Alumni Programs

“Eye on the Ball” Becomes a Life Skill

Antonio McClinon ’08 grew up in a series of tough Los Angeles neighborhoods. He survived two elementary schools, three middle schools, five high schools, a broken and violent home, school shootings, lost friends. Today, Antonio is an Evergreen alumnus and a graduate student at the University of Washington, working towards his Master of Education degree in sports management. His future is bright and his mission focused: to keep his family safe, see his siblings go to college, and become a positive change agent in minority communities. How did this happen? Two key factors: athletics and Evergreen.

AM: Life is crazy. Growing up, there were so many things that were against me as a young African-American male…All I knew was I wanted to be successful to do something for my family. From grade school to high school, it didn’t look like that was going to happen, but…I’ve been going with the flow and I keep ending up with great opportunities and taking advantage of those opportunities.

I started playing basketball when I was 13; my sister taught me how to play. To me, sports were an opportunity to hang with other kids, to not be at home and not be around negative things. I’ve been in love with sports ever since. Of all the things going around, sports were the most positive. Sports have been an outlet for me. They were the balance of my life. I compare it to when people read or play an instrument – that’s sports. It shouldn’t be any different.

ED: How did you get to Evergreen?

MclinonAM: Now that process was a strange one. After graduating from Los Angeles Trade Tech, there were four or five other schools I was thinking about attending. Basketball was a big driving force. I chose Evergreen because I knew nothing about it. I knew nothing about the State of Washington. This was an opportunity to step into my own.

ED: And what did you think when you got here?

AM: I got here a month before school started so I had some time to walk around and view the city and, I kid you not, every second I was, like, ‘what am I doing here?’ I knew there were areas with less diversity, but I’d never experienced it at this level. And it was such a small town compared to L.A. Throughout the [first] whole year, it was a constant struggle as far as ‘should I go back home? Should I stay?’

ED: What kept you?

AM: I'll give you an example: I had (faculty member) Kabby Mitchell spring quarter for Foundations of Performing Arts. He is an African American. One of my finest memories is Kabby challenging me because I just assumed ‘we’re both black so he’s going to take care of me.’ In my eval, he was brutal – brutal but honest. He told me a lot of things… it gave me an opportunity to reflect about myself. I think more people need more constructive criticism and I feel Evergreen allows the space for that.

After his first year at Evergreen, Antonio transferred to Whitworth University in Spokane. It was, as he puts it “another culture shock.” He stayed for a year and a half, dropped out, landed back in L.A. for a couple months, lost momentum and one day woke up to the realization “I need to go back to school.” Antonio was 26 at the time. He arrived back at Evergreen in January of 2007.

ED: Why did you come back?

AM: Because Evergreen allowed me a structure to continue to work on myself in a way that helps you define who you are and find your inner strength. When I came back, I did the Gateways Program, working with incarcerated youth. It was a great experience. I worked with Carol Minugh and Joyce Stahmer. They had a huge impact. They were on my side, very encouraging and they wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

I’m a proud alumnus. I feel I’m in debt to the school because of the opportunity it has provided me. Now I only want to make suggestions to strengthen the community on campus and to improve the experience of all students. Not just minority students – all students.

I’m the only African American in my program now [at the University of Washington]. Although my classmates, professors and the staff do a great job of creating a comfortable environment for me, I still struggle. The way I’m addressing it is to realize I bring a different perspective and richness to class. I would say I’m fortunate because I am the only one.

ED: State budgets cuts, college culture – a lot of things can impede the strengthening of athletics on this campus. What do you think these programs mean to the future of Evergreen?

AM: A lot of people say you shouldn’t come to school just because of sports… well… I attended school because of sports and they helped me value education that much more.

I’ve established so many relationships all around campus. I enjoy and value those relationships. There’s opportunity and hope. But maybe students are looking at things differently from the way I see it. If you’re talking about a change away from athletics, you’re also talking about a change in how [this generation of students] perceives and handles things. It’s all changing, in sports, society, technology, the environment, everything.

The budget cuts may be out of control, but the culture is very much within our control. I believe the Evergreen culture will increasingly come to understand and value the importance of athletics as an important way of attracting and supporting minority students. Having a more diverse student population will only strengthen the campus culture.

It’s crazy – my education at Evergreen has allowed me to look things in a progressive way, from different perspectives. But my education came wouldn't have happened without my sports. It all goes back to sports.