Bryan Parker Is Back in the Game
The former Oakland mayoral candidate rallies the community to help the Castlemont High School Football team, and it’s working.
Bryan Parker has pitched in to improve Castlemont football and is pondering a bid for supervisor.
Photo by Lance Yamamoto
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On a blustery late afternoon at Oakland’s Castlemont High School in July, members of the football team’s receiving corps ran play after play. “Thirty-two-in!” called out former Oakland mayoral candidate Bryan Parker. The play, a simple 10-yard slant route toward the teeth of imaginary defenders, can be intimidating in real life, and in this moment caught the receiver out of position. “Why are you there?” Parker asked the disconsolate young man, who pounded his fist to the ball.
The Castlemont Knights have long been just as downtrodden on the field as the depressed area surrounding the East Oakland school. A group, including Parker, is hoping to rebuild pride in the school and the community through efforts to build up the football program while also instilling confidence in the young men on the field.
On the surface, the team’s set of uniforms were worn, mended haphazardly, and generally raggedy. The scoreboard is temperamental; during Castlemont’s first game this season, players and fans were left to guess how many yards were needed for a first down and what quarter it was. Castlemont’s artificial turf is degrading; its long plastic blades are matted and frayed, and feel more like thick carpet than an approximation of real grass.
But these problems are cosmetic compared to the fact that many of Castlemont’s players are underprivileged. Castlemont head football coach Edward Washington, a star cornerback for the Knights a decade ago, said some players would pull him to the side and ask, “Coach, I don’t have any food at the house; could you come through for me?” Other times they would ask to borrow a dollar here and there for snacks or a soda, he said.
Castlemont clearly needed help. Washington, in his second year as head coach, earns only a one-time $1,700 stipend to coach the team, nowhere near enough to put back into the team. Attracting talented football players to Castlemont is also a hard sell because of its location.
Castlemont’s enrollment should be around 1,500 to 2,000 students but is 500. “How do I bring up a football team if everything is against me?” Washington asked.
Enter Parker and others.
In late 2013, as Parker ramped up his campaign for Oakland mayor with house parties and fundraisers, Washington was drawn to Parker and attended an event. The subject of Castlemont football’s plight and Washington’s plan to turn it around intrigued Parker. He then offered to help raise money for the cause.
“The only thing is,” Washington told Parker, “if you help out, you have to be consistent, because these kids are used to inconsistency in their lives.”
Later, Washington sent Parker an hourlong documentary chronicling Castlemont’s 2014 season, which featured its first win in three seasons and the personal tribulations following the team and its players. “I watched the video,” Parker said, “and it literally brought tears to my eyes. It was a reminder that this all about the kids and basic stuff we take for granted.”
This summer, Parker became part of the Castlemont coaching staff, overseeing its wide receivers, and employing the online crowdsourcing site Tilt to seek $5,000 to replace its set of uniforms and provide players three meals a week for the duration of the three-month season. The campaign was a success. Through September, it raised nearly $14,000. Parker said additional groups have come forward to help replace the aging scoreboard and rehab the football field and creaking wooden bleachers.
Parker’s fundraising prowess is not surprising. During his run for mayor in 2014, in which he finished sixth in a 15-person field, Parker attracted the second-most fundraising contribution, behind only Libby Schaaf.
Cynics may question whether he has other interests in this altruism. Months ago, Parker began quietly making overtures about running for Alameda County supervisor next year. Some political followers on Twitter chatted up reports of pollsters probing support for Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley while also gauging the appeal of Parker, a Port of Oakland commissioner. Parker confirmed the polling and his interest but has not made a decision whether he will run against Miley, who represents mostly Oakland and areas toward Pleasanton. Over the past two decades, challenging a county supervisor has been folly. None has come close to losing a seat since 1992. But Parker’s strong fundraising ability and Miley’s irascible personality could make for an interesting June primary. Whether the matchup actually occurs became more clear in September when Parker filed an intention to run for the supervisorial seat, a move that allows him to officially explore the strength of his candidacy and begin raising money.
But Parker said his contribution to Castlemont is about an outlet for his mayoral platform urging for greater community involvement and public safety. “I’m not saving the world,” he said. “This is not Nobel Peace Prize stuff, but sports are the great equalizer, and if we can get the community’s attention and support, we can make a difference.”
Parker sees a spiritual element in the work at Castlemont. An undercurrent of faith was a hallmark of his mayoral run and is evident in his Castlemont work. It’s little-known that Parker briefly attended a Catholic seminary before switching to his Christian faith. “What God is calling me to do right now is not just to organize because I’m good at raising money and telling a story, but what I think He’s asking me is to give the time, to be involved in these young men.”
“Can I teach them routes and correct what they’re doing? Yes,” Parker said. “But the act of catching a ball and seeing it through into your hands is all about confidence. People have just given up on these guys since day one. Like me, most of these guys are not going to play in college or the pros, but they’re going to have the knowledge to see things through in their lives.”