By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Both twins have already scored big: If all goes as planned, next fall the two will start at the exclusive Kent Denver, where they'll play for one of the state's most venerated lacrosse programs — and DU and other Division I schools will be watching. While Tierney can't talk specifically about kids like Jaden or Joanne because of NCAA recruitment rules, it's clear he's keeping a close eye on City Lax. "I am humbled by the program," he says. "The hope for all this isn't just that some of these kids win championships or become All-Americans, but that they will take this opportunity and parlay it into an education that will last the rest of their lives."
Maybe the twins will end up the next Denver lacrosse superstars, like Dillon Roy — or maybe they'll go even further. "I'm thinking he is going to become the Chauncey Billups of lacrosse," Terrance Roberts, a Park Hill community activist, says of Jaden.
As he stands on Invesco's turf, grinning his million-watt smile, Jaden extends the hand that's not clutching a lacrosse stick, his superpower, and gives a poised, swivel-wristed wave to the crowd, the kind of wave a beauty queen gives her adoring fans.
He knows that in a few short years, he and his City Lax teammates won't just belong on these fields. They'll own them.
For Joanne and Jaden Franklin and the rest of the third-graders, 2004 was a disaster at Hallett Elementary School. The teacher spent most of the year on medical leave, leaving the class in the feeble hands of one substitute after another. Chaos reigned, and one kid even got stabbed with a pencil. By the time the next school year rolled around, Rosie, the twins' mother, was fed up. She kept them out of school for a week while she explored other options. Finally, a friend cajoled her into giving the fourth-grade teacher, Erik Myhren, a try. He was supposedly something special.
But Erik had been going through some tough times, too. After watching eleven principals come and go during his seven years at Hallett, he was sick of the system. He was also physically sick: Plagued with serious gastrointestinal problems, years earlier he'd had his large intestine removed, and he'd recently spent six weeks in the hospital. His doctor had approved him for medical leave; all he had to do was submit the paperwork to the school district.
Then Joanne and Jaden walked into his classroom – and changed everything. Joanne had barely taken her seat in the second row when she popped back up. "Mr. Myhren, we didn't learn anything last year," she said, "and we want to learn this year."
That was enough for Erik to put aside any thoughts of leaving this class. If they wanted to learn, they'd have to work for it, he told them – but he'd be there for them every step of the way.
And he was. He wrote his cell number on the blackboard at the beginning of the year and never took it down. His school day was only half over when the final bell rang, since he still had two or three sports teams to coach, trips to bookstores and ice cream shops to arrange and, when it was all over, a bunch of sleepy kids to drive home. And even then, the door of his own home in Washington Park, where he'd grown up with his mother, was always open, a place to get help with homework or just to escape for a while.
He wasn't just there for them that year. Erik wound up moving with the class to fifth grade, too.
He knew that if he didn't provide opportunities for these kids, it was likely that no one else would. That was clear from his first day at Hallett, just west of the old Stapleton airport in a veritable fly-over zone, with most attention and funding going elsewhere. The only community resources in this part of Park Hill were the Pauline Robinson Branch Library and the Hiawatha Davis Recreation Center, and both were located just steps from the dilapidated Holly Square Shopping Center, which would burn to the ground in a 2008 gang-related arson attack. And with the school strapped for money, Erik's students hadn't had a gym class or put on a school play in years.
"Everything that is not academics has been taken out of the schools, particularly for low-income kids," he says. "It's all about academic testing now. So you have kids going to school with no art, no music, no gym, not much computer education. All you have is reading, writing and math. Those aren't the things that had me going to school every day, that motivated me to succeed. How do you expect kids to build confidence if they never get a chance to shine?"
Erik wanted to give them that chance. In 1998, soon after he started at Hallett, he'd founded KNUW Seeds, a nonprofit that connected local kids with youth programs by providing them with transportation and financial assistance. In the fall of Joanne and Jaden's fifth-grade year, he decided to bring a new program to recess, and brought in a bunch of lacrosse sticks he'd had in his garage. While he hadn't been much of a lacrosse player during his own high school years at the exclusive Kent Denver, Erik had seen enough of his brother's lax exploits to know that the game could be a blast.