Photo: Myer Krah (left) and Vad Lee (right) with scholarship recipients Keith Beasley and Gerald Wilkes.
DURHAM, N.C. -- Myer Krah and Vad Lee, Durham Hillside teammates and long-time friends, shared a heartfelt desire to pay back their community for a high school experience they say launched their promising futures.
Krah, a Navy outside linebacker, and Lee, a James Madison University quarterback, were team captains that led the Hornets to a 2010 state football championship. The football crown and the school's marching band state title the same year both did much to rebuild morale at the school that state education officials had labeled as under-achieving and plagued by violence. The magical year still inspires Krah before Navy games. He plays the Hillside band's version of a the school fight song on headphones.
“We’re really close, and we didn’t want to let go of what we built at the school with the state championship,” Krah said. “We wanted to share this with other guys and future classes. We facebook them, email them; we want to build a network.”
They discussed their idea with Hillside head coach Antonio King and came up with a reunion and scholarship idea. They decided on the “All In Reunion” and “All In Scholarship” that plays off Hillside’s team slogan used en route to the Hornets’ 2010 N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A state title.
The first “All In Scholarship” Krah and Lee presented was in 2013 for $500 with funds raised on their own “from family and friends.” Quianti Cherry used the scholarship to attend Elizabeth City State University in Elizabeth City, N.C.
In 2014, they doubled their funds to $1,000 with a bump from a gofundme.com account. DeAndre Harper, the recipient, used it as a freshman at Winston Salem State this past school year.
For 2015, they raised $2,000 and split it into two scholarships – one each for Keith Beasley to attend North Carolina and Gerald Wilkes Jr. to Campbell.
“Myer and Vad were outstanding leaders for us,” King said. “They got most of the media attention and did the interviews, but they worked hard. They led more by example than talking. The other kids wanted to follow them and our team really came together. They also were great students.”
But they wanted to do more than hand out a scholarship. They came up with an idea to combine the fund-raising effort with the “All In Reunion.”
The third annual reunion, held over Mothers’ Day weekend, has grown into a festival atmosphere. The parking lot looked like a football Friday night. A few hundred fans were in the stands and the concessions stands were open.
On the stadium field, touch football games matched current players and past classes at both ends of the field. Greg Little, a 2007 Hillside graduate and four-year NFL veteran with Cleveland and Cincinnati, was among the former players.
“We hold it on the Friday before Mother’s Day,” said King, “to make it easier for everyone to come home that weekend.”
Krah and Lee began to formulate their idea as they ventured down separate paths to college -- Krah was admitted to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD., after a year at the USNA Prep School and Lee transferred to James Madison after starting his career at Georgia Tech. They have stayed in touch throughout.
They came to understand the dichotomy of being privileged to gain a scholarship from an under-privileged neighborhood that lacked opportunity. They also acknowledged they benefited from of having two parents supporting them; others did not. Their football talent attracted recruiters; others were overlooked or lacked ability for the next level.
They could have waited after their college graduations to act on their notions, but the idea of sponsoring a college scholarship kept turning in their minds.
“We didn’t want to wait until we were old men,” Lee said. “We wanted to do something special because we feel Hillside and Durham are special places.”
You could say they informally devised their own chapter of “My Brother’s Keeper,” an initiative designed to mentor young students from under-privileged neighborhoods that was launched in 2014 by President Obama with other community leaders.
“That’s what ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ is all about,” says Obama on the White House website regarding My Brother’s Keeper. “Helping more of our young people stay on track, providing the support they need to think more broadly about their future. Building on what works – when it works, in those critical life-changing moments.”
Well, Krah and Lee were a year ahead of the President and two years ahead of the newly focused national attention on America’s economic and educational neglect of inner-city neighborhoods in the wake of the recent Baltimore riot.
“I do a lot of community work at school (Navy),” Krah said. “You don’t have to be in Baltimore to help communities. There are under-privileged kids on the other side of Annapolis we can influence.”
And they’ve done all this a year ahead of earning their college degrees as they prepare for their senior seasons.
Last season Lee won the Bill Dudley Award as the top Division I player in Virginia. James Madison is a Football Championship Subdivision school in Harrisonburg, Va., but the Dudley award is for FCS and Football Bowl Subdivision athletes. Lee also was fourth for the Walter Payton Award for FCS schools.
He set school records for pass completions (282), attempts (465), yards (3,642), touchdowns (30) and total offense (4,288). He threw for 433 yards in a 55-20 win over then-No. 14-ranked FCS school Richmond. The Dukes finished with a 9-4 record and advanced to the FCS playoffs before losing in the first round to Liberty, 26-21.
The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder transferred to JMU for the 2014 season after a redshirt and two season playing at Georgia Tech. He was the Yellow Jackets’ backup quarterback with extensive playing time as a redshirt freshman in 2012 and starter in 2013 as a sophomore.
Krah was a backup cornerback last season until a rash of injuries forced Navy to move him to outside linebacker at South Alabama. Krah responded with 10 tackles and an interception returned 31 yards to set up the Midshipmen’s first touchdown to dig out of a 10-0 deficit. Navy’s 42-20 clinched bowl eligibility with a 6-5 record and was the second victory in a four-game winning streak that ended with an 8-5 record.
Navy decided to move him to their outside linebacker position known as “striker” during spring football for the 2015 season. He played at 5-11, 198 last season, but he worked out at 205 pounds in spring ball and thinks he can add another 10 pounds without losing a step by the fall.
They have one final college season left. But they say they have many years remaining paying back their high school and neighborhood.
--- Tom Shanahan has featured Army, Navy and Air Force athletes for nearly 30 years in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Voice of San Diego, Rivals.com and the Raleigh News and Observer. He attended his first Army-Navy Game after John Feinstein wrote in his book on the rivalry, “A Civil War,” everyone should attend the Army-Navy Game at least once. Air Force players will remind people their Army and Navy games are big, too.