SE: Embracing the Journey

Part of K-State Athletics’ goal of becoming ‘A Model Intercollegiate Athletics Program’ and providing ‘A World-Class Student-Athlete Experience’ for each and every one of its student-athletes is making sure every student-athlete feels comfortable in their own skin, both on and off their respective playing fields. 

On Sunday evening, K-State Athletics hosted a panel in the Steel and Pipe Theatre of the Vanier Family Football Complex for all student-athletes to open up about and talk about diversity. 

In honor of Black History Month, the panel was made up of five of K-State Athletics’ African American assistant coaches in Andre Coleman (football), Vincent Johnson (track and field), Chris Lowery (men’s basketball), Jordan Smith (tennis) and Stephanie Stoglin-Reed (women’s basketball). Titled “Embracing the Journey,” the panel’s goal was to help student-athletes learn how to develop a coaching career and strengthen the K-State community. It began with the five panelists sharing their background and the obstacles they each overcame on their journey to becoming Division I coaches. 

“The administration here is awesome in how proactive they are to make sure that we are truly building a family,” said Stoglin-Reed, who is in her first year as coordinator of recruiting operations with the women’s basketball team. “We’re focused on reaching out to everyone, no matter what their race is, so I think, overall, the panel really accomplished that. The coaches showed that everyone has their strengths, and at the end of the day, we all can accomplish the same things no matter what our race is or economic background is.” 

K-State Director of Athletics John Currie was the moderator for Sunday evening’s panel and opened the floor with an introduction explaining why this panel was important to him. 

“We have people from 26 different states and from 18 different countries coming out here to Manhattan, Kansas, into this athletics department,” said Currie to the 100-plus student-athletes from all sports in attendance. “You all come from different backgrounds, so our questions are: Do you guys feel ‘family’ or not? Is there an element of our student-athlete population that feels like they’re not included? Are we doing enough? 

“We decided that, since February is Black History Month, we would have a panel and feature five of our assistant coaches from different sports and ask them a little bit more about their backgrounds from a professional career and development, and also some of the ways they’ve developed strategies for overcoming adversity and developing resiliency.”

Though each assistant coach comes from a very different background, each had a similar reason they decided to get involved in coaching: they wanted to make a difference in the lives of young people. 

They wanted to inspire young people and keep them from making the same mistakes they made. 

“Coaching the game is easy,” said Coleman, K-State’s wide receivers coach and a former Wildcat student-athlete himself, “but it’s the life lessons that are rewarding – teaching kids about the real world and what to expect when you get out there. I didn’t have the people to give me the cheat sheet, and when you have that, when you build a relationship with a kid and they trust you, you can make an impact on their life.”

Following the coaches’ introductions and thoughts, the floor was opened for student-athletes to ask a few questions of their own. Alyssa Kelly, a senior on the Wildcat track and field team, was full of questions. From asking the panel about its reasoning behind becoming coaches to asking about the biggest difficulties they have faced as coaches, Kelly received information she can carry with her into her future career. 

“I think my biggest takeaway was each of the coaches’ personal stories of overcoming certain circumstances that they went through,” said Kelly. “Everyone has a different story, everyone has gone through something, so just seeing how each of them didn’t allow things to hold them back from where they wanted to go was very encouraging and beneficial for me.”

Kelly, a native of Overland Park, Kansas, said she hopes to get involved in coaching one day and already has experience in coaching as, during the summers, she volunteers as a coach with her former AAU track and field team, the TGM Windsteppers.

Similar to Kelly, sophomore linebacker Elijah Lee also hopes to get involved in coaching after his days on the gridiron. Lee said he found the event inspiring. 

“It’s very beneficial because these coaches are all from the same ethnicity as me, so it was great to hear about their personal backgrounds,” explained Lee. “I’ve thought about going into coaching since my sophomore year of high school. People helped me get noticed by bigger schools and really helped me get to the point where I am now. I want to be one of those people who gives back. I want to try and help someone else get to the position where I am today.” 

Following the event, the student-athletes and coaches in attendance had the opportunity to continue their conversations with each other over ice cream. 

“I think it’s really important for athletes to hear from people who were once in their shoes,” said Stoglin-Reed, who played basketball at Houston Baptist. “It’s great for them to hear the things we dealt with and overcame. I hope they can enjoy the moment of being an athlete, not just winning the games or winning awards. It’s important for them to hear that at their age that it’s not so much about winning but it’s about becoming a better person and enjoying the experience. They can utilize the unique experience of being a student-athlete in so many other ways than just sports.”