|Sam's family: Leslie, Lauren, Sami, Lamar, Kim, Leolla, Sam, Sr., and Lashon and Sam, Jr. in the back row|
Ginn Academy class of 2015 alumnus and current Ohio University Bobcat, Sam McKnight, has come a long way since he began his high school career in 2011, and he has had the support of a large team guiding him the entire way. Between his close-knit, loving family and the support of Principal Petty, his teachers, youth support, and Coach Ginn at school, everyone noticed the changes in Sam during his four years at Ginn.
Always respectful, always kind, Sam is a likeable, happy-go-lucky guy, but he wasn't able to see how much potential he had when he started at Ginn in ninth grade. "Everyone loves Sam, but it took a lot of encouragement on the part of the adults in his life to help him see his potential," says Hazel Parker of Ginn Academy.
|Sam and his grandfather, Lamar|
Sam has been an athlete since he was five years old and wanted to play football for Coach Ginn for a long time, as his grandparents are Tarblooders. To make that happen, every day until Sam could drive, his parents, Lashon and Sam, Sr. always drove him to and from school.
|Sam with his cousin, Lauren|
|Sam's mother, Lashon, with his grandfather, Lamar|
|The family often sits at this table together, talking, laughing, and eating. Sam and his father, Sam, Sr., with Aunt Leslie|
The strength of Sam's family's support for him becomes immediately evident when we meet for this interview at his grandfather's house around dinnertime on a summer Friday evening. Sam's mom, dad, and sister, Sami, plus Aunt Kim, Aunt Leslie, cousin Lauren, grandmother, Leolla, and grandfather, Lamar are all present. Sam, Sr. keeps everyone laughing with his stories about Sam, Jr.'s childhood and his sister Kim's cooking, but the conversation gets serious when he and Lashon explain that despite their carefree youthful times before children, once Sam, Jr. came along their world shrank quickly to the circle of family right there in that room. "We don't hang out, we don't party. They always know when they go to bed, we're at home. When they wake up we're at home. Our circle is small. This, right here, is who we're with."
|Grandfather Lamar, Grandmother Leolla, Sam, and Sam, Sr.|
|Sam with his Aunt Kim, who cooks him steaks|
|Sam with his grandmother, Leolla|
Though the 6'3" lineman is hard to miss, Sam is not a kid that craves the spotlight. He's a talented football player who earned a scholarship to Ohio University and many accolades along the way. But he's been happy staying close to home with his family and his few close friends at Ginn.
The relationship between school and home paid off perfectly for Sam and he started to really see the light and mature in eleventh grade. His parents credit the guidance that he received at Ginn Academy from his principal, the life coaches, football coaches, and teachers, especially Kim Galippo with whom he has a very close bond, with making a big difference in his life. "They reinforce the things we're teaching him at home on a day to day basis," says his father. "He was hearing the same things from everybody."
|Sam, Sr., Sam, Jr., and Lashon|
|Aunt Kim is teased by her brother, Sam, Jr., about her cooking skills|
The atmosphere at Ginn Academy is unique because the school was founded on Coach Ginn's tenets of providing love, passion, and understanding to the young men who want to be part of the school. The faculty and life coaches strive to know the whole student, both in and out of school. Sam's mom, Lashon says, "They know all the kids, just like they're their kids and that's the difference as far as getting them where they need to be. Young black men today need that type of environment."
|Sam with his family|
Lashon then pulls out her phone to illustrate the difference that she sees in the young men over the course of their four years at Ginn. She recalls the first time Sam put on his red jacket to go to school and shows everyone the photo from this very blog of a young Sam starting his first day of ninth grade back in 2011. "Look at his face," she says, "I love this picture!!"
|Sam on his very first day of ninth grade at Ginn Academy, as Lashon looks on from the car|
On the 14th of June, Sam headed south to Athens, Ohio to begin his life as a Bobcat at OU and leave his family a couple of hundred miles behind in Cleveland. They're sad but very excited to see him go. Sam, Sr. says, "He is ready to go and we’re ready for him to go. It's time now to get him out of Cleveland, and into that atmosphere. We've been getting him ready for 18 years and now it’s all on him."