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Building Bridges Between High School Football Programs in Northeast Ohio

The Build the Bridge program, helmed by three high school coaches, is making a huge impact on student athletes at nearly 100 high schools in northeast Ohio.

The initiative brings teams of different racial or socioeconomic backgrounds together to talk about social justice and race relations. It was started by Cleveland Heights High School head coach Mac Stephens, his offensive coordinator Kahari Hicks, and former Beechwood High School head coach Damion Creel.

It began with players from Cleveland Heights coming together with players from Olmstead Falls High School to participate in a “Locker Room Chalk Talk” for an open conversation about social justice and race relations in their communities. 

Since starting up last March, Build the Bridge has grown to include nearly 100 teams. The program matches two teams for an event focused on fostering personal connections and collaborative discussion on social justice and race relations. Events include competition on the field or in the weight room and a shared meal to complete the day.

Following the meetings, coaches and athletes are encouraged to remain in regular contact throughout the year to spark additional dialogue and strengthen team bonds.

As Stephens, Hicks, and Creel expanded the program, it caught the eye of the Cleveland Browns, who partnered with Build the Bridge last August as part of the team’s #BeTheSolution campaign.

Stephens, a former NFL linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets, said the program has made a huge impact on his players.

Heading into his seventh season as the head coach of Cleveland Heights, Stephens has led the Tigers to a 22-8 record since the 2018 season. While the wins are nice, Stephens is happier about the number of student-athletes his staff has sent to colleges on full or partial football scholarships.

Below, you can listen to Coach Stephens chat with High School Football America’s Jeff Fisher the Build the Bridge program.

Featured photo courtesy of the Cleveland Browns. 


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