Media Information Director
DPS Office of Athletics
Cass Tech High tailback Christian Burks and Crockett High cheerleader Keneesha McLaughlin both have a knack for making fans stand up and shout.
In tribute to Burks’ team-leading performance between the lines and McLaughlin’s team-spirited support from the sidelines, the two seniors are the Detroit Public School League’s Proud Strong Learners of the Week.
“It feels great,” said Burks, who ran for 249 yards on 18 carries, including a 55-yard touchdown, last Saturday in helping the unbeaten Technicians (12-0) defeat visiting Macomb Dakota (9-3) for the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 1 regional football championship.
“Winning that game was one of our hardest challenges.” Burks said. “But we stayed humble, we overcame some controversial penalties, and we made it.”
The victory moved Cass Tech into the state semifinals Saturday at 1 p.m. against Lake Orion (11-1) at Troy Athens High School, with the winner advancing to the state championship game Nov. 27 at Ford Field.
“We’re the first team in school history to go this far, but this is what we envisioned since Day One,” Burks said. “We’re representing the Detroit Public School League and we’re representing the city. We want to take it all the way and prove the doubters wrong.”
A compact 5-7, 180 pounds, Burks’ speed and durability has made him a valuable weapon in Cass Tech’s “track team on turf” array of stars. He has come up with big games all season, none bigger than Saturday when his workhorse running enabled the Technicians to eat up yardage on the ground and control the clock.
“I was just hoping for the best,” Burks said. “The line opened the holes that I wanted and I took advantage.”
A sprinter during track season, Burks finished second in the 100-yard dash to football teammate Kishon Wilcher in the PSL track and field meet last spring.
Despite his athletic prowess and a 4.0 grade point average, Burks still hasn’t attracted a lot of interest from college recruiters. “But he will get a college scholarship,” predicts Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher.
“He’s a great young man, he’s a hard worker and he’s highly motivated. I think the state playoffs will really help him because it’s showing everybody how durable and consistent he is.”
For now, there’s nothing she enjoys more than leading the cheers for the Rockets. “It’s what I love to do, I’m very dedicated to it, and I’m good at it,” McLaughlin said.
As captain, McLaughlin’s leadership sets the tone for Coach Glenda Pott’s 14-member squad. “We have a very tight sisterhood,” McLaughlin said. “We’re always together and the coach has a rule that there’s no drama within the team. I’m the captain so I have to be a very good leader at all times. The other girls are watching everything you do.”
These are exciting times for Crockett, the PSL’s other team in the MHSAA football state semifinals. The 11-1 Rockets will face Williamston (11-1) Saturday at 1 p.m. at Detroit Catholic Central, with the winner advancing to the Division 4 state championship game Nov. 26 at Ford Field.
“This is the farthest we’ve gone in the playoffs since I’ve been cheering,” McLaughlin said. “We’re seeing far more fans coming to the games than we had during the regular season. That makes it more exciting for us.”
Cheerleaders have to put in the work just like the athletic teams, McLaughlin said. “We practice cheers three days a week and then we practice one day of gymnastics. During games, we’re on the sidelines doing our basic cheers. But we incorporate back handsprings and everything during halftime.”
McLaughlin began cheerleading as a third grader at Thirkell Elementary and is the first cheerleader to be honored as PSLer of the week.
“I am honored to be given this award and especially to be the first cheerleader,” she said. “I think a lot of people think we’re just there to stand around. But we really do help our boys win by cheering them on.”