Santana Randle wanted to dance Friday night.
Backpedaling as he made a catch in the end zone, he found a way to high step before leaping into a teammate to celebrate. He even danced a routine with a Heritage Hall teammate on the sideline.
No penalty flag was thrown. The referees knew the emotional stakes in a game against neighbor John Marshall.
The Chargers’ coaching staff was equally excited, but it still had to say something to calm down Randle.
Ironic, considering Randle needs to dance.
It’s his escape from local neighborhoods known to suck kids into gangs and where futures get derailed by violence. The cha-cha slide and salsa have saved his life.
“I wouldn’t be here, definitely,” Randle said. “Probably locked up somewhere, in the penitentiary or county, or dead, man. Just being honest with you.
“Where I came from and where I am now, looking back and seeing how much of an influence dance has been on my life there’s no way I’d be here.”
Randle is a standout senior receiver and defensive back at Heritage Hall, the two-time state champion that plays Friday night at Madill in a nondistrict game.
Away from the field, he’s a ballroom dancer for Life Change Ballroom, a local nonprofit organization that discovered Randle in elementary school.
“He has the best of both worlds,” said Pat Allen, Randle’s mom.
TAKEN OFF THE STREETS
Randle hasn’t really ever known his father.
His parents split when he was 1 and his father hasn’t been around since. By fifth grade, Randle was running into trouble in his neighborhood near North Highland, an area located near Broadway Extension between Wilshire Boulevard and Britton Road.
He would steal things, only to return them when his mom found out. Gangs were starting to have an influence, too.
“I was looking for kinda like a male group to fit in with,” Randle said.
At the same time, Randle loved to dance hip-hop. He entered a dance competition at Millwood Arts Academy and won the Cha-Cha Slide competition, gaining attention from Life Change Ballroom.
He was asked to join the advanced program, which practices nearly the entire day every Saturday. Randle joined.
Later, he turned down a gang initiation.
“I wasn’t allowing that,” Allen said.
Randle started falling in love with dancing. The footwork. The discipline. The routine.
And he started falling for football, which led to him attempting to walk away from dance in middle school. That didn’t last long.
He approached Life Change founder and director Cindy Pipkin one day at Millwood and asked if the program was still offered on Saturdays. She said it was. He said he would be there.
Randle walked in that Saturday and hasn’t missed one since.
He’s performed at Thunder games, Oklahoma basketball games, corporate events and more.
“It was something that not many people were doing,” Randle said. “At the same time, they were such nice and caring people. You know, my neighborhood, where I come from, you don’t see that many people that take interest in you or care about you.
“This program took me off the streets and put me into something more positive to do.”
THE GO-TO GUY
When Randle transferred to Heritage Hall for his sophomore year, one of the first things he told the football coaches was he danced.
Dance? They assumed he meant hip-hop. Ballroom dancing never crossed their minds.
“We’d have him show us what he’s got,” Heritage Hall coach Brett Bogert said. “He’s really good. It’s been impressive watching him grow up and handle that with his home life.”
Randle was a scout team and junior varsity player the first year, having to sit out due to OSSAA transfer rules. Heritage Hall won the state title and repeated last year with Randle as the lockdown cornerback.
Now he’s a leader and the entertainment on the team.
He often dances in the middle of the locker room. He does the splits before each game, showing off flexibility none of his teammates possess. He also has the odd-looking outfits he dances in at performances that draw jokes from his teammates.
“He’s our go-to guy in the locker room,” Heritage Hall senior Dawson Evans said. “But he won’t slow dance with us.”
Randle said he intends to play Division I football and dance.
First, he wants to focus on finishing right at Heritage Hall, with a third-straight championship right before a big dance performance in December.
“Winning those two state championships was one of the greatest things to happen to me, especially back-to-back,” Randle said. “Then doing dancing — something that I love — is the icing on the cake. But at the same time that was fun then, but I’m here now. I’m trying to get another state championship and at the same time get better as a dancer, too.”