On the line: Carmel coach hopes to make a difference with inner-city youth

Chris Metcalf of Carmel coaches during a Cowboys practice Aug. 29 at Tabernacle Presbyterian Church. (Photo by Ann Marie Shambaugh)
Chris Metcalf of Carmel coaches during a Cowboys practice Aug. 29 at Tabernacle Presbyterian Church. (Photo by Ann Marie Shambaugh)

By Ann Marie Shambaugh

It took a series of family tragedies for a self-proclaimed “old, fat white guy from Carmel” to find his passion coaching an inner-city football team. Chris Metcalf hopes it won’t take something so drastic for others to follow his lead.

Metcalf, 52, spent nearly a year caring for ill and injured relatives in his Carmel home.

Once they were no longer there, he found himself emotionally drained, depressed and with a lot of free time on his hands. His wife suggested he consider getting back into coaching football, and he agreed it might be the right change of pace.

After signing up to be the head coach of a youth team in Noblesville, he got a call from the youth league run by Tabernacle Presbyterian Church on E. 34th St. in Indianapolis. Even though he would only be an assistant coach and the team was based far from his home, he decided to check it out.

“Within 15 minutes of being here I just fell in love with it,” Metcalf said. “The day I came down here there were kids everywhere. This place is truly a sanctuary for inner-city kids.”

Evan Walker runs a drill at practice. (Photos by Ann Marie Shambaugh)
Evan Walker runs a drill at practice. (Photos by Ann Marie Shambaugh)

‘A big problem’ 

Metcalf is an assistant coach for the 12U Cowboys. His specialty is working with  players on the offensive and defensive lines, but his goal is to teach kids lessons that go well beyond the football field.

“I teach them about life and throw a little bit of football in,” he said. “We harp about personal responsibility, accountability, and when you make a promise you follow through.”

He also strives to get to know his players on a personal level and hopes to be a good example for those who don’t have fathers in their homes. Coaching at Tab has opened his eyes to the daily struggles of life in the inner city, such as lack of transportation, good jobs and grocery stores, things he said many people in his home county take for granted.

“There is a big problem down here,” he said. “We don’t really see it for what it is unless we come down here and get involved in it.”

Metcalf, who owns a packaging business called SafPak Solutions, said working in the inner city has changed the way he views some startling statistics. He pointed to a 2015 New York Times report that claims 1.5 million black men are “missing,” lost to prison or an early death. “I feel pretty deeply that if we don’t make time for these kids, the legal system and the coroners will,” Metcalf said.

Coach Chris Metcalf works with Jeremiah Kurtz during practice.
Coach Chris Metcalf works with Jeremiah Kurtz during practice.

Contagious enthusiasm 

Ben Hughes, recreation director at Tab Recreation Youth Sports League, said Metcalf has already made an impact in his first year with the program. At a recent game, he noticed a difference in the Cowboys players who weren’t in the game.

“The kids that were standing on the sideline were actually cheering for their team. Surprisingly you don’t (often) see that, but we saw it the whole time during the game, and I might credit that to Chris,” Hughes said. “Some of Chris’s enthusiasm I think has brought that out of some of these kids. He definitely is building a relationship with many of the young men.”

Metcalf’s players said they enjoy football because they can score touchdowns and be rough without getting into trouble on the field, but they also said the sport has taught them valuable lessons in life.

“It’s taught me how to respect my peers and my teachers,” said Jonathan Weston, 12, who plays quarterback for the Cowboys.

“We learn from our mistakes, so (even) if we lose, we learn,” said Dameon Cathey Jr., 11.

Metcalf said he’s learned more from working with his players than they’ve learned from him, and it’s something he hopes others will get to experience, too.

“I know that there are a lot of people just like me who have thought, ‘I should do something. I should get involved.’ But then for whatever reason it just doesn’t happen,” he said. “I want to make people a little bit uncomfortable, because I think it’s only when you’re uncomfortable you’re going to step out.”

How to help

The recreation program at Tab is more than 90 years old, and it’s changed a lot during that time. Founded primarily for members of its congregation, it has developed into an outreach to the surrounding neighborhood.

Hughes said organizers are constantly searching for adult leaders.

“The number one struggle for us in a lot of ways is finding enough coaches that really love to work with kids and are the type of individuals we want out there as part of our program,” he said. “The same goes with referees.”

The coaches volunteer about 10 to 15 hours a week. Referees are paid.

But even people who don’t have the skills or desire to coach or referee can express their support just by showing up, Hughes said.

“A lot of the kids in this program are being raised by single moms, and just to see people in the stands supporting inner-city sports is important,” he said.

For more, contact Hughes at 317-213-4464 or [email protected].