As a kid growing up in Chicago, Melvin Whitney never thought he'd end up working and raising a family in the Fargo-Moorhead area, but he's been here for more than 20 years and wouldn't have it any other way.
His journey west started in Thief River Falls at Northland Community & Technical where he played football, but he set his sights a little higher and ended up walking on at North Dakota State University to become a member of the Bison football team. Life took a bit of a turn for Melvin though, so he didn't play for the Bison long before he left to focus on working (returning later to complete his degree).
Melvin's love for the game of football found a new outlet through coaching when he was hired as an assistant coach at Shanley High School in 2010. During his six years there, his team qualified for the state title game five times, winning championships two years. In 2016, Melvin landed the head coach position at Oak Grove Lutheran School where he continues to mentor and guide student-athletes on and off the football field. He shared that he believes his role as a coach is about more than just helping the athletes play the game well but is also about teaching them valuable life lessons on being upstanding young men.
Melvin also stays busy watching plenty of sports, in addition to spending time with his two kids: Michael, who is 12, and Grace, who is 2. Melvin jokes that his daughter should have been named "Sass" because she has a lot of attitude and knows exactly what she wants, he laughed. What's not a joke is her love and adoration for her big brother, and Melvin has enjoyed watching their relationship develop, even if that means Grace prefers Michael over him, Melvin said with a smile.
When he's not coaching football or spending time with his kids, Melvin works as the director of advancement and development at M State Community and Technical College, a role that involves securing funds for scholarships while providing him with a sense of fulfillment because he's helping students achieve their goals. He also spends plenty of time giving back to the community through his involvement with the Fargo West Rotary. His love of service is something he hopes to pass on to his own kids as well as those he coaches. "The best thing you can do (in life) is give back to others and inspire someone else to do the same," Melvin said.
He also shared that a prostate cancer diagnosis in 2019 changed his life in many ways. After dealing with symptoms for years, he switched to a male doctor who immediately wanted to check his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level. The results led to a cascade of additional tests and appointments and eventually surgery in November of that year. Once he'd finally recovered, Melvin researched how he could live healthier and help his body continue to recover, which meant changing his diet and seeking alternative treatment options.
The experience also helped Melvin realize how important it is for people to understand their own bodies and be their own health advocate when something is off. He also wants other men — no matter their age — to get a baseline checkup to establish their PSA level in case it changes down the road. Medical issues aren't fun to talk about, Melvin shared, but they are so important to understand.
Keep reading to understand more about who Melvin is and why that makes him a rad dad.
You love sports — which team do you love cheering for the most?
To a fault, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football. I once quit a job because that company would not let me work a shift that would allow me to get done in time to watch the games on Saturday.
How would you describe your childhood growing up in Chicago?
I had a lot of fun as a kid. Because my mom moved so much, I had better friendships around my grandmother’s neighborhood, so I spent most of my time there. I was an only child for 12 years (Mom remarried and had a son with my stepdad, and I have a brother from my father’s side), so I was one that valued my close friends as though they were my siblings. Same with my cousins. I spent a lot of time with them. My father was not around much in my younger years, so I was raised by strong-minded women. I think that plays a major role in how I treat people today.
What do you enjoy most about living in the Fargo-Moorhead area?
The ability to experience things at a closer level than you could in a larger city. For instance, some years back the rapper/reality TV show figure and the rap group that made him famous, Public Enemy, was in Fargo performing. A group of us went to the show, and as the show was ending, another friend of mine and I decided to see if we could get backstage and meet some of the performers. We were successful, and I just kept thinking, there is no way we could have had this experience if this concert was in a larger city. Security would have thrown us out in a heartbeat.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I don’t remember having any set thoughts in mind of a career. I just remember wanting to just live a comfortable life. I can tell you this: I never thought I’d live in North Dakota, or anywhere close to this area. Those are goals for a kid on the south side of Chicago.
How did your cancer diagnosis change your life? Big or small ways?
It’s made me want to enjoy life as much as possible, because you never know when it’s going to end. Sure, you make plans for the future, but you have to enjoy it now, while you are able to.
It’s made me more aware that you must be an advocate for yourself when it comes to your health. Do your own research and you decide how you want to live the rest of your days. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how different medicines will affect you, and give your opinion on how you want to live.
Three words to describe you?
Empathetic. Competitive. Fair
How does being a coach affect your parenting style?
This is the gift and the curse. I’ve always been of the coaching mindset that I don’t treat everyone the same. You can’t, because each person is different. But I do feel that I treat them fair. Parenting a mini version of yourself has its challenges. You have to sit back and not just emotionally react, you have to look at where this “action/thought” is coming from and be fair in your reaction to it. I try to do the same with my players. One player might say something, and my reaction would be totally different to another saying that exact same thing. I might be able to get after Player A and challenge them right on the spot, but Player B might not react in a good manner under those same circumstances, so you have to spend time getting to know your players to know how you can get the most out of them. Same with your kids. I don’t think I can talk to my daughter the same ways I would have with my son. They are two different people who would have totally different reactions.
What does your family love doing together?
Board games or anything that involves competition.
Greatest parenting lesson so far?
Patience. When I look at my son, physically he looks older than he is, so I have to resist the urge of reacting towards him as if he’s older than he actually is. I once set him up for failure because it was something that I wanted for him that he wasn’t ready for. I didn’t sleep at all that night. I felt like a failure as a parent. I had to learn form that situation and practice more patience and putting the kids first as opposed to my own selfish wants.
What's it been like watching your son become a big brother?
It’s funny to watch because he is 10 years older than his sister. I can somewhat relate, being 12 years older than one of my brothers who lived with me. She adores him, and he’s a pretty caring kid, so he’s navigating trying to be “cool” with his friends and being that loving big brother. We have talks all of the time about him and his role with his mother sister. He knows that no matter what, those are the two women he has to protect and care for.
How are you hoping to instill a love of service and giving back to others in your kids?
I think that when you show them how good they have it in comparison to others and getting them involved in helping those less fortunate, you hope that sparks that desire for them to want to give back. The earlier you can get them involved in helping others, the better.
Your son is almost a teenager — what scares you most about raising a teenage boy?
The time in which he isn’t that “cute little kid” anymore and can be viewed as a threat. Even at the young age of 12, he and I talk about how to react in certain situations. It sucks that those conversations have to happen, but that’s where we are as a society.
What do you want your kids to always know?
That they are loved more than they can imagine.