School,” Howard said.

Mike Max


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