Marvin Cofield ’84, an elementary school physical education teacher in Montgomery County, Maryland, and owner of the Marvin Cofield Basketball School in Washington D.C., recently spoke with fellow alum David Driver ’84, sports editor of the Daily News-Record, for this front-page feature published on June 12. 2020. In addition to his work with youth athletes, Cofield is an assistant women’s basketball coach at Chesapeake College on the Eastern Shore.
Marvin Cofield estimates he has been pulled over, while driving, between “10 to 20 times” by police in his native North Carolina, Delaware and his current home in Maryland.
The former Eastern Mennonite University basketball player, who is African-American, points out that in several of the encounters the police acted professionally, and he was given a speeding ticket which he admits were warranted.
But the bulk of the traffic stops, Cofield believes, were the result of racial profiling and involved a white officer. The scariest incident came with an officer pointing a pistol in his face while his future wife was in the passenger’s seat. That encounter came in a secluded spot in the middle of the day with no reason given for why Cofield was stopped in 1993 in Maryland.
“I was afraid for her,” said Cofield, 58. “It was horrible. It was horrible. There was no one around. It could have gone very badly. I was torn between rage and fear. I had just bought a new 1993 sports car and was rolling through town with out-of-state, temporary plates. I was compliant; I got no ticket. I think about that all of the time.”
Despite decades of dealing with such terror, the 1984 EMU graduate is encouraged that change could be taking place in the country after protests following the death of unarmed George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police late last month.
Why the optimism?
For one, Cofield (disclosure: he was a classmate of mine at EMU) notes that it is not just African-Americans who have been protesting in large cities and small towns across the United States and even in other countries. A protest on June 1 in Harrisonburg, for example, included folks from various races and ages in a crowd that was estimated at about 1,000 people. An EMU basketball player from another era, Maleke Jones, a senior for the Royals in 2017-18, had a major role in the event.
Another reason Cofield has not grown pessimistic: for nearly 40 years he has been coaching basketball at the youth level, and those in his charge keep him hopeful.
He works with boys and girls of various racial and economic backgrounds; for years he has coached a group of about 30 youth that has met in recent years on Saturdays at a private school in northwest Washington, D.C. While running the Marvin Cofield Basketball School, he said he has never had a racial incident with any of his students.
“I am very optimistic that it is going to change,” he said this week of improved racial justice for African-Americans. “The young people are very intelligent, they are very bright. Even in my basketball program they want to discuss these things. They come from a very intellectual perspective. It is not emotional, it is intellectual. They are actually reading and researching (issues). They realize we are fighting systematic racism. You can’t have forgiveness without repentance; (it’s) Biblical.”
“I love the togetherness I have seen in the young people,” added Cofield, who is married with three children. “For the most part, they are doing (protests) peacefully. That was a standard that was set 50 years ago (by some leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr.). I am extremely optimistic. I am.”
So is a prominent former NFL star.
Doug Williams, who led Washington to a Super Bowl title as a quarterback in 1988, told ABC TV affiliate Channel 7 this week he is also inspired by today’s youth. “They keep going forward. That encourages me,” said Williams, the first African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
Cofield said the video of Floyd being killed “drove everything home,” especially for his children, he noted. “This is not an isolated incident. When you are a black man in this country and you walk out of your house, you are not protected the same (as others). You have to convey this message to your children, especially your sons.”
Cofield, who did his student teaching at Spotswood High, played hoops at EMU for four years. He was a high school coach and teacher in North Carolina before moving to Prince George’s County, Maryland in 1994. Prince George’s borders Washington, D.C. and is one of the most affluent majority-black counties in the country. Cofield teaches elementary school physical education in Montgomery County, Maryland.
Cofield has also been a personal trainer for several top-flight basketball players. The EMU product has trained several future Division I standouts such as Cedric Lindsay, who played at the University of Richmond; former VMI player Rodney Glasgow, Jr.; and Sheronne Vails, part of a Final Four team with the women at Louisville. Cofield has also been the assistant women’s basketball coach at Chesapeake College on the Eastern Shore of Maryland for the past few seasons.
What does Cofield bring to the program?
“Oh wow, where do I begin? Coach Cofield is fantastic,” said Gwen Barnes, the head coach at Chesapeake and a college player at West Florida. “What he brings to our program is experience and the connection to the players. He brings a high level of knowledge. He brings a level of respect to the program. Coach Cofield is tough but he is firm. He gets the best out of kids.”
And that includes off the court as well. Speaking out about racial issues is nothing new for Cofield — it is something he has done in high school and at EMU.
“I don’t like seeing people taken advantage of. I don’t like discrimination in any form. I know it is an utopian dream,” he said.
But perhaps now, that dream is coming closer to reality for many Americans who haven’t had much of a voice in the past.