Konesha Rhea, also known as Coach K, is the new head football coach of the DuSable Panthers, a high school football team composed of students from Daniel Hale Williams Prep High School and Bronzeville Scholastic Institute, both located at the historic DuSable Campus. She took over this year after school leaders decided to make some staffing changes.
“To be honest, we probably weren’t even looking internally at the program when we decided we might have to make some changes to the program. It was the players that stepped up and said, hey, if this is what you guys are considering, we’d like you to hear us out,” said Williams School principal Jullanar Naselli
The players advocated for Rhea, and she got the job, moving from assistant coach to head coach. She’s now making history as the first Black woman to lead a Chicago Public League Boys Football Team. It’s a glass ceiling Rhea didn’t even realize she was breaking.
“It was a friend of mine who pointed that out, two friends of mine when I went to Chicago State, they pointed it out and I said no, I can’t be and they’re like you are. And so it’s an honor. It’s kind of scary being the first, but I have a lot of great mentors. So I’m okay,” said Konesha Rhea
Rhea isn’t the only one breaking the gender barrier. While traditionally a Boys team, over the years, girls have started to join the DuSable Panthers.
“I wanted to be on the football team, because you know, as a girl, gender don’t mean nothing,” said DeMaya Plant, a freshman girl on the team.
Rhea says her focus is on her players and building up the team. That includes recruitment which can be a challenge.
“The principals gave me the phone list and I was texting parents saying, hey, I’m Coach K, we have a football team. We would love if your insert the daughter’s name, the son’s name would be interested in coming out. And I got replies, we got people to show up,” said Rhea
Naselli says it’s that dedication that’s brought the DuSable Football program more stability and consistency. In the past, coaches have struggled to get enough players on the team, and to get them to stick around.
“Unfortunately we’ve had some coaching turnover several times within the past few years, and despite that, and despite the size of the team, this is one of the few years that we’ve actually finished the season with all the players and had a complete season, and that’s solely due to their commitment to one another and the coach,” Naselli said.
It’s not just on the football field, Naselli is also noticing improvements in the classroom. Performing well on and off the field is something Coach K makes sure to instill in her students.
“She’s tough on us. You know, even though she’s a female, I know how people be about that stereotypical stuff, but she’s tough on us. So just like any other coach, said Kevonne Corwell, a senior on the team.
Along with being a tough coach, Rhea’s players also say she’s like a second mother to them.
“She’s not only a coach, she’s like a mother to us too, so anytime we need something or we need to talk, she got us, like she’s always there,” said Ave’Veyon Watkins, a freshman on the team.
The DuSable Panthers had a tough season, losing every game, but they’re already looking ahead to next year, and thinking of ways to get better. Rhea is hoping to take the team to the playoffs.
“We need to go to state, we need to win,” Rhea said. “I know every football coach says, you know, they want to win state, well yes that’s ultimate to be able to bring another championship to Chicago Public Schools, but to even be able to compete for the state, you know, state playoffs to make it to the second round of state playoffs would be amazing for us.”