Charles wasn’t first star athlete in family

Published 2:15 pm Thursday, August 20, 2015

This is the third of a four-part feature on Port Arthur native Jamaal Charles, who currently stars as a running back for the Kansas City Chiefs.

By Vahe Gregorian
Kansas City Star

The eerie lights of refineries dominate the night sky of Port Arthur, a town of about 50,000 in which you can still see fading signs for the old Kansas City Southern railroad.
As it happens, Port Arthur was founded in 1895 because of that railroad. The town’s Kansas City-based founder, Arthur Stilwell, believed he should
connect Kansas City to the Gulf of Mexico as a business venture.
Known as it might be as a hub of the oil business and as the hometown of singer Janis Joplin and football coach Jimmy Johnson, Port Arthur has absorbed hard times in recent years. On a recent Saturday, its downtown was so desolate it appeared virtually abandoned, even as people in town talk about the promise of new enterprises ahead.
The city’s entwined troubles of poverty, drugs and street gangs made it a place full of trapdoors that Charles had to overrun on his way to rushing for 4,107 yards and 50 touchdowns during his last two years of high school.
Despite the constant movement in his life, Charles was sustained by the bedrock of broader family, a legacy of generations most recently handed down
by the example of Mazelle Miller.
After she died, much of her spirit was transferred to the house of Uncle Robert, 57, and Aunt Arlene, 54, the fourth of 10 children and the one most
wired like her mother. That meant an emphasis on family fun, but no nonsense either.
Arlene and Robert helped Charles and his numerous cousins get their start in sports. They started a local track club in the 1990s that still is thriving.
Robert also coached Pop Warner football.
Safe to say that early on Charles wasn’t an obvious track man or the best player on his football team — or even in his family.
It wasn’t just that older brother ShanDerrick was a natural athlete who went on to play at Southern Methodist and seemed NFL-bound before suffering a back injury.
It also was that his cousin Rashante, who would go on to play women’s basketball at LSU, was quarterback of their Junior Bees flag football team.
Charles played center, and their favorite play was the one where he’d block down the sideline for Rashante.
“I was slow. I had to work for my speed,” Charles said. “Everybody thinks I was just fast. I had to work. I was tired of looking at people’s
It took an improbable scenario to create, or at least stoke, an athletic breakthrough for Charles.
Under the umbrella of the special education program, Charles and his classmates didn’t get to take field trips like the rest of the kids who used
to go to Six Flags “and the fun places.”
“The only one we took,” he said, “was to the Special Olympics.”

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

About Gabriel Pruett

Gabriel Pruett has worked with both the Port Arthur News and Orange Leader since 2000. A majority of the time has been spent covering all aspects of Southeast Texas high school sports. Pruett's claim to fame is...being able to write his own biographical information for this website.

email author More by Gabriel