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It was “Go, Bears!” night at the Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education Monday when the John Marshall Bears Football team and coaching staff were introduced.

The positive, upbeat moment for the board was welcomed within a larger envelope of struggles over how to educate a diverse and economically poor student population in the biggest district in the state.

The Bears won the 3A state championship this year, the first for the school in 22 years.

The student-athletes seemed proud to line up with their coaches and principal, Aspasia Carlson. They all worked hard for this.

Head Coach Rashaun Woods pointed out the levels of commitment it took on everyone’s part to produce a championship team.

“It was an all-day thing with these guys, from 7:15 to 7 o’clock. Many times I didn’t get home until 8:30 – 9,” he said about the twice-a-day practice schedule wrapping around their regular class schedule.

And he praised his coaching staff for their hard work, too.

Academic achievement

But in his comments to the board, Woods emphasized what it takes off the field to produce a winning team.

He pointed to last year’s program where they had “13 or 14 graduate and every one of them went to college.”

That wasn’t happenstance. It was by design.

Rashaun Woods, head coach John Marshall Bears
Rashaun Woods, head coach John Marshall Bears (photo by Brett Dickerson)

His time as a standout at OSU taught him how important it is for players to get real help in academics.

“Having a study period and getting tutoring for the kids during my time at John Marshall has been the most important thing,” said Woods.

Keeping academic levels up would keep his players eligible and “on the field,” he said.

But it wasn’t the most important thing.

“That was a byproduct of what the real goal was, which was to get these guys in college.”

Leadership challenges

As the team was leaving, Free Press visited with Woods and Carlson about the year with their winning athletes.

We asked about key challenges for each of them.

Woods said it was to “get the younger guys up to speed.”

Aspacia Carlson bears
Aspasia Carlson, John Marshall Mid-High principal (file photo by Brett Dickerson)

“We graduated a lot of guys last year. One of the biggest things is that the seniors we did have were tremendous leaders.”

Carlson said the challenge for her was “putting in all the supports for the program to be successful.”

Their foundation helped to pay the tutors who kept the players on their academic plan, she said.

Since John Marshall is an enterprise school, some of the freedoms Carlson has to raise financial support for the school go beyond the work of traditional school principals.

She pointed to the many generous donors who helped purchase a lot of the special clothing and equipment the team needed as the weather got colder during playoffs and the championship.

The Booster Club and those who worked “countless hours” on the football field starting in the summer were important ingredients in the winning year, said Carlson.

Woods played for OSU, went to the NFL until he was sidelined by injuries, then came back to the Star Spencer football staff in 2009.

From there he went to Millwood for a time and then got the head coach job at John Marshall in 2013.

Carlson was named Oklahoma Principal of the Year for 2017.

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