Independence quarterback reflects on loss, long road to success

Sports

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The first time I met Independence quarterback Ladon Denmark, he told me how to pronounce his name.

“It’s Luh-don,” he said on the sideline before an Independence football game in October.

“Not Laydon, or Landon. Luh-don.”

I didn’t realize the weight of that name then. I do now.

* * *

Effortless.

That’s how Ladon Denmark plays football, according to Independence coach Tyler Schilhabel.

“You see him making extraordinary plays on the field, and he’ll come over to the sideline and be like, ‘Yeah, I wasn’t even really trying,’” Schilhabel said.

But as he’s being chased by defensive linemen, the senior quarterback is also running from the past two years of turmoil and tragedy.

“I don’t really try to think about it,” Denmark said. “I try to avoid it. That’s where football comes in. It’s been my escape.”

“I get emotional about him,” Schilhabel said. “If you knew his story, knew what he’s been through…”

Denmark began his high school career at Bakersfield High School. After a year at BHS, he was poised to transfer to Ridgeview when his mother Renesha lost her battle with cancer. Ladon struggled with her loss.

“My mom was like my number one fan,” Denmark said. “If anyone knows, my mom was at every game, every sideline, so it was kind of horrible.”

Unable to find a fit at Ridgeview, Denmark received a scholarship to Garces Memorial. Before he got there, in the summer of 2020, tragedy struck again. Ladon’s father, Ladon Dejuan Denmark, was shot and killed in central Bakersfield.

Ladon was named for his father. He carries that name wherever he goes, and he wants to make sure people get it right.

“My dad always wanted it to be pronounced correctly, so I just pushed it to be pronounced correctly,” Denmark said.

After his father’s murder, Denmark struggled to stay afloat at Garces.

“I just lost focus,” Denmark said. “Wasn’t really maintaining my grades and all that, so I moved to here.”

He joined Independence in the spring of 2021.

“It was a natural fit from the beginning with everybody,” Schilhabel said. “Ladon meshed in well, the guys accepted him, once again he became friends and became a leader immediately.”

And he led them to history. Denmark rushed for over 1,000 yards and accounted for 23 touchdowns on the way to Independence’s first Valley Championship, and as he leads them into the state playoffs, his parents will be close to his heart.

“I got my mom’s name tattooed on my chest, and my dad’s name on the other side,” Denmark said.

His name is Ladon Denmark.

Don’t forget it.

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