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Long time Westsider works to build community as Union High School's new football coach

Rick Angstman sees building up the local football team as a way to give back to the community he loves and build a stronger neighborhood for the kids who live there now.
Coach Rick Angstman with the Union Varsity Football Team

Coach Rick Angstman with the Union Varsity Football Team /Elizabeth Rogers Drouillard

Coach Rick Angstman

Coach Rick Angstman /Elizabeth Rogers Drouillard

Union High School Football Coaching Staff

Union High School Football Coaching Staff /Elizabeth Rogers Drouillard

Rick Angstman, recently hired as the new Head Varsity Football Coach for Union High School for Grand Rapids Public Schools, says his job as the football coach is not just passing along a love of football to the teens at Union- but is also a channel through which he can give back to the local community that he loves. Angstman started his coaching career at Union, from 1996-2003. He's also assisted at Kenowa Hills and led the Freshman and Junior Varsity teams at Wyoming Rogers, then returning to assist at Union again from 2013-2015.

Angstman desires to reach out to the community and to help through athletics. When Angstman was first hired, he visited every school in GRPS and asked the neighborhood what they were interested in.

As Angstman envisions it, "rebuilding local community through rebuilding local athletics, particularly football." He wants to break down stereotypes in the broader Grand rapids community, build community locally around the football team and coach the kids to be not only good athletes, but engaged community leaders.

"People are asking me why Union, but why not Union? This is where I live. I went here. I live in the neighborhood. I know kids who live here and they're good kids. It's unfair to stereotype all Union kids as bad because of a few kids, which is something I hear that really frustrates me. The first perception of a school is the kids and I'd like our kids to take more pride in our school," says Angstman. 'And sports matters for this. When I was a kid, we'd play as many sports as as we possibly could and watch our friends when we weren't playing. This year I'll go to as many sporting events as I can so kids know I care and encourage my players to do the same."

Angstman says he often hears people talking about the problems, but that Union High School has a lot of strengths.

"We're truly a neighborhood school in the heart of a residential area. A lot of people who went to Union as kids still live here," he says. "The Challenge Scholars program and School of Construction, I think, puts us on par with area schools."

Angstman remembers a time one of the local sports radio stations called the Union football team "nothing but a bunch of thugs." Or how as an assistant coach, referees would assume that he was the head coach because he was white.

"The only three times it didn't happen," he says, "was when we played in Muskegon."

"I'd like this area to be a place where my players want to stay and raise their family, a place that's not so segregated racially and economically.," he says. "Union encompasses the largest segment of Grand Rapids and we need to support this high school."

Angstman is full of ideas and has many goals for his broader football program, including starting a junior program of touch football for the younger grades to get them excited about football and sports early and to teach them proper technique. He's going to encourage the high schoolers to take advandtage of the free tickets GRPS offers them for the games. Angstman has set up community service hours with surrounding neighborhoods so his team can participate in some neighborhood clean up days. Community service hours for City High kids with the football team at Union is another avenue he's pursuing wanting to build more ties between the schools. Angstman also plans to have the football/varsity club work with local employers so his athletes can play and work if they need, too. These ideas have the larger goal of broader community participation in the local football team, thereby creating more community interaction as a whole.

Because concussions have been such a topic of concern in sports over the last few years, Angstman also focuses a lot on safety through proper training.

The Junior Red Hawk Football program Angstman envisions would eventually encompass all the GRPS schools K-12, teaching the kids proper form and technique through constant training.

"When they're young they don't hit hard enough to get the concussions people worry about, so if you teach them how to properly tackle at that age, it's much safer. Youth girls soccer has way more concussions than youth football. You train and develop the muscles when they're older, but for the younger ones it's all about flexibility, yoga. In middle school you start the weights, but not too heavy, it's to teach form and lengthen the muscles, the strengthening comes later. It's a progression," he says. "All of this lessens concussions."

Athletes also have access to medical doctors through Metro Health Sports Medicine, with free clinics for any athletes that may have an injury but not insurance. With games on Friday and Saturday, and concerned parents, this can ease minds and save big on ER bills.

"CPR and AFIB is mandatory for all of my coaches," he adds.

For his team, Angstman is excited to build community and confidence with them this year.

"With the players, I want to build trust and faith in what we're doing," he says. "Past coaches promised them the world and didn't deliver. We need to realize that with hard work and dedication we can make progress, not delude ourselves. Most of my coaches live on the Westside. We're more committed to the long term development of the team. Our coaches know what they're getting into and want to be here. They're dedicated to our own football creed of hard, honest work. I don't make them promises about winning games, but I hope that our hard work will pay off into success on the field."

Angstman says he's never considered his job just about football.

"I consider this community service. Sometimes kids are dumb and make mistakes. I'm here to help them through that and not just fire or punish them," he says. "You're always on a team, whether you know it or not, wherever your comfort zone is. I want the kids who are at Union for four years to know they're all a part of my team and that we can flourish together."

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