Reviving urban high school sports is a personal endeavor for former Chiefs player Kimble Anders

Sep 23 2009 - 5:57pm

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kimble Anders dreams big. Someday, those dreams may take him other places. But for now, those dreams have him here, at East High, a close-up view of what will become another loss for an Interscholastic League football team.

Already tonight, a cheerleader showed up late, a defensive lineman jumped offsides twice in a row, and one of the security guards made fun of the home team.

Anders is two weeks into the job as the Kansas City School District's athletic director, and he's a bit of an unlikely story himself, so he doesn't see the obstacles. Not right now, anyway.

"You'll be surprised," he says. "Maybe someday we take a game from Rockhurst."

Anders made it out of the projects in Galveston, Texas, to a scholarship at Houston and a 10-year standout career for the Chiefs. Now, he can come full circle by leading Kansas City's struggling inner-city sports teams back to glory.

That's the story everyone is rooting for. It's the story nobody is likely to see.

His job has grinded down smart, motivated and well-meaning people before. Facilities, resources and support for coaches are poor. Interscholastic League football teams are 0-16 in non-conference games this fall. This is the way it's gone for years, and the problems extend off the field -- eligibility issues, violence and a need for many kids to work a job.

People who know the district and Anders say he is the Interscholastic League's best chance in years. They also know that Anders is still very much a retired athlete trying to find his way. His post-playing life has already taken a couple of different turns, and nobody -- especially not Anders -- can be sure how long he'll stay with this one.

His words, at the moment, come steady and without hesitation. He describes his dreams of a legacy highlighted by turning around what was once the crown jewel of Kansas City high school sports.

Then, a few minutes later, he wonders if he'll be doing something else entirely in a few years.

The odds have never been in Anders' favor.

He grew up in Galveston, his mother providing the essentials but not much else. Back then, he didn't even know he was poor. After playing college ball at Houston, he went undrafted through 12 rounds and 334 picks in 1991.

The Chiefs gave him a chance, and he never let them get rid of him. He worked his way into a reputation as one of the league's best fullbacks, a three-time Pro Bowl selection -- one of those quiet, steady, hard-working athletes that Kansas City loves and remembers.

"The truest professional," says Jimmy Raye, Anders' position coach.

He got one chance to shed the anonymity of blocking fullback for featured tailback, and he rushed for 142 yards against the Broncos. The longest run of his career came in that game, 46 yards, but two plays later his Achilles' tendon snapped. That was his only chance as a featured back.

Anders was 34 years old when the NFL no longer had a place for him. He stayed in playing shape but nobody called, and Anders was involuntarily out from the only career he ever really thought about, without a job 30 years before most of us retire.

This is a familiar story, the pro athlete in search of an identity after the games. Studies have shown close to 80 percent of former NFL players are under financial stress or divorced within two years of retirement.

Anders is nearly a decade into his search for a second life. He's done all the speaking engagements, appeared at more charity events than he can remember, and thrown himself all-in to coaching and teaching kids -- particularly in the inner city.

He started a marketing company that never really took off, and even tried professional wrestling once. He's 1-0, the victory sealed with a body-slam of some trash-talking hulk named Brimstone six years ago. Lenexa, Kan., police arrested him that night on an outstanding warrant, an issue that was worked out when Anders' child-support payments were adjusted from his days as an NFL player.

Football always pulls him back, though. He was an assistant at various schools the past few years, then the head coach at Northeast. Two weeks ago, new Kansas City school district superintendent John Covington offered Anders the job overseeing all Interscholastic League athletics.

He's still feeling his way around, learning about the funding problems and other obstacles that have taken the luster off the league.

Anders wants this to work. He wants to stand as an example of someone who "made it" out of an inner-city environment. He'll decide later if it's what he wants to do long-term.

"College coaching, upper management in the NFL, you never know," Anders says. "That's a goal. You just never know what life has to offer. You get opportunities, and you have to take advantage of them."

Anders is actually just one part of a movement that could be called "Extreme Makeover: IL edition."

Elvis Patterson, a former Kansas star who made two Pro Bowls in 10 NFL seasons, takes over for Anders as Northeast's head coach. Terry Nooner, the former Kansas walk-on, is the basketball coach at Southeast. And Mark Scanlon, who won more than 500 games at Raytown, is the new hoops coach at Northeast.

"I haven't gotten 'Congratulations' very much," Scanlon says. "I hear 'good luck' a lot."

The Interscholastic League's issues are decades in the making, so if perceptions are to change under Anders' leadership, it will take time.

There are promising signs with Covington, who took over as superintendent this past spring. The Kansas City school district's administration isn't as top-heavy, and Covington has emphasized communication and involvement with parents. If it's not directly tied to student achievement, Covington tells employees, it's not a priority.

Perhaps it's telling that even two men who Covington let go are rooting for the district, and see better things ahead.

"This guy's going to turn it around," says Adrian Howard, a former administrator now teaching at Southwest. "I just want to see the kids be more successful."

"I feel like we're beginning to make some progress," says Ed Corporal, whom Anders replaced as athletic director. "Kimble's a great guy. It's getting better."

Anders doesn't give many specifics of how he'll do this. He talks about improving facilities, equipment and organization. Discipline is important to him. Self-esteem, too. He wants to connect with the kids and help the coaches.

Many think Anders is better equipped than most, with name recognition that opens doors to potential donors. There is talk of corporate sponsorship for junior high feeder programs, or after-school tutors. Either would be a big help.

Anders will lean on a wide variety of smart and influential people to make this work, from former Chiefs president and general manager Carl Peterson to the Rev. Wallace Hartsfield. Knowledge is power, Anders likes to say, and if he doesn't know, he has a deep call list of people to ask.

"I have a lot of friends," he says. "Put it like this: I have a lot of resources."

You know Anders is serious about his second life. You know this because the man who played all 10 of his seasons for the Chiefs, who is now working to boost Kansas City's urban core, is wearing Minnesota Vikings gear.

This isn't a sellout move, or even support for Brett Favre. The pullover and baseball cap are leftovers from Anders' days of coaching Northeast High, the Vikings, where the logo is virtually identical to the NFL team.

"Just bought it off the rack," he says.

Perhaps there is some symbolism here, in Anders giving up a bit of his old identity in search of his new one. His nights and weekends are now consumed by games, his days swallowed by meetings and budgets and policies.

His work makes him smile, makes him feel good about helping the kinds of kids in which he sees his own childhood. When he played at Houston, four or five of his teammates were from Kansas City's urban core. They all could play, and even if that was 20 years ago, Anders wants to be part of bringing it back.

Thing is, his dreams are not monogamous with his job. Sometimes Anders thinks about pro coaching, or college administration. He'd even like to be part of an NFL ownership team someday.

Who can predict the future?

"I can't say this is the end game," Anders says. "Right now, I'm committed to this. I'm focusing everything on this. I don't know what the future holds, you know? I'm not looking down the line. When I was coaching, I didn't know this was going to happen.

"God works in mysterious ways, you know?"

 

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