YOUNGSTOWN — Ursuline High School boys basketball coach Keith Gunther addressed student-athletes and families at the I Have A Dream, Martin Luther King Day tournament Monday night with a message for people to work together to end racial inequality.
He told Mahoning Matters this week that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was the perfect time to speak out about his dream for racial equality and to have all Americans come together without divides of race or gender.
“I think in reality it’s about us just becoming a great nation and putting all that kind of stuff behind us, especially the issue with skin color,” Gunther said.
At Monday’s game against Youngstown Academy of Urban Scholars, he shared three life experiences.
When he was 18 years old, he and his wife were kicked off of a property in Myrtle Beach.
“If she was with a white guy, they would have been never asked to leave the property," Gunther said. "Because she was with a Black man, we were asked to leave the property.”
At the time, he felt like there was nothing he could do since he wasn’t at an age where he was able to voice his opinion. About 30 years later, his friend, Ursuline girls basketball coach Mike Kernan, helped him buy a property two blocks away from that property.
“The dream that I could actually own [that] place was just something that has struck me for the rest of my life in a positive manner,” Gunther said.
Gunther also shared how he almost did not interview for the head coach position at Ursuline High School.
On the way to the interview, he stopped at a gas station. There, a man asked why he was so dressed up. He replied he was interviewing for the position at Ursuline.
The man looked at him and told him the school would never hire a Black coach.
“For an instant, I almost didn’t go and I thought, 'Man, he’s right,’” Gunther said. “Inevitably, I went for the interview. I got the job.”
Jim Maughan, the late Ursuline athletic director, hired Gunther as the boys’ basketball coach 19 years ago. When the team won the district title three years later, he remembers thanking Maughan for the opportunity.
“I just remember tears pouring down my face and tears pouring down his face because he was just ecstatic that we were able to prove to people it's not about the color of your skin it's about the content of character,” Gunther said.
Even after Maughan retired, he still called to congratulate him on district title wins and to continue their relationship.
“I was Black, and he was white,” Gunther said. “It was just a great relationship and how we were able to work together.”
The last story he shared involved his daughter who played softball at an Ohio university. She was a starter for her first two years. When a new white coach was hired, he would not talk to players of color and made racial comments.
“It was a really tough pill for me to swallow,” Gunther said. The university eventually forced the coach to resign and he never coached a regular-season game.
Gunther said he shared this story so people understand the current struggles faced by people of color.
“If you look at the things that happened in 2020 and the things that happened in 2021, I think it was eye-opening for a lot of people that racial injustice still continues on today,” Gunther said.
Gunther said he still sees signs that people will get together and become one in America. He hopes President Joe Biden's administration can bring the country together.
The real question, he said, is how long will it take for people to get together.
“Are we ready to accept each other?" Gunther asked. "Are we ready to put these racial injustices behind us? Are we ready to move on or do we wait another 100 years?”