He sat with his team in a pregame study hall one fall day and told the players to close their books. Something was missing. What was it? He could sense they wanted to learn. He could see them working in school. They tried hard at football practice. And yet simple homework assignments went unfinished. Grades that had improved then mysteriously dropped. For every step forward there was a stumble.
“What is the disconnect?” he asked.
For several moments no one said anything. Then slowly the stories spilled out. Terrible stories. Heartbreaking stories. The players told of homes without parents. They said nobody in the house asked to see their homework. They talked of barely existing at all. They said the only place anyone seemed to care was at school.
And they told him that even then he was the only one to whom they could relate.
“It was eye-opening,” Kitna says. “It was tearful to hear kids say: ‘My parents when I am doing my homework tell me to stop doing my homework and go sell drugs.’ Or to hear a kid say: ‘I don’t ever eat because I want my mom to eat and only one of us can eat.’ ”