BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - I don't care where you go in Baton Rouge, you'll find someone who knows Coach Ice Cream. They either know him personally; have kids who are being influenced in a positive way through his mentoring; or they, themselves were once coached by Ice Cream. But everyone I spoke with knew this person and knew of his incredible story and contributions to the community.
Coach Ice Cream's real name is Israel Burden, a 45 year old man who uses his own adversities in life to inspire, educate and mentor young people to help them avoid the same fate as he.
And how did the name Ice Cream come about?
For decades parents have used ice cream to reward kids for doing great things – good grades; a clean room.
Well, Coach Ice Cream uses it as a mentoring tool. You can't get ice cream for under performance or doing bad things, right? Well, in like fashion, calling Israel Burden "Ice Cream" comes at a premium. To be worthy of calling him "Ice Cream", the students have to meet his standards. The criterion include maintaining a certain grade in school, wearing their pants high around their waists, not skipping class and being respectful to parents and other figures of authority.
It's a term of endearment for Israel and an outward, verbal 'reward' to youth for doing well. You can hear him shout Ice Cream to his players for accomplishments they make on the field.
And he has walked the walk too; he leads by his own example. You see, Ice Cream had been in and out of jail, mainly for possession and sale of illegal drugs. Then one day in 2004, he saw a stop sign and said to himself, "That's it. I've had enough of this lifestyle".
But Ice Cream needed something, some push or some type of vehicle, that would literally force him to stay on the straight and narrow once he completed his jail time and parole.So he thought, "I'll put myself on parole." I asked Coach Ice Cream what that meant. He told me, "See, once I finished parole, I put myself on parole and I always told myself that I was gonna be for the kids," he concluded. It was his thought that if he had to behave because of his work with the kids, then he couldn't possibly get in any more trouble himself.
And it worked! That was 12 years ago and he's stronger now than ever. He's even held the same job during that 12 year period, at Wendy's restaurant.
His passion for kids came from his passion for sports. So he's been a volunteer coach for the Louisiana Youth Sports organization and has coached the L.A. Vikings for the past 4 years.
Every day, every night, working with kids after school, on weekends. And not just about playing sports. He is literally a life-coach for youth. He shares with him his past so they might not repeat it. Pull your pants up. Do not skip school. Study and get good grades.
Coach Ice Cream even goes so far as to visit bus stops on his way to work every single weekday morning because, he says, "I know who I should see on that bus stop". And he makes it his mission to contact students that are not on the bus any particular morning to find out what's going on and get them back on the right track.
Most of his mentoring comes as he coaches the L.A. Vikings each day. They practice and scrimmage after school in the vacant lot next to the old Istrouma High School on Winbourne Avenue.
Does it work?
Just ask Courtney Robins, a single mom of four whose two boys play L.A. Viking football under Coach Ice Cream.
"There's a phenomenal difference in my boys", Courtney explains. "They're showing and leading by example; showing my boys that, hey – you don't have to go out there and fight. You don't have to go out there and do stuff that's not right."
Courtney chuckles, "They're room's much cleaner! And not only that, I tell them hey – no football practice and they say, on no mama, I'm doing it; I got it. I got it."
So Courtney nominated Coach Ice Cream for WAFB's Hand It On. With our cameras rolling, Courtney surprised Coach Ice Cream.
"Well Coach Ice Cream," Courtney began. "They're doing a story on the L.A. Vikings. But I nominated you for Hand It On because of the phenomenal job you do for the kids, and the love and mentorship that you give them. And with God you can't go wrong, as you always say. Here's $300 dollars and God Bless You Coach Ice Cream."
Ice Cream bowed his head and made the sign of the cross. And as he embraced Courtney with a deep, genuine hug . . . a tear.
No textbook in the world can teach that kind of lesson.