After some hesitation, Mililani/Mill Ville football coach Rod York shared his thoughts about the why of his mission.
The longtime varsity head coach opened the Mill Vill JPS squad for high schoolers , middle schoolers and elementary-age flag football players several years ago. Essentially, as a coach, it is volunteer work. The hours. The sweat. Contemporaries like Saint Louis coach Ron Lee support York’s mission, but there are some detractors who question York’s intent. Even after all these years.
“I’m serving kids and families, and doing God’s work. I do not get anything out of this, but to see the kids develop and use football as the motivation for them to open their eyes,” York said on Friday.
Mill Vill will meet Saint Louis for a scrimmage on Saturday morning, the second in as many weekends for the two football squads. For York, passion to compete is always strong — to a point.
“All our championship trophies are in a box in the storage. Honestly, I don’t know where it is. It was never about championships. We do want to win championships, don’t get me wrong, but it’s all about the journey. All about the experience,” York said.
The pandemic has created further hardships for many student-athletes. From furloughs to layoffs, for many, football has been the most consistent part of their lives. York and his staff keep their program — and arms — wide open.
“My kids are hurting, whether it’s their fault or not. During these dark times, some of my kids have been kicked out of their house. Some have had big-time family issues. Abuse. Near divorce. Almost all the kids have have multiple Fs and bad behavior has skyrocketed up,” York said. “One of my kids had trouble with the law and got woken up real fast when he went through that process.”
Oahu JPS has a long history as one of the leagues that opened up to players who couldn’t make the weight limit for Pop Warner. This spring, a high school division makes its debut.
“CLUB NOYORO was created to give high school kids a platform to display their talents. That’s what the kids are looking forward to, and we are using it as the carrot in front of their eyes. The (private-school football programs) have done the same and that was another opportunity for our kids to look forward to,” York said. “We have tried to be the light in this darkness.”
The effort it takes to guide young student-athletes year-round is immeasurable. It could be exhausting, but York and his staff are fueled up.
“Football keeps our kids engaged and interested in school. We started doing grade checks and holding our guys accountable. But rather than scold and yell at them and say, “You no more grades, so you are off…” we are guiding our kids and paying more attention to them. We are about relationships before the mission. We try to keep better contact with families and kids so they have an extra support, and football gives us leverage over these kids because they want to play and get back to their normal life.”
Grades have improved since Mill Vill returned to the field.
“Our kids attend school much more often. Their morale has gone straight up. The light is spreading over our kids to give them some guidance in life,” York said. “But you know, it’s a process. Every kid is different. We got tired of sitting around and watching these kids sink and not be able to help themselves. It’s tough. A lot of parents work two or three jobs. They want to help their kids, but kids get lost because they don’t have that ‘uncle’ or ‘counselor’ figure as what we coaches provide.”
York’s mantra: “Humble Service (Humility) and Unconditional Love form an unbreakable Bond.”
“We call it the ‘Trojan Trinity’,” he said.
There’s more beyond football, York added.
“For our seniors, we push them to National Guard or Air National Guard. We push them to trade school in programs such as plumbing, carpentry or electrician. We push our kids to help themselves to take advantage of opportunities because not everyone can get a scholarship,” he said. “There are other avenues to getting a college degree if they want it.”
The rewards go beyond anything tangible. York stays in touch with former Trojans. The texts. The calls. Watching them elevate and grow into young men.
“I try my best to have relationships and check with them,” he said. “That is why we are out there.”