Alex Mugisha squeezed his 6-foot and 290-pound frame into the minivan with half a dozen of his teammates.
A senior offensive lineman for the Roosevelt High football team, Mugisha and his fellow Roughriders did not believe what they had heard and headed downtown to get some answers.
They came away with none.
Roosevelt football coach and athletics director Trey Porter was terminated Wednesday afternoon by the St. Louis Public Schools. SLPS does not comment on personnel matters.
Porter, 31, said he was seeking legal counsel and did not want to comment.
The players and parents went to the SLPS administrative offices after word of Porter's dismissal reached Roosevelt's football practice. The players hadn't finished buckling their pads before they pulled them off and piled into a minivan and a sedan and set off to find out why Porter was no longer their coach.
Thirteen players and two parents said they met with SLPS superintendent Kelvin Adams. After their meeting, they all came away completely unsatisfied.
“We kept asking, kept asking and no answer,” senior defensive back Ali Hall said. “We told them how he's more than a coach and impacting our lives.”
The lack of communication from SLPS has been a particular point of frustration for Roosevelt's players and parents. Sharonda Cox, who's been designated the team mom, made three trips to the administrative offices since Friday in an attempt to get some clarification as to why Porter had been exiled from Roosevelt for more than two weeks.
“We want answers just like they would want answers,” Cox said. “We want to know why Coach Porter is gone.”
Porter was in the midst of his third season at Roosevelt and the results on the field and in the school had been positive. In his first season, the Roughriders ended a 26-game losing streak on the field; they did have a forfeit victory beforehand. Last season they went 8-3 and won the Public High League championship.
The players and parents said that is only part of what made Porter such a vital piece of Roosevelt's fabric. Cox has witnessed the work Porter did first-hand with her own son, senior Jawuan Delancy.
“Porter has impacted my son. I had problems with him in elementary,” Cox said. “In middle school he turned around. First year at Roosevelt he had problems. Porter came along and I saw a change in my son.”
Wednesday is “Winning Wednesday” at Roosevelt. It started with Porter having the football team dress in their best business casual but has spread to the whole school. When a student wanted to participate but didn't have the appropriate attire, Porter has a stash of button-up shirts, slacks and dress shoes for them to use.
“You can come in there and just take it. If you need it, you need it,” Mugisha said. “He helps kids with (job) interviews, communication skills. That's what he does. He's not just a man about football.”
In the aftermath of the shooting death of Jurnee Thompson, 8, in the vicinity of the PHL jamboree at Soldan on Aug. 23, Porter addressed the incident with his team. He wanted to do a mental health check and see how they were handling the tragedy.
“That was devastating. A child got killed. A child lost her life due to that incident. He completely stopped practice to talk to them and see where they were coming from,” Cox said. “See what type of feelings they had, what kind of emotions they were going through. This is going to affect this child's life.”
Thirteen Roosevelt players traveled to the administrative building, but that's because Cox and Artivia Spence couldn't put any in the trunk or let them ride on the roof. The whole team wanted to make its presence felt.
“There was a whole bunch of kids that I had to leave that didn't want to be left, that wanted to come,” Cox said. “But we didn't have enough room.”
The players who did make the trip did not get what they sought. As they walked out of the building, the emotion came out of them. They simply do not understand why someone who has made such a positive impact in their lives, someone they love like a father, has been ripped from them with no explanation.
“These kids are hurt. He was more than just an AD. He's more than just a teacher. Some of these kids he's their lifeline,” Cox said. “You took their lifeline away. Just hope and pray none of them do anything stupid because they're upset.”
Roosevelt is scheduled to host Miller Career Academy at 4 p.m. Thursday.