Through the work of the Knee High Foundation he created in 2017, Opelika native Anthony Bryant hopes to drastically reduce violence and let youth use sports as a vehicle to bolster their academics and give back to their respective communities.
After serving in the U.S. Army for eight years and working four years as a civilian contractor in Afghanistan, Bryant returned home “for good” in 2013. From October 2014 to December 2015, he worked as a correctional officer with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.
It was during the early stretch of his return home that he spotted a disturbing trend, “a growing amount of crime and violence,” in his beloved hometown. “…I’ve always had a heart for youth and been involved coaching or mentoring at the different places I’ve lived during my military career. I knew I wanted to make a difference … and after a lot of sleepless nights, I knew that God had given me a vision to do this,” Bryant said.
As a football star at Opelika High School, Bryant went on to become a key piece on the Mississippi State defense in the late 90s that consistently ranked among the best in the college ranks. His football experience showed him “how powerful and transformative sports can be in a young person’s life” and would prove to be a crucial component of the organization that longtime friend and associate George Bandy Jr. would help him form.
Starting with only 22 boys and one youth football league team, the program has expanded to include more than 100 children, four youth league teams and a cheerleading squad headed by the organization’s Chief Information Officer Alyssa Foreman.
Known as the “Opelika Dawg Pound,” each football team is divided into different age groups with a range of seven to 12 years old. As members of the Montgomery-based Central Alabama Youth Football League, they play an eight-game season and recently acquired a yet-to-be-disclosed location in Opelika for their four home games. Foreman and the cheerleaders travel and participate in each game during the season.
While sports are an important part of Knee High’s programs, they only represent a small portion of the opportunities provided to children to help them grow. Bryant said he handpicked coaches for his program that could serve as mentors and positive role models for children ages five to 18 who are in the program. “There are many coaches that I looked up to and mentored me during my football career, and I want them to feel the same way about me and my coaches,” Bryant said.
Citing the amount of growth and increasing local knowledge about the foundation, Bryant said he has plans to expand the offered selection of sports. Once he finds a permanent home for Knee High, he said he plans to have regular educational sessions for children with topics covering etiquette, proper interviewing techniques and tying ties. “My ultimate goal in the next four or five years is to have more exposure for youth sports in this area, get more involvement from youth in the community and alleviate more crime youthwise. We have talent here, not just sportswise, but in academics, and I want to tap into that,” Bryant said.
-Morgan Bryce, Opelika Observer
July 27-29 Alabama Gridiron Classic Mobile, AL