During the day, Jessikah McKenzie teaches fourth grade at Legacy Charter Academy, but on the weekend, she plays tackle football with the Detroit Venom.
She’s been an athlete her whole life, playing sports like softball, basketball, and flag football before discovering Detroit’s professional team three years ago.
McKenzie credits her youngest son for motivating her to try a new sport in her 40s.
“As he was turning 8, he decided he was ready to play tackle football or ‘real football’ as he called it,” McKenzie said.
She didn’t want to discourage him, even though she was nervous he would get hurt, so she decided to let him pursue his dream and help him prepare for it.
She also decided that if he could do it, so could she.
“The first time I put pads on, I was a little apprehensive,” she said.
But McKenzie stuck with it, even though her evening try-out time presented her with an extra challenge.
“They started throwing me the ball and I was catching the ball in the dark. The coach said if you can catch the ball in the dark, you're hired.”
McKenzie uses this experience to encourage her students to try new things, teaching them about the importance of Moral Focus virtues including perseverance, respect, and encouragement.
She’s able to bring the lessons she teaches in the classroom to life on the gridiron, showing her students if they work hard and stay dedicated, they can achieve anything they set their minds to.
On career day, she discovered she had unintentionally become a role model for the girls she teaches.
“One of the girls said, ‘I want to be a football player like you.’ So, I brought my helmet and game jersey in for her. The kids were so excited that we’re now trying to get a flag football team for girls started.”
McKenzie says the way students have connected with her through football has been humbling.
“The first day they meet me, I tell them you get what you put in. If you want something out of it, you have to put in the work, especially with schoolwork,” she said. “They show me what I do changes their life. It's so rewarding.”
In the coming weeks, the Venom will take on some of their biggest rivals. McKenzie is hoping for warmer weather so her students can be on the sidelines to watch her play. If you would like to see McKenzie in action, you can find the team’s schedule here.
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Legacy Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Detroit, Michigan, serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.
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