BY COURTNEY RATKOWIAK
Daily Sports Editor
Published September 16, 2009
DAYTON, Ohio –
We're a movin' on up,
To the east side.
To a de — luxe apartment
In the sky —
Movin' on up
To the east side,
We finally got a piece of the pie.
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Coach Daryl McCleskey leans out of the driver’s-side window of his white conversion van, casually referencing “The Jeffersons” theme song as he talks about his Pee-Wee football team. He is parked on the Hickorydale Elementary School field, which has looked the same for years even though the school itself was torn down long ago. The Pee-Wee Dayton Flames play in ragtag practice jerseys, the eight- and nine-year-old kids hollering as they hit each other. A tinny song blares from the speakers of a nearby beat-up ice cream truck, and an orange water cooler rests on the hood of a rusted pickup truck parked next to the team.
Movin’ on up in Dayton actually means moving about 15 minutes northwest. Turn left on Shiloh Springs Road and you suddenly find yourself driving through the middle-to-lower class, predominantly black suburb of Trotwood, Ohio, with cornfields and tall grass hugging both sides of the street. Speed down another little two-lane country road and there’s nothing more to see until a sprawling high school comes into view, complete with a brand-new football stadium that would make a small college team envious.
That high school and that city are a step up the ladder, a place you can go to sleep at night with peace of mind, McCleskey says. But he almost resents that.
“A lot of blacks moved to Trotwood when they were successful in their lives,” he says. “They were more well off than the kids right here in Dayton, and they acted like it out there. A little more uppity.”
His bitterness stems from the way people treated the Dayton Flames. He’s quick to praise the accomplishments of his underdog team, boasting about its last Pee-Wee Super Bowl championship like a proud parent. But he says that much of the city’s best athletes left to go play in the suburbs, and Trotwood stole the glory after Dayton coaches developed the kids’ talent.
The fact is, Roy Roundtree and Mike Shaw wouldn't be playing for Michigan today if they hadn’t experienced the best of both cities. They played for the Flames from the first grade to junior high. Soon after, both moved to Trotwood in order to play at Trotwood-Madison High School, a known college football factory led by a coach whose charismatic mentoring charmed nearly everyone in — and who wished they were in — the Trotwood-Madison family.
“Family” is a word they use liberally in both Dayton and Trotwood, a common thread that stretches through the entire area’s tight-knit football community. The Dayton Flames coaches were like Roundtree and Shaw’s fathers, and Trotwood-Madison coach Maurice Douglass might as well have been the boys’ big brother. Candidness and closeness were the norm — the players were “all in” without ever needing to coin it as a team slogan.
Roundtree and Shaw may have kept movin’ on up all the way to Ann Arbor, but they still remembered exactly where they came from.
Mike Shaw still watches the videotape almost every time he comes back home. It’s of a seven- or eight-year-old Roy Roundtree, running a go route during a Flames football practice. Roundtree is so intent on trying to catch the ball that he doesn’t notice the coach’s burgundy van in front of him, and he runs into the back of it, falling to the ground. After a second, he jumps up, the football still in his hand after a perfect catch. “I got it! I got it!” he squeals.
Brian Carter, Roundtree’s former Pee-Wee coach, has a basement full of old trophies and photos. In one of those photos is Roundtree on the day he showed up to a game with his face covered in bright white face powder, his eyes blacked out and paint covering his arms. It was Halloween, and he played football that day wearing full skull makeup and his orange Flames uniform.
As a freshman in high school, when Roundtree was named the Dayton Daily News’ Athlete of the Week, the wide receiver talked in an interview about how his on- and off-the-field Pee-Wee experience had shaped him more than his experience in junior high or high school ever could.
“I had to pull over and get myself together when I read that article,” Carter said, shaking his head. “Because it really touched me. When you run an organization like this, you get kind of burned out.