The only Black kid on the team learns to thrive 00:00

Sports in Society Lifting the ‘white’ label from sports

The only Black kid on the team learns to thrive

Jaylen Wheeler, once a student at University Prep in north Seattle, was the only Black player on his baseball team. This led him to interview friends about being the odd man out and pushing boundaries.

Did You Know? Tap to expand
Only 16% of all boys and 15% of all girls who participate in youth sports are African American. Only 15% of male athletes and 17% of female athletes are Hispanic. Only 12% of Asian boys and 8% of Asian girls play sports. Source: Ohio University 2020 study

Krysta Rayford: We’ve all heard the expression “a needle in a haystack” — well Jaylen Wheeler is that needle and his world is like a haystack.

Clip of Wheeler’s morning routine: [radio announcer] oh, my alarm clock just went off.  

Jaylen Wheeler:  I’ve done this a million times: Wake up, get ready, and sit in the car.

Clip of Wheeler’s morning routine: Mom. I’ll meet you in the car. I know, I’m trying to eat this pancake.

Jaylen Wheeler: At first, I hated getting up for school so early for school every day. It only made it worse that it took me an hour to get there. It would have been easier if it was five minutes away. The person who pushed me to do this was my mom.

Clip of Wheeler’s Mom: I knew from the moment you were born, that your path would be different from others. 

Jaylen Wheeler: She wanted it to be different from her own. She didn’t get a chance to finish college because she had me.

Clip of Wheeler’s Mom: In order for doors to open for you I had to make drastic decisions.

Jaylen Wheeler: I never thought of it like that. This struck me pretty hard. I wanted to talk to someone who knew what it was like for me, so I went to talk with Walter Jackson, the dean of students at my school, University Prep.

Clip of Wheeler in office: All right, so — this story, the next story that I am trying to do is going to be about — the title is going to be “ Odd Man Out.” And it’s basically being the odd man out in a certain situation. 

Walter Jackson: Where I grew up, there weren’t a lot of Black kids who felt like they could walk anywhere they wanted, they could go through any door they wanted. For me growing up the way that I did, and being — walking through those doors and going through different places. I was brought up to feel like “no, I mean I’ve got just as much right to be here as anybody else.” Now, once I’m there, there’s all kinds of stuff I’m thinking or questioning. But I think that can be a pretty powerful thing. Because if you — I mean, you know to answer your question in a long way— If you come up in a situation where you’re around people who are just doing… doing what they do, then there’s a very good chance that you’re going to follow that pattern too.

Jaylen Wheeler: His path was a lot like mine. When I was in elementary school, I was in a class with all Black kids. Then things changed in sixth grade at University Prep. I remember playing baseball and feeling super uncomfortable being the only black kid on the team. Kind of like Walters’ experience playing tennis. 

Walter Jackson: And I remember — my dad and I still laugh about this, and it’s been a long time — but the first time I went to Mercer Island Racquet Club and played in a tournament, and people were coming up and asking my dad about me like they were at a zoo exhibit. I mean it’s like, people would look so curious as if they were looking — because I could see them talking to my dad, and there’s glass there. But I could see them kind of looking at me like I was on display and like, how did — how did he end up playing tennis? Like, we’re not allowed to play tennis? Or uh? So how did — Does he play basketball too? And…

Jaylen Wheeler: It’s not always about race. Everyone has been in an uncomfortable position at some point. Like some of my friends at school.

Clip of Wheeler interviewing friends:

Jaylen Wheeler: where have you felt like out of place?

Friend 1: Next to a girl

Jaylen Wheeler: When’s a time that you have ever felt like really weird or uncomfortable?

Friend 2: Right now

Jaylen Wheeler: It’s a tape recorder.

Friend 3: Oh, okay

Jaylen Wheeler: I have a question for you guys.  When have you ever — When have you felt completely out of place, or like uncomfortable in a situation?

Friend 3: First time I smoked weed. 

Jaylen Wheeler: Even though those were some funny situations, my friend Roberto told me about how he feels awkward being the only private school kid with his family friends.

Roberto: He’s a junior. And he said, “Oh, the book The Giver, oh this is — this is a hard book.” We’re reading in class, in English class. And I remember that, wow — at my school we read The Giver in seventh grade.

Jaylen Wheeler: I can understand how Roberto feels. We all have different situations when we feel weird, odd, or uncomfortable. But these same situations can lead to so many different opportunities.

Walter Jackson: I mean, a kid who doesn’t want to walk four blocks down the street into downtown because only white people go there. Or I had a couple of friends who were in sales who worked downtown and I wanted to take kids in to sit and talk with them to have that experience of sitting and talking with them. And one of the kids, I remember saying, saying to me, “well, what are you trying to get, you know, get me to have a business job or something downtown?”  And I said, “No, I just, you know, it’s good to branch out and try to get in different experiences and you have just as much right to go down there as anybody else.” And he said, “they don’t even let Black people wear suits and work downtown.” And I thought — man, that’s a 16-year-old kid saying, saying that who has lived in this town all of his life, and he really legitimately thought they don’t let Black people wear suits and work downtown. 

Jaylen Wheeler: Wow …

Jaylen Wheeler: Everyone has different stories that they share. And these stories have different resolutions. To achieve what you truly want in life, you have to be pushed in situations you don’t want to be in. This is a story of different people in my life doing the exact same thing, pushing boundaries and creating opportunity. For me, I’m going to college next year, and I don’t know what’s in my distant future. There are plenty of times when I wanted to quit at U-Prep and go to the school five minutes away from my house. But the only thing I do know is — my life is defined by situations I’ve been in and the opportunities I’ve created for myself. That came from working to be different from others and striving to be the odd one out. For Radioactive, this is Jaylen Wheeler.

Krysta Rayford: Jaylen Wheeler produced that story in 2015 as part of RadioActive Youth Media in Seattle. Since then, Jaylen graduated in Business Administration and continues to follow his passion for podcasts and music. For iPondr, I’m Krysta Rayford.

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Episode Lifting the ‘white’ label from sports