Joanna Krah embraced the values her three sons and daughter gained running for the Durham Striders Track Club. She threw herself into supporting the youth organization as it traveled to local, state, regional and national meets.
“The kids learned from an early age how to communicate and make friends with different social and ethnic groups from all over the country,” she said.
Myer Krah, Aaron Krah, Ana Krah and Marcus Krah were fast and loved track and field. The club also provided family time together while their father, also named Myer, traveled. A former semi-pro soccer player in Liberia, the elder Myer is active in the Liberian organization Sarpo, named for his dialect, and travels the U.S. and to Africa.
But as the younger Myer’s high schools years approached, he wanted to play football at Durham Hillside, a North Carolina power. Joanna had to rethink her priorities. She had been content with the happy balance she found keeping her sons busy between an emphasis on school work and the track club.
“Their mom didn’t want them to play football at first, but she learned to love the game,” said former Hillside coach Antonio King, now the running backs coach at East Carolina. “She became one of my biggest supporters. She contributed any way she could.”
Myer was a senior team captain and Aaron a junior when they helped Hillside football to the 2010 N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A (large schools) state title. Marcus graduated from Hillside last spring as a three-year football letterman and six-time NCHSAA 4A state champion in track and field.
“It’s great for a high school coach to have a parent like their mother,” King said. “Sometimes it’s hard for a football coach to get parents to understand what you’re doing. You need to have people supporting you and speaking on your behalf. She supported the team that way. Those parents did a great job raising their kids. Their kids were low maintenance for me.”
Of course, another reason Joanna learned to love football was free college education it provided her sons. Myer played defensive back and outside linebacker at Navy. Aaron also was a defensive back at Appalachian State.
Marcus followed his brothers into football at Hillside, but it soon became clear he had a more promising college future – and beyond — as a hurdler. He accepted a track scholarship from North Carolina.
Last summer the six-time N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A state champion swept world and national 110-meter hurdle titles. He won the USA Track and Field Junior title in June and the IAAF Under-20 World Championships in a sizzling 13.25 seconds on July 22 in Poland.
But football has stayed with Marcus through Myer and Aaron. Marcus was known throughout the Durham track community for his humility and sportsmanship.
“I have two brothers that played college football, and they always checked me growing up,” Marcus said. “They expect me to compete with maturity.”
Myer, serving as an U.S. Navy Ensign at Naval Base Norfolk upon graduation from Annapolis, said the turning point for his mother accepting football was the sports’ teamwork values. Ironically, Joanna was enlightened as the result of an injury she feared. Myer suffered a broken ankle his sophomore year at Hillside.
“She was upset when I got hurt, but she saw how many friends came over to the house to support me and see how I was doing,” Myer said. “One of my coaches brought over extra milk to make sure I was getting enough calcium. That’s what opened her eyes. Track is a team sport, but you’re mostly competing in events as an individual. She saw the bond that develops in teammates from playing football.”
This fall is Joanna’s first since Myer’s freshman year at Hillside in 2007 that she hasn’t had one of her sons playing either high school or college football. Myer and Aaron completed their college careers when they graduated. Marcus’ football days ended with high school.
Already, Joanna says she misses the ritual and thrill of game day on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons.
“I loved going to the games so much,” she said. “I told Marcus, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to walk-on the football team at North Carolina?”