CHAMPAIGN — Reggie Jones likes to think of Rose and Taylor barbershop as a bit more than a simple place where people go to have their hair cut.
"Our barbers do a wonderful job not only cutting (local kids') hair, but teaching them life skills," Jones said.
At the behest of its two most senior barbers, Chris Williams and Carlos Harvey, Rose and Taylor on First Street in Champaign turned itself into a community center Thursday night for a forum with the head football coaches from the three public high schools.
And this meeting had special significance going into the first season in which Champaign Central, Centennial and Urbana all have black head coaches.
"We just thought about the impact of having three African-American head coaches in Champaign-Urbana, what could we do before the season starts to pull them all together and just have a moment of unity and a moment of clarity going into the season," Williams said. "Sometimes you can get lost in wins and losses and just the business of football that just having this moment of clarity brings you back to your first love."
With about 15 people in attendance, Centennial's Lekevie Johnson, Urbana's Ordell Walker and Central's Tim Turner discussed topics ranging from a possible feeder system from middle school to high school in Champaign to specialization in youth sports to their coaching philosophies.
"I think it was phenomenal; I think it was needed; I think it was impactful — if the word of this is spread to the youth that coaches can come together," Williams said.
The season starts today for a trio of teams that haven't made the playoffs in three seasons or more. But more important to Williams and Harvey is the influence Johnson, Walker and Turner can have on local kids, and the black players in particular.
"A person that looks like you — they see the big things that LeBron James is doing on TV, but that's on TV — these guys are right here," Harvey said. "You can touch them. That's more of an attainable goal. And that's the most important thing. That's what I think is the most significant part of it."
The meeting was jovial for the most part, with a little bit of friendly trash talking going back and forth. The usual preseason excitement was clear at Thursday's forum. But given the three men in charge of the local programs, this season has extra significance to some.
"I think there being a severe, in many African-American homes, lack of a male influence," Williams said, "to see three African-American men leading young boys that will soon be grown men, to see that this gives them a shot beyond the football field, in life, because he's a coach, he's a husband, he's a father, because he works every day. So it just gives them a positive outlook on things that there's something greater later."