Academic Athletic Coaches Helping Meriden Students Achieve Their Goals

They may be rivals on the field, but the Spartans and Panthers are teammates in life, all striving to be better and make their town proud.

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On Thursday, Maloney beat Platt in the Stoddard Bowl as the city of Meriden came together for the Thanksgiving tradition. Those same athletes are also working hard to make their dreams a reality.

"My end goal is the NFL," said Platt senior Antwone Santiago.

"Try to major in law or business somewhere," added Maloney senior Rashawn Shelton.

"Play college football at the next level and get my degree in either engineering or computer science and just give back to my community," said Maloney senior Michael Reddick.

A new program in Meriden is making sure the athletes have all the resources they need to achieve those goals.

"On the daily, I'm here to support them, whatever they need, whether it's in the classroom, advice, athletically, I'm here to support them," said Creme Watford, Platt's academic athletic coach.

Platt and Maloney each have academic athletic coaches for the first time this year. It's a new position that is part of a grant from Athlife Foundation, which works to ensure that deserving kids from our nation's most challenged, yet promising communities, can achieve in their future careers beyond sport.

"They are students first before they are athletes, so I want to make sure they're succeeding in the classroom because that's the bigger thing in life for me," said Scott Dargan, Maloney's academic athletic coach.

On top of monitoring grades, the coaches conduct study halls before practice, assist with college readiness, recruiting visits and help organize community service opportunities.

"If I feel like I'm struggling, I know I can just go to him and he will help me out with whatever I need," said Platt junior Avery Robinson.

"It's really good because you're not into yourself," added Shelton. "You've got someone who's trying to help you and do all those things for you too, so you've got someone to lean on."

"Our students are not going to listen to the academic coaches if they don't feel that they have a relationship with them, understand where they're coming from and understand why they are pushing them," said Meriden Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Louis Bronk.

Watford and Dargan are uniquely qualified for this role. The Meriden natives played football together at Platt High School and went on to be teammates at Nichols College.

"I had the same coaches they had, a lot of the same teachers," said Watford. "I'm happy that I can be a helping hand and somebody they can look up to and try to do the right thing."

"At the end of the day, we're all just kids from Meriden, Connecticut," said Dargan. "I want to see these kids grow and do big things. I want to see them do better than what I did."

It helps having a best friend to support you in these new positions, which is exactly what the former college roommates have in each other.

"Whenever I need advice or things happen over here, I give him a call or shoot him a text and we kind of just help each other and it goes hand-in-hand," said Watford.

"He's a brother, whenever life is kind of rough for me, I always contact him and same thing for him," said Dargan.

Their bond and their success on and off the field is inspiring the next generation of athletes at Maloney and Platt.

"It helps knowing it's possible from somebody that's already been through it in the same area and lifestyle we have now," said Reddick.

"I really like how they support me," added Santiago. "I work on my self discipline a lot too and prepare myself for what it's going to be like in college."

They may be rivals on the field, but the Spartans and Panthers are teammates in life, all striving to be better and make their town proud.

"Whether they go to Platt or they go to Maloney, we want to see every kid succeed," said Maloney football head coach Kevin Frederick.

"Same city, same kids," said Platt football head coach Jason Bruenn. "They all need help. Everybody needs help."

"That's what it is about, a good education system is not really just about academics or sports, it's about developing young men and women," said Dr. Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education, who grew up in Meriden.

The grant from the AthLife Foundation covers the new position in both high schools for three years. The academic athletic coaches hope to continue to build relationships and make a positive impact in their community.

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