SC Featured finds Central theme at Alabama high school
Football is very important at Central High School in Tuscaloosa, Ala., a storied powerhouse that through re-zoning became economically and racially segregated, creating a largely impoverished student population that is 99 percent African-American.
As part of ESPN’s Black History Month programming, SC Featured tells the story of the Central High football team across ESPN platforms. The feature debuts on Sunday’s Outside the Lines (9 a.m. ET, ESPN), then airs in the 10 a.m. SportsCenter and repeats in subsequent airings throughout the day.
An extended half-hour Central High special debuts Monday, Feb. 16, at 5:30 p.m. on ESPNU. Jemele Hill voices the story.
ESPN Features Unit producer Scott Harves spent much of the past fall’s football season with the team, attending games and practices, following players at school and visiting homes.
“As with any production, we just built trust with the coach [Dennis Conner] and team,” said Harves. “Once we started doing interviews, the coach understood what it was we were trying to show and I think that’s why they enabled us to be able to see all of the things they do behind the scenes.”
Harves got the idea for the feature after reading about Central High early last year.
“In the history that I read, there was one just super-small mention of football, and I was curious to know with the ups and downs the school has had,” he said, “if the football team had gone up and down with the school?”
After its formation in 1979, Central had 19 winning seasons. But in 2003, two new high schools opened in Tuscaloosa and the school’s enrollment went down. The school already had been predominantly African-American prior to the change, but was almost totally afterward.
The football program, under Conner’s leadership, has slowly been rebuilding.
Harves said viewers will see that most of the students come from an underprivileged area and many come from single-parent homes.
“As someone put it, they’re more worried about survival than they are about getting an A in Algebra,” Harves said. “Coach spends a lot of time being a life coach.
“He would rather have a disciplined football team than a winning team, and he truly is a father figure for the majority of his players. Just being able to see the discipline he’s trying to instill, and the tough love approach, I think will resonate with people.”