We all have been bombarded with a cavalcade of innuendo, supposition and accusations tossed about concerning the state of education in urban schools thoughout America.

Likewise the overwhelming increase of single parent households and the fatherless homes have been debated and analyzed. Most of the conclusions about the state of education and fatherless homes have merit; however, there are just as many men and women throughout the country on the front line helping to uplift youth.

Men like Keith “Fatdog” McClendon, who recently transitioned to the heavens, have been turning boys to men without any fanfare or monetary concern.

McClendon was an assistant coach at Detroit Mackenzie High School for 20 years. Now I know that the head coaches in all sports who command the headlines get paid the most money and get most of the credit and blame for wins and losses. I concur with the order of things.

However, in every nook and cranny in America’s struggling urban cities, there are men like McClendon fighting the good fight. This remembrance may be about McClendon; however, it really represents men throughout American who work others’ jobs, get off work and promptly make their way to little league or high school practice fields to impart more than football, baseball or basketball skills to wide-eyed young men and/or women just begging for someone — anyone — to take a real and sincere interest in their lives.

Sure, the head coaches have touched many lives and many have gone down in sports lore for what they have done with the inner city population they teach. But I guarantee if you look deeper into a successful coach’s team, he or she will uncover men like McClendon who had more than the back of his boss; he had a sincere love for the kids and the game.

“I never had to worry about any task that I gave Keith,” said former Mackenzie head coach Bob Dozier. “If I asked him to scout a team he would come back with a report that was unbelievably detailed. There was no doubt he built relationships with kids that even I could not reach. He had a love for young people that was real and it showed in how they responded to him.”

Added Thomas Brown, who was an assistant coach with McClendon: “There was not a better person on this planet than Keith. He was a monster of a football player and a teddy bear off the field. He had a unique, quiet way of demanding respect and discipline from his players.”

It has always bothered me how men like McClendon fall so far under the radar. When the discourse moves to the men, Black men in particular, the names of the thousands of McClendons giving of themselves unconditionally do not seem to come up.

I’m not so naive that I do not understand there is a problem with many urban men and their households; however, all one has to do is go to a local gym, track or field and I’m sure he or she will find thousands of McClendons out here cajoling and demanding effort from youth that are clamoring for guidance.

At one school I went to, we did a count on how many of the players came from two-parent households. Out of 50 kids only 15 or so lived in a home with two parents.

I respect and admire men like McClendon, who worked 9 to 5 and put in another three to six hours every day. He told me, “Stein, you know I have some good kids over here, come see them. Or Stein, this young man has turned his life around.”

Said coach Charley Shannon: “Fatdog was the complete assistant coach. He was dedicated and that was evident by how he would take the time to listen to the kids’ concerns. That is his real legacy. Sure he was an excellent coach, but you have to serve and he really helped so many kids get on the path for living productive lives.”

There are too many stories that focus on the plight of Black men in the United States. The dire statistics may all be true, but with thousands of McClendons in inner cities through out America out there fighting the good fight, I’ll place my bet on the McClendons any day, every day.

Leland Stein can be reached at


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