May 20, 2018

Column: Don’t take life’s priceless wonders for granted

There are so many reasons why I pour countless hours into this site to just keep it treading above water.

First, sports and writing are two of my passions. And this, a platform that was established in McDonald’s by two insecure college kids, has created opportunities far beyond my knowledge.

This is not my full-time job, yet, but I like to think it is.

I still go to school, scrub golf carts at a golf course to pay monthly bills, and have two little brothers to look after. When extra time is found, I freelance for my hometown newspaper, The Frederick News-Post.

To soothe high-paced reality, I serve as a youth leader to a group of freshmen boys at Damascus Road Community Church every Wednesday and Sunday.

Scraping pennies to get Maryland Sports Access off and running has been more than a challenge, especially starting with no resume and an unknown status.

At the time, just graduating high school with a 2.4 unweighted GPA, I had nothing. Or at least, I thought I did.

I was not financially stable enough to be in college. I had no jobs regarding sports journalism, let alone opportunities to write. Thinking I could eventually land a job in the journalism field that would at least pay the bills was appearing unlikely.

And besides, I took four years of remedial English classes in high school.

But I had one thing — a sturdy support system and sphere of influences that backed my newly sought dreams.

Strenuous leaps and bounds have been made since the launching one year ago on May 27. So many divine moments have fueled a vision to keep propelling forward.

The night of December 20 will go down as one of those divine moments I’ll never forget — and probably would not have happened if it wasn’t for my co-owner, Evan Engelhard, and I relentlessly juicing ideas out of each other’s brains in a booth tucked in the back of McDonald’s for night’s on end.

I had received a text that afternoon while working at Laytonsville Golf Course from my youth pastor, Jaymz Drury, that read word-for-word, “Hey man, I have an idea, but it involves Jake Funk.”

“I’m about to go bring presents to a kid who is 11 years old that lives in Damascus Gardens. His dream is to be a (running back) at (Damascus High School) and beat all of Jake Funk’s records. He’s not getting any presents for Christmas and his family doesn’t even have a tree. Would Jake be willing to meet me at the Gardens to hand these gifts to him? I think it would mean a lot.”

There I was, staring over the message during my shift at work, the middle man of a request that could make or break a family’s Christmas.

I have gotten to know Jake through numerous of interviews for articles published on this site. His half-brother, Josh Funk, owns Rehab 2 Perform and partners with us.

Before the formulation of MSA, I had not personally known Jake or Josh. But our visionary paths divinely crossed, and for good reason.

Josh was the first person outside of my family that believed in what we were trying to do. He threw us funding before he shook my hand for the first time.

Jake, meanwhile, shut down the confined town of Damascus every Friday night. There was not a Friday night where the stretch of home-side metal bleachers had an empty seat.

Nestled in the greensward pastureland rocked the rowdiest bunch in all of Maryland, next in line to Fort Hill that is. In the student section, some held blown up Fatheads of Jake’s face.

After each Funk touchdown, George Clinton’s “We Want The Funk” buzzed through the stadium air. Adults even snapped along with the tune. During halftime, Mark Ronson’s and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” filled the atmosphere.

His famed earth green and bumblebee yellow No. 34 jersey would often be found worn around school.

He stung opposing front-seven’s with a brand of bully-ball accented with nimbleness and breakaway speed.

Never in my life have I seen a high school athlete impact one community like Jake does.

Video: Damascus routs Dundalk in the Class 3A state championship 55-14 behind Funk’s 289 yards and 7 TD’s

And it’s a shame his offensive line, which could go down as the best to ever battle in the trenches in high school football history, didn’t get enough credit. I even blame myself for that one.

Nonetheless, Jake headed a one-dimensional offense that shattered records and steamrolled teams en route to a state championship. The 669 accumulated points set a new all-time high for most points scored by a single team in one year, ever.

Jake Funk holds the Class 3A state championship plaque at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md. Photo taken by Austin McFadden/Maryland Sports Access.

Opposing defenses knew what would happen on practically every play — a handoff to No. 34 — but nobody had an answer. Nobody could stop wild man Funk.

He ran for a berserk 2,866 yards on the ground, 13 yards shy of NFL running back Ben Tate’s mark in 2004. He also willed his way for a state record 57 touchdowns. Most games, he was out at halftime. His nightly averaged was 205 yards and four scores.

His storied ledger garnered Gatorade Maryland high school football Player of the Year.

Graphic made by Kyle McFadden. Photo taken by Austin McFadden/Maryland Sports Access.

Damascus went 14-0, capturing the 3A state championship in dominating fashion, and outscored their opponents by an average of 39 points a night. Thirty-nine points. Let that sink in.

They were on another level.

Jake is now at the University of Maryland, where he enrolled early, vying for a starting position at running back as a true freshman.


Still glaring at the text that glowed on my phone screen, a rush of urgency spiked into my mind. I needed to pull this off.

I called up my youth pastor to let him know I would do my utmost best, then flipped my mindset and ended the conversation by saying, “We’re gonna get this done. This has to get done.”

With one text, I reached out to Jake asking of this favor. Mere minutes later, he was all in.

I was enthralled with excitement. Covering sports is nice and all, but this, a chance to make a child’s Christmas forever, will never top any work environment even if it’s sports.

My youth pastor called A’mari’s mother (the 11-year-old we were surprising) to let her know we would come at 8 o’clock that night with the presents, along with Jake Funk. She screamed so loudly through the telephone it sent a shock wave of chills through my body.

That night, my youth pastor, Jake, and I met in the Safeway parking lot before we departed to the Gardens just down the street. Quarterback Julian Kinard even tagged along, too. There, Jake signed a football that read, “Merry Christmas A’mari from Jake Funk”.

I had been to the Gardens before, a woebegone apartment vicinity in walking distance of the stadium that rocked to the tune of “We Want The Funk” every Friday night.

It was a glum setting that saddened me, but the brokenness was also beautiful, because we were there to spread hope and cast a vision on a discouraged kid that wanted to play football for Damascus High.

With presents bundled in wrapping paper and tucked under our arms, we trotted across the asphalt parking lot, then up the jet-black metal steps to the third floor where the family lived.

Sporting his renowned No. 34 jersey, Jake knocked on the door. My youth pastor, Julian, and I stood behind Jake as the door swung open. At the doorstep stood the 11-year old boy with a priceless reaction, jaw dropped, eyes bulging up at Jake like he’s finally come face-to-face with a fable superhero.

With the mother balled up on her couch, laughing in excitement, she asked her son, “Who is that?”

“Is that, is that … Jake Funk?!?”, the 11-year old boy yelled out.

After that moment, we stepped into the crammed living room. All I did was watch as Jake played with the 11-year old and his two younger brothers that appeared no older than seven and five years old.

The 11-year old showed everyone his football highlight tape. He, too, gashed defenses with stifling touchdown runs. He then rambled on about how he was going to grow up and be just like Jake one day, and most notably, break all of his records.

Jake chuckled and said, “Go for it. It’s yours.”

Jake followed that with a lesson by saying grades and schoolwork come first over football, and what you pour into the community as a person is what you get out on the football field. The kids nodded their heads, glued to every word Jake was speaking into them.

The parents explained how they could hear the echoes of the DHS stadium roar every Friday night. High school football games were not in their budget.

The night could not have been scripted better in a fairy-tale.

On May 27, 2015, Maryland Sports Access was born with a vision to resurrect two lost college kids. Little did I know the opportunities it would create.

Once lost and crooked in my ways, with no resume and a tarnished high school GPA to show for, I thought I had nothing.

The night of December 20 taught me I had everything I could ever need. A roof over my head. Food on the table. Clothes on my back. A sphere of influences to fuel your dreams. A family that supplies endless support. And a God to lead the way.

Don’t take those things for granted.

Cherish them. Embrace them. Hold them dear to your heart.

Because there’s someone out there who has less than you do.

About Kyle McFadden 416 Articles
Kyle McFadden is a graduate from Linganore High School's Class of 2014, a sports junkie and general news-hound. He got his start as a sports writer in January 2014 for Linganore's student-run newspaper The Lance, where he wrote 13 articles. McFadden then launched his own blog in October 2014 called The Beltway Dispatch covering collegiate, local high school and professional sports. Formally known as The Beltway Dispatch, McFadden and Evan Engelhard merged respective platforms in June 2015 to make what is now Maryland Sports Access. With baseball, basketball and golf experience, McFadden brings ample knowledge to the helm of MSA. McFadden covers a wide variety of sports in football, baseball, basketball, golf, hockey, lacrosse, soccer and specializes in the collegiate and high school levels. McFadden volunteers his time at Damascus Road Community Church -- serving as a mentor to the youth, basketball coach at the varsity and junior varsity levels, and leads a small group of high school sophomores every Wednesday night. Although he's only been around journalism since January 2014, he's a high school sports reporter for The Baltimore Sun and freelancer for The Frederick News-Post. McFadden's work has also appeared in DMV newspapers The Aegis, The Capital Gazette, The Daily Times (Delmarva Now), The Hometown Observer, Howard County Times, Germantown Pulse and The Towson Times. He's also won two Mike Powell Excellence in Journalism awards and has appeared on The Best of SNO, which showcases top student work of high school and college journalists. McFadden currently studies at Frederick Community College and plans to transfer to the University of Maryland in the fall of 2018 to work on a bachelor's degree in journalism with aspirations to be a national college basketball writer.
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