By: Jamie Spatola Issue: Sports Section: Collaborator Profile
And Sometimes It Takes a Team
If you ask Duke University Head Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski why he loves his job so much, his answer would include the word “team.” He would tell you about the personal and collective benefits of being a part of something that is bigger than you, about how relying on teammates can allow you to accomplish things that you could never do alone, and about the beauty of collective responsibility. His Duke University teams have won games and championships. They have also suffered defeats. And members of those teams have reaped the many benefits that come with winning and losing together. They have learned about hard work and accountability, about care and pride. And perhaps no individual has felt these things more deeply than Coach K himself; he is a man with a passion for teamwork.
Clearly, teams can come together for many purposes. Coach K’s Duke teams find their mission on the basketball hardwood. Teams of doctors and scientists come together to study and cure diseases. Business teams combine their talents to make a particular enterprise successful. And in 2001, Father David McBriar, then a priest at Durham’s Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, brought to Coach K’s attention an enormous need in the community. The high-potential, but high-risk youth of Durham needed his teams help. They needed a place to go where their dreams could be heard, where they could be taught how those dreams might become a reality. Coach K, a builder of teams, knew that bringing together the right team and inspiring them with this worthy mission could effect great change in the lives of some special young people and break the cycle of poverty for local area families. Winning games has always been important to the Hall of Fame coach but what excites him most is how any success and recognition he has achieved on the court can be leveraged to have a positive impact in the world outside of the athletic arena. Coach K and his immediate and extended Duke team would become a part of the bigger, more important team that is having this kind of community impact.
The Head Coach
First, the team needed a leader. So, Duke Basketball’s head coach set to work recruiting. One of the first calls he made was to Marleah Rogers, daughter of Krzyzewski’s officer representative for the teams on which he played as a West Point cadet, Colonel Tom Rogers. Rogers had become a part of Krzyzewski’s life at an important and impressionable time. In his final year at West Point, Krzyzewski lost his father. Colonel Rogers filled a void, became a father figure and a guide. Their two families were forever united. Through the years, the Rogers and Krzyzewski families have endured many of life’s ups and downs together. In 1975, Rogers joined the staff of the young Coach Krzyzewski as he took over the reins as his alma mater’s head coach. In 1980, when Krzyzewski was hired as the head coach at Duke, the Rogers family relocated to Durham and the retired Army Colonel became a part of Krzyzewski’s Duke staff. In the meantime, Marleah Rogers, one of the colonel’s daughters, was becoming a pretty phenomenal leader herself as an officer in the Army and then in a variety of global businesses and consulting firms.
In January 2005, Coach K told Marleah Rogers about this idea and, immediately, she embraced the vision. This time it was Marleah who filled a void. Seeing the need for a long-term strategy and a business plan, she left her high-paying consulting job and promised six months of her time and expertise to getting the idea off the ground. Now, five years later, she serves as the CEO and President of the nonprofit Emily Krzyzewski Center whose beautiful 29,000 square foot building stands in the heart of Durham, North Carolina, just a few blocks from downtown on one side and Duke University on the other. The Emily K Center serves as a destination and source of inspiration for the seventy students in its Pioneer Scholars program for first through eighth graders and the thirty in its high school Scholars to College program. It’s where students receive focused instruction from highly qualified tutors and where they are held accountable to those tutors and to high academic standards. The Emily K Center is where they are taught to embrace heart, high expectations, hard work, honesty, integrity and respect as foundational to their character and where they are given the opportunity to follow the Center’s motto of “Dream, Do, Achieve.” The Emily K Center was named for Coach K’s mother, the daughter of Polish immigrants. She taught her two sons that they could become anything they wanted to be. How proud she would be to see her name on the Center, knowing that youngsters of today are not so different from her own sons. Though Coach Krzyzewski and his older brother, Bill, grew up poor in inner-city Chicago, they had a family who believed in them and a supportive community around them. They were given a chance - just like the youth at the Center.
The Assistant Coaches
Of course, the rest of the team still had to be assembled. Rogers recruited some tremendous talent to fill the ranks on the Center’s Board of Directors and full-time staff who design and implement the Center’s educational programming, manage the budget, and help raise the funds that make it all happen. As for the volunteers and tutors, Duke University and its athletic program have had much to offer over the Center’s first four years of operation. Over 100 Duke students volunteer each year, committing their time to the Center’s students and programming. Supported by teachers who serve as Lead Tutors, Duke student volunteers work one-on-one with the Pioneer Scholars, reinforcing and challenging them while also serving as role models and mentors. Additionally, each summer the Emily K Center (EKC) benefits from the DukeEngage program, an initiative that allows undergraduates to deepen their volunteer experience by spending eight-week summer internships in support of various charitable initiatives around the world.
EKC scholars get a lot out of their daily interaction with their student tutors, but they give a lot too. More than 50% of EKC volunteers say that their experiences with these motivated youngsters have led them to a change in their major and/or career plans. It seems to hold true with all teams - you must give a lot of yourself in order to be a part of something bigger, but you gain so much more than you give. Anders Campbell is a case in point. Throughout his four years as a Duke undergraduate Campbell , like many Duke students, became one of the “Cameron Crazies,” the nickname given to the Duke student body who have the best seats in the house for Duke’s home basketball games in historic Cameron Indoor Stadium. Their energy, creativity, and inexhaustible enthusiasm have given Duke teams one of the greatest home court advantages in college basketball. Campbell decided that the Crazies could add community outreach to a resume that already features some of the most stellar shows of support and opponent intimidation. Recognizing the potential to harness some of this energy to have a positive impact on the community, he and some of his fellow students founded an organization called Crazies who Care. It began simply enough, collecting a dollar from each student who attended Duke Basketball games to donate to Coach K’s favorite charities with 50% going to the Emily K Center and the other 50% going to Duke Children’s Hospital. It grew from there as Campbell and his fellow caring Crazies began donating their time as EKC volunteers. Crazies help support the character development programming that the EKC kids participate in on Fridays. They have hosted on-campus career and leadership seminars. They have led sports clinics, arranging for Duke’s men’s soccer, men’s ultimate frisbee, and women’s volleyball teams to help. Meanwhile, they have continued their fundraising efforts on the Center’s behalf, hosting events including an end-of-year banquet that the Blue Devil men’s and women’s basketball teams attend. Campbell then became one of the Center’s DukeEngage interns and last summer, along with fellow intern Mary Caroline Dyke, developed a summer curriculum for the EKC scholars in which the students interviewed Duke student-athletes in order to ultimately produce a sports-themed magazine in which their own articles were featured.
Campbell has now graduated, leaving behind him a legacy of giving for the Crazies who will follow. Thanks to Campbell, Crazies who Care is a thriving organization and will continue to be for a long time. He gave a lot as a part of the EKC team and it has changed his life. As a part of a program called MATCH Corps, he now works to help educate low-income, inner-city youth in Boston as he pursues a career and a lifetime devoted to education and social entrepreneurship.
Good coaches who are committed to and motivated by the mission are not enough to ensure a basketball team’s success. They have to have players with the same level of commitment as well as the necessary ability and know-how. In the same way that Coach K and his Duke Basketball staff recruit players for their program with a foundation of both talent and character, the Emily K Center seeks the best of the best in candidates for its K to College programs. Students are selected through a thorough admissions process requiring an application, interviews, and recommendations from teachers and principals. It is not a handout. It is a mutual commitment. The youngsters are becoming a part of a team and, therefore, they are expected to give as much as they receive.
Highly motivated, low-income students are recruited and then immersed into a culture and structure that pushes them to achieve. And they do. In just their first year as Pioneer Scholars they gain an average of 9.5 percentile points in reading and 8.5 percentile points in math. This significant impact has increased the percentage of students performing at or above grade level from 43% to 92% in reading and from 52% to 93% in math. As students continue in the program those gains are sustained and built upon so that when they graduate from high school they will be prepared to excel in college and become leaders of their own teams, building careers and improving communities.
The Sixth Man
No team is complete without support. At Duke, that support comes from the Cameron Crazies whose efforts as Duke Basketball’s “Sixth Man” have opponents fearing their trips to Cameron Indoor. The Emily K Center would never have been built and its programs could not function without the external support from its own version of the “Sixth Man.” Every summer, Duke Basketball hosts K Academy, a fantasy camp for men thirty-five years and older. Over four days, these men practice, play, and learn under the tutelage of Coach K, his staff, and many of the great players from Duke Basketball history. It is a fun week, the campers work hard, and it culminates with an auction where proceeds go to support the Emily K Center’s efforts. Over the years, repeat campers have come to know the Center well and realize the importance of its mission. As a result, many of these men and their families have become independent supporters of the Center. Their contributions of both money and pro-bono expertise as well as those from members of the Durham community have given the Center some of the much-needed capital and support it needs to grow and continue to impact more students.
Coach K and Duke’s commitment to the Center is obvious, even to a first-time visitor to the EKC. His mother’s name is on the building and Emily Krzyzewski had always taught her sons to treat anything with your name on it with the utmost pride. A photograph of mother and son is the first thing visitors see when they walk through the front doors. The floor of the Emily K Center gymnasium is the floor from the 2001 Final Four, the last time one of Coach K’s Duke teams became National Champions. Posted outside of offices and classrooms are some familiar Duke names – Amaker, King, Ferry – players from Duke Basketball’s past who also realize that great teams can accomplish much more than a well-executed motion offense and have given generously in support of the EKC’s efforts in the Durham community. For Coach K and his Duke team, a visit to the Emily K Center is a reminder of what winning really means and how it happens. The success already achieved by Emily K Center scholars teaches everyone involved that it is not naïve to believe in values and character, that commitment to a common goal still works, and that dreams do indeed come true. It happens. It happens on the hardwood in Cameron Indoor Stadium and it happens around a small table in one of the Emily K Center classrooms. It can happen anywhere. It just takes teamwork.
Jamie Spatola is a graduate of Duke University where she majored in English. She is the co-author of two books with Mike Krzyzewski: The Gold Standard and the bestselling Beyond Basketball.