Interview with Ken Carter

The following appeared in the February 1999 issue of the Limbaugh Letter.

“After the Richmond (Calif) High School coach padlocked the gym door and put the benches in the library when his winning team did not meet his academic standards, there was a huge public controversy. I was honored that the coach agreed to an interview — one of the most inspiring I have ever experienced.” Rush Limbaugh

Coach and playerRush: Hey, Coach!

Carter: Yes, Sir.

Rush: Thank you for carving a little bit time out for us here. I know you’ve got to be just jammed with all these requests. So we appreciate it.

Carter: Sir, like I say, if it’s for our kids, everything is worth it.

Rush: Well, that’s an interesting philosophy. “If it’s for the kids, everything is worth it.” What do you do? Is it correct what I’ve read, that you’re only a parttime coach?

Carter: Yes, Sir. I’m selfemployed.

Rush: Doing what?

Carter: My family owns a sporting goods store, Sir.

Rush: So you’ve had a lifelong interest in sports?

Carter: Yes, Sir.

Rush: Participated in it yourself?

Carter: Yes, Sir.

Rush: And do you think you’ve learned a lot of life lessons as a participant in sports?

Carter: Yes, Sir. Sports taught me how to compete on the court, and taught me how to compete, Sir, in life. Sports and life run parallel with one another.

Rush: \What sports did you play?

Carter: Basketball. I’m an alumnus of Richmond High School, Sir. I’m the all-time leading scorer at our school.

Rush: No kidding! Is it unusual in California, or in this school district, for the head basketball coach to be part-time?

Carter: Normally, yes it is. Mostly the coaches are staff people. On campus.

Rush: They’re teachers, and they teach courses such as Phys Ed.

Carter: Yes, Sir.

Rush: Well, my guess is that you’re pretty surprised by all this attention.

Carter: Yes, I am, Sir.

Rush: You had the California governor at the game last night. You’ve been on “The Today Show.” I think my readers would love to know why you are surprised at the reaction to your decision to bench your winning team because some of the players are not performing up to your standards. \Why are you surprised?

Carter: Well, our kids are like all young men. And they just weren’t performing like I know they could. We had signed a contract, and the contract basically covered their conduct, their homework, their classwork, their test scores, and their class participation. If the kids are doing those things right, we know their grades are going to be decent.

Rush: The grades are what’s important to you?

Carter: Yes, Sir. Our young men, Sir, playing on this team, may be focused on basketball. But if you look at the statistics, I think it’s one in every 500,000 people get a chance to play professional sports. I don’t like those odds for our kids.

Rush: No, they’re not good odds. And I’ll tell you what impressed me, Coach, about what you did. You had this state requirement that they maintain a 2.0 grade point average. But you got with them and said, “I think you guys can do a 2.3. 1 think you can do better than average.” What made you select the 2.3 ?

Carter: Well, Sir, average is just not good enough. Period. And I think you constantly have to be working towards raising the bar. I tell our kids all the time: “If you get one percent better a day, within 100 days you’re 100 percent better.” It’s just a real simple philosophy, Sir.

Rush: And obviously these kids bought into it.

Carter: Yes, Sir. And our kids love and respect me, and our kids know that I love and respect them. So it’s mutual respect on both sides.

Rush: When you say that average is just average, and everybody can be better than average, do you have a philosophy that says kids need to be pushed, they need to be shown what they’re capable of – because left alone they may not discover it?

Carter: Yes, Sir. And you know, in every young man or young lady’s life, there need to be mentors, and they need to see it. I believe if you see it, you can be it. Last night the governor came to our game. And everybody was talking about the basketball team, the basketball team – “Can these young men be professional basketball players?” And I told the governor, “Governor, now that we get a chance to see you – maybe one of our athletes may become governor one day.”

Rush: Right! Rather than always having the NBA as the focus, maybe he can inspire them to want to do what he does.

Carter: Yes, Sir. It’s okay to be like Michael Jordan, but it’s also okay to be like the person who pays him.

Rush: Let me tell you how I first heard about you, Coach. I was just hosting my program, and I got a call from somebody who had seen you on “The Today Show.” He got the details wrong. He explained things to me incorrectly. But he was critical of what you had done, because he thought you were “punishing” the whole team when only a few had failed to meet the standards. Now I instinctively disagreed with him, and supported what you were doing, because of an experience I had playing high school football. Are you surprised that your approach is so controversial? And what about the kids who were performing up to your standards? Were they resentful of you at all for punishing them by locking the gym?

Carter. First of all, let’s put this in context. Our team is rated number two in Northern California, sir. And we’re off to our best start in the school’s history. So when our kids were not performing like they could in the classroom and as young men, but they were performing on the court, I decided to take the court away from them. What I’m saying to you is this. What you do a lot of, you do well. And what you do well, you do a lot of So we took those ten hours that we would normally practice that week, and spent those ten hours in the library with tutors and the other coaches. These young men did their homework, and the players who were attending class and turning in all their homework and whose test scores were good, sir, were helping the ones who didn’t It directly affected me, because my son is a starting point guard on our basketball team.

Rush: Was he doing better than the 2.0?

Carter: Yes. My son has a 3.7.

Rush: So he had to sit down like everybody else.

Carter: Yes, sir. I could have been a selfish parent and said, “Listen, my kid is doing well, forget everybody else.” But I didn’t take this job for that. I took the job because I thought I could show these young men a way that they could be productive in their lives.

Rush: Let me very briefly give you my high school football story, so as to illustrate why I instinctively agreed with what you did. I was a sophomore, and I was on the “Kamikaze Squad.” We went up against the varsity on certain days of the week. I was 16; those guys were 17, 18. They were bigger than I was. I was an offensive tackle. And on this particular day, the defensive tackle opposite me was knocking me on my butt. The coach blew a whistle, walked up to this guy, whispered something in his ear, blew the whistle again, and this guy fired out at me like he hadn’t all day, and knocked me ten feet back. The coach blew the whistle, stopped practice, and said because I wasn’t performing, the whole team – this was 40 guys – had to run ten minutes of sprints right in the middle of practice. Well, the whole team saw to it that I started doing my job right after that, so that they wouldn’t be punished for my lackadaisical play.

Carter: Okay.

Rush: They got mad at me, and it was somewhat intimidating. But boy, it taught me a lot, too, and it made me a better player. I’m sure that’s what you were trying to do with the people who were excelling in classroom. You were trying to get them to share their experiences with those who weren’t

Carter: Yes, sir. Basically it was this, sir. We have won 14 basketball games as a team. We’re family. I’m family oriented. I come from a family of nine – I have seven sisters. I have a simple concept. Our plays on our team are named after my seven sisters. So everything I do is just real simple, sir.

Rush: Can you give an example?

Carter: Well, our defensive seven fits the personalities of my sisters. I have a sister named Cookie. Cookie will get in your face at all times and let you know: “I am in the room!” So we named the defense “Cookie.” We have another defense called “Debra.” She’s a homebody, takes care of her kids, is a super mom. So when we want to stay at home and be patient, and make the other team make mistakes, we run “Debra.” So when I call out my sisters’ names, our kids instinctively know what to do.

Rush: Now is this a close-knit community? Do they know your sisters? Do they know the people personally that these defenses have been named after?

Carter: The players know. And the fans will be calling out their names in the stands – “You need to bring in Cookie! You need to bring in Diane!” And my sisters come to the game.

Rush: This is tremendous. The reason I wanted to talk to you, Coach, and I’m not blowing smoke, I’m telling you the honest-to-God truth: What you do with your coaching and life philosophy is exactly what I try to do on my radio program and in my newsletter all the time. I try to devote my public life to excellence – the pursuit of it, the people who teach it and inspire it, and the people who aren’t afraid of it. And that’s really what your story is all about. It’s what your philosophy is. You’re inspirational. You motivate. You’re all about excellence. And you’re not afraid to tell people that they have what it takes to try to be excellent. But yet there are parents out there who all too frequently get in coaches’ ways, be it in Little League, high school, whatever. Did you have any trouble with parents when you padlocked that gym?

Carter: Yes, sir. A couple. Several of our players probably will be playing at the next level, in college. So a couple of parents were confounded: “Well, if we’re not playing, maybe my kid will not receive this athletic scholarship.” And I said one thing to them. I said: “If they don’t go to school, they won’t get one anyway.”

Rush: Did it work?

Carter: It worked. It was simple.

Rush: Was it really? I know parents. Did they really see it your way so quickly?

Carter: No, not that quickly. But like I said, once people stood back and really analyzed what I was trying to do – see, it was not a punishment.

Rush: Right.

Carter: That’s what everybody keeps saying: I punished the kids. I’ve never punished the kids. No. We have three levels of basketball. We have the varsity, junior varsity, and freshman basketball team. We’re a family.

Rush: You coach them all?

Carter: No, sir. I only coach the varsity. But I’m the head coach, and I oversee that program.

Rush: Oh, okay. I see.

Carter: The district gave me the head job to oversee that program. So when our freshmen are not performing, I talk to everybody. We all hurt. And what happened, sir, is I canceled all those practices and all basketball-related activities for that week, so we could concentrate on being a good student, being a good person, and overall just getting back on track. Because they had started establishing bad habits. So what we wanted to do was remind them. We wanted to replace the bad habits with good habits. That was my only goal, sir.

Rush: You are not afraid of really pushing them?

Carter: No, sir.

Rush: Why don’t you worry about that?

Carter: Because I know these young men. When I selected my basketball team, sir, I looked for young men with character. Now, there are better basketball players on out campus, but I chose the kids with character.

Rush: Character! Now, I don’t want to go overboard here, but I’m having a little bit of trouble containing myself The more I hear, the more amazed I am. Now, you proposed that the players sign a contract at the beginning of the season. Why did you want to do that? And did you have any trouble with the administration in trying to get that done?

Carter: No, sir. Because we sat down with our kids. It’s not just something I had. Our kids had input
on our contract also. They decided they wanted to raise the bar. I told them, “Look, I think you guys

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