Lakeshore might have been looking to hire a football coach three years ago, but they got so much more than that.
What Lakeshore didn’t see coming was a transformational leader and an inspirational role model who would get more people involved in the football program than any other activity at the high school. Coach Danny Thompson’s enthusiasm has been contagious and has captured not just the football players, but parents, other athletes – including a former diver, cheerleader, and band member, softball and tennis players, and an English teacher. They are all part of the football community that Thompson is creating and he isn’t done yet.
Growing up in a small town, Thompson knows a lot about struggling to find confidence and his place.
Raised by his mom, grandmother, and his aunt, Thompson said he had love and support, but he “was always missing something.” He now helps his team learn to gain yardage on the field while also gaining confidence both in the classroom and in life.
Elementary and middle school were difficult times for Thompson. It was reflected in his poor grades and 45 absences during sixth grade alone. “It wasn’t until high school that my peers got to see the true me. What made the difference? I found my ‘something’ – football. I found out that I was good at something. I started to gain confidence and self-worth. For the first time, I found out I could be as good as others around me and I found something that allowed me to fit in.”
As a teacher today, Thompson relates to those students who are not enjoying school. Thompson says, “As a leader and class clown, I found out who I was and wanted to be. I enjoyed history and socializing and loved the 30 minute bathroom break. Football was my carrot to get passing grades and without it, I am not sure what I would have done. I had amazing teachers/coaches who looked out for me and got after me when I was getting too big for my britches. The best thing about my teachers were the ones who I was closest with actually hated sports, but they understood how important they were to me, so they made an effort to talk with me and support me. I never forgot that, and it would mold the teacher that I am today.”
While attending college and playing football for Olivet, Thompson had a game-ending injury and found himself lost again. “I didn’t know what or where to focus my energy. After a lot of time and talking to some of my former coaches and teachers I decided that I loved a couple of things in my life: football, high school, and history. Where could I have those things in my life and make a living? I had education as my major, but it wasn’t until this moment in my life that I really knew I wanted it,” Thompson said.
While Thompson is Lakeshore’s first black coach and teacher, he is also the first person to tell anyone that this distinction means absolutely nothing. What matters in life: accepting others. “We live in a pretty ugly world sometimes and most of that comes because we choose to judge instead of meeting and talking to people. I have been sort of a trailblazer all my life and had a gift to bring people from different backgrounds together. I credit this to my mother. She raised me to see people – not – race and it has really formed the way I live my life. With my work with the Diversity Club, I try to bring the same ideal to the kids and share my own personal experiences to help them on their journey. I think for students of color in the building it does a lot to see a person in my position because they can see themselves. I think it is important not only to focus on race but to build the understanding that all people struggle with something and having conversations with others will open our eyes. If people don’t know, then they will never understand. If they are open to conversations and look beyond their own situations, they start understanding what it means to have empathy. If we can get these kids to think with empathy we can change the world. My mission is to help create a culture of acceptance with the students of Lakeshore so they can carry that with them into the next chapter of their lives.”
The bottom line: Find your something, accept others and lead with empathy. It’s working well for Coach Thompson. It could work well for you too. And you might just change the world while you are at it.