CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — Mark Thacker pulled out a weathered folder that was barely held together at the seams and inside it was what he realized was NFL star Travis Kyle. The moment Travis Kelce really paid attention in his social psychology class.
When Kelce submitted his statement for Cleveland Heights High School’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2018, he singled out Thacker as the teacher who inspired him the most. This surprised Thacker, who said he and Kelce often clashed “on the days Kelce showed up in his class.” Thacker printed a copy of this statement and has kept it to this day.
Now, as Kelce is catapulted into the world of pop culture with his newfound connection to Taylor Swift, Thacker is enjoying the moment with his former student.
“You talk about power couples: I think they’ve jumped to the top,” Thacker said in the classroom this week. “You have Travis and Tyler or Tyler and Travis — I don’t know which one they’re going to choose — but I wish them all the best.”
The Kelce-Swift romance has taken the NFL and music world by storm, and they’ve received no shortage of attention across the country. But in Kelce’s hometown, a historic streetcar suburb of Cleveland with a population of about 46,000, he was a legendary figure long before Swifties took notice.
NFL Stats Center: The latest NFL scores, schedules, odds, statistics and more.
Gary Wroblewski, affectionately known as “Coach Wrobo,” was shown a photo of Kelce sitting on the edge of a dry erase board and a photo from his phone’s camera roll. Smiling proudly.
Wroblewski, who is about 5-foot-10, has fond memories of picking up the 6-foot-5 Kelce “like a puppy” when he visited the school. He reminded the students that he was in the same chair they were sitting in now.
“He’s a great guy and we’re very proud of him,” Wroblewski said.
Thacker couldn’t help but think about how far Kelce had come and how successful he had been. He said he hopes Kelce and Swift find happiness, good health and continue to do the right thing for others.
“I had fun with it. I smiled,” Thacker said of Kelce’s relationship. “But I know behind that image is a good heart doing great things for young people. That’s what makes me feel good.
“I’m not counting how many fans he has. I’m not counting how many commercials he’s in. I’m not counting how many zeros he has at the end of his checks. I’m thinking about how he’s giving back to young people in Kansas City, elsewhere, in Cleveland Heights. It’s it’s very important to me.”
Cleveland Heights is a quaint suburb with colonial-style homes surrounded by beautiful trees and local businesses keeping the community vibrant. When you arrive driving through downtown Cleveland, you may feel out of place. But the diversity of big cities remains outstanding and a source of pride.
Nearly 60 percent of Heights High’s students are black. Community service, such as picking up trash or counseling neighborhood elementary school students, are beneficial learning experiences for Kells, as are 5:30 a.m. soccer practice and after-school study hall sessions.
No matter where the Kells family goes, Cleveland Heights is with them. The Kelce brothers’ popular podcast, called “New Heights,” attracted a million new listeners after Swift attended a Chiefs game. Mom Donna sat next to Jack at State Farm, wearing a hat with the podcaster’s name on it, to support Jason Kelce at a Philadelphia Eagles game.
Cleveland Heights also remembers where the Kelce family came from.
The heartwarming and adorable hug Donna Kelce gave Swift during a Chiefs game has gone viral, and it reminded Kelce’s high school football coach Mike Jones of what she was doing when meeting with other parents and preparing for the team The love shared during the pre-race meal.
“Well, Mrs. Kells is a super person, so she’s going to be warm and she’s going to be engaging. So, she’s definitely going to make her feel welcome. But Mrs. Kells will probably support Taylor,” Jones said.
“Travis was single for a while, so she might be supportive of someone being able to make him slow down and think about that.”
Jones added that Kelce “will be a great husband and father.”
But hey, no pressure.
“Tyler is a superstar and so is Travis,” Jones said. “They’re having fun right now and we’ll see where it goes.”
“We all want that love story”
Some residents of Kelce’s hometown hope his relationship with Swift is real and lasts.
But they know that if things don’t go their way, Kelce will likely become a chart-topper like so many of Swift’s predecessors.
“One day, he might write a song — and not in a good way,” Damien Rasile, 24, laughed behind the counter of Phoenix Coffee in Cleveland Heights.
“If I were him, I’d be scared. If he breaks her heart, you’re screwed.”
Brittany Thompson, 32, has been a “Swiftie” since she was 14 years old. She agreed that Swift’s relationship with Kells could be the “beginning” of her next album.
“If this is true, good for her. No one really knows. But we are all very supportive of her finding love,” said Thompson, a Cleveland native. “We all wanted that love story and wanted her to have that.”
Erica Chaffin, 43, thinks the new relationship is “cute,” while her daughter Bimah Mitchell, 17, thinks Kelce and Swift deserve some privacy.
“I wish the relationship was real, but so much of our culture is performative,” said Chafin, who has lived in Cleveland Heights for nine years. “I hope it’s true and I hope they’re having fun. To me, it seems true.”
“You can’t go online without seeing Kelce and Swift’s posts,” making them vulnerable to criticism, Mitchell said.
“I like Taylor Swift, but she’s another person who gets dissected all the time, and I don’t think that’s cool for her or anyone. The way she was dissected was really disgusting,” Mitchell said.
“They look cute or something, but…”
Bob Bowes, 71, a longtime Cleveland Heights resident, worked with Donna Kelce and her daughters with Travis and Jason Kaye Went to school with Jason Kelce.
He also bought his granddaughter two tickets to Swift’s New Orleans concert next year “because her mom asked me to.”
He believes the Kells-Swift relationship will be great for their business.
“I think it’s going to be good for both of them and they’re going to make a lot of money,” Bowes said.
Daniel Ball, a lifelong Cleveland resident and Browns fan, reluctantly learned about the relationship during a game. While he believes the NFL will benefit from the new audience Swift brings, it could be a distraction for fans.
“She supports (the Chiefs) and you can tell she gets excited when the Chiefs do well. She should be his girlfriend or something. I wish my wife or girlfriend would be happy for me too ,” Ball said.
“They look cute and stuff. But it has nothing to do with football. I watch football to watch football. I don’t watch football to go on dates or watch ‘The Bachelor.'” Don’t let these things take a break from football. “