Missed perceptions

Travis (class of 2008) and Jason Kelce (2006) after their 2018 Heights High Hall of Fame induction

I’m writing this a few days before the 2023 Super Bowl. But this isn’t about the Super Bowl. I only mentioned it because of the Kelce brothers, Jason and Travis. Though this isn’t really about them, either. This is really about the perception of Cleveland Heights and University Heights, expressed by people who moved away years ago.

I’m a member of at least three Cleveland Heights-related Facebook groups, one dealing with the past, one with the present, and one about Heights High. During this run-up to the Super Bowl, I’ve seen quite a few comments, in those groups and on individual people’s pages, wondering why Cleveland Heights, in general, is making such a big deal about a football game, and making it clear that they don’t think it’s worth that much of our attention.

I’m not a football fan and I don’t follow the sport (though I used to go to Heights High games when my kids were students there). But I have followed the Kelces’ careers. My daughter was in Jason’s class at Heights (and at Roxboro Middle School). And Travis came along two years after Jason, so there was some overlap.

They were both outstanding players in high school and I was interested to see where they would go. Where they went was to the NFL, which is not easy to accomplish. Jason plays for the Philadelphia Eagles and Travis for the Kansas City Chiefs, who are the opposing teams in this year’s Super Bowl—the biggest sports event in this country (even, somehow, without me as a fan). And not only are they playing in the NFL, but they’re among the best at their positions. And now, with this game, they’re making history, as this is the first time that two brothers have played against each other in the big game. But, proud as I am of Jason and Travis, that’s not what really matters most to me about them.

I’ve responded to several of these Facebook cynics and complainers—like one who asked if the Kelces playing in the Super Bowl was the only good thing to have happened to Cleveland Heights in (however many years he’s been gone) years; and two or three who had some negative feelings about Heights High lighting up the front of the school with the team colors of the Eagles and the Chiefs; and others who think we’re giving the Super Bowl too much importance—by saying that it’s not about the football game.

It’s about the fact that the Kelces are both so loyal to their hometown and their school. And that they passionately and emotionally always give credit, in national media, to the city and the school for their success. And that they come back, when they can, to visit Heights High and interact with students. And that their foundations have given money to school programs. People are usually surprised to learn about all of that.

Former residents, in these Facebook groups, also often talk about the ways they believe the city has changed, for the worse—even though they haven’t really been back here. They’ve “heard” things. For instance, crime is often a topic. I try to point out that, first, there was, actually, crime in Cleveland Heights when I was growing up here in the 1950s and ’60s. And, in fact, the city practically began with a sensational murder, in the early 1900s, possibly committed by one of the city’s founding fathers (the case was never solved). So, crime is not new here. And, second, crime rates have risen everywhere.

People who have left the area also talk about how bad they think the schools must be. Some have been saying this (coincidentally, I guess . . .) since the Black population of Cleveland Heights and University Heights started growing, in the ’70s. Even some of my old school mates say things to me like, “So, Heights schools have really changed, right?” Which is code for, “There are now Black kids in the system.” They want me to confirm for them how this has destroyed the schools. I always call them on it and they (almost) always backpedal and claim that wasn’t what they meant. But it was—because nothing else has changed. My kids went through the Heights schools and now my grandchildren are there, and they’ve all thrived.

Coventry Village is another target of complainers—how it has changed for the worse; how it’s not cool, like it used to be. I point out that I’ve been around Coventry since the ’50s and I’ve heard people say those same things every few years, over and over—and yes, it changes, but it just keeps rolling along.

I still go there, I see the changes, but it still feels the same to me. As does the whole city, changes and all.

David Budin

David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history.

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Volume 16, Issue 3, Posted 10:18 AM, 02.28.2023