The Healing Power of Football Games
FOR ALL the national attention it now gets, and despite the high-tech facilities where some teams play, one thing about high school football remains constant: The game still has the uncanny power to bring together and lift up a community in times of trial. Consider these stories from 2007.
• Two years ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated Plaquemines Parish, on the southeastern tip of Louisiana. By 2006 so few families had returned that the district consolidated three high schools with a total of about 2,000 students into one, creating a makeshift school of fewer than 200 students called South Plaquemines High. Their football players had spirit—they chose to name their new team the Hurricanes—but no stadium, locker room or weight room; every day they were bused 60 miles round-trip to practice. Still, even though they were just teenagers, they felt they could be symbols of better days ahead. Says junior quarterback Ridge Turner, "We wanted to show everybody there's something down here in south Plaquemines Parish and that we were coming back."
They've done just that. This fall, the Hurricanes, playing on a new home field, went 13--2 and won the Class 1A title. Turner set state records with 5,544 yards of total offense and 69 touchdowns, often performing before raucous home crowds with as many as 1,100 fans. "A lot of people had no hope," says coach Cyril Crutchfield. "To bring back the athletics and to see some sense of normalcy has spoken volumes of the community's rebuilding effort."
• When wildfires ravaged San Diego County in October, every member of the Poway (Calif.) High football team was evacuated from his home, and senior tight end Ryan Deehan's house burned to the ground. Deehan, his parents and younger sister are now rebuilding their house and have been helped by five of Deehan's teammates, who repeatedly refused payment. School was closed for a week after the fire, but when classes and football resumed, coach Damian Gonzalez noticed the experience had galvanized players and fans. "It's rallied our community," he says. "We've all shared a common bond through that tragedy." Adds Deehan, "Football helped people take their minds off what had happened. They could go out on Friday night for three hours and just enjoy watching us play." Deehan verbally committed to Colorado on Nov. 30, and the Titans went 12--0 and won the school's first San Diego Section Division I title.
BERKSHIRE (Burton) senior Claire Markwardt was on pace for her personal best time with 220 yards left in the girls' 5K cross-country Ohio Division III championship on Nov. 3 when she felt a "cracking" in her left shin. She started limping to the finish line, but with 15 yards left she collapsed and crawled to the wire, crossing it at 20:24.07, just 18 seconds off her fastest pace.
Markwardt was supposed to be in her sister's wedding that night but instead found herself in the hospital with a broken fibula and tibia, which required doctors to insert a rod into her leg. "All I was thinking was, I'm going to miss my sister's wedding. She's gonna kill me," says Markwardt.
Race officials posted video of the finish on YouTube. Some who watched the clip contacted Markwardt with words of support; the owners of Barbaro sent a card with a picture of the horse. Despite the bizarre end to her high school career, Markwardt, who is still on crutches, may try out for the cross-country team next year at college.
Havoc in Hoover
ANOTHER CASE of celebrity burnout? In 2005 and '06 MTV followed Hoover High for Two-a-Days, a reality show about the Alabama 6A football powerhouse. But on Oct. 13, the school board released a report alleging school officials pressured teachers to improve players' grades and a coach spied on rival Vestavia Hills. The report also found evidence that coach Rush Propst had a "second" family in another town. On Oct. 23 Hoover was put on probation and had to forfeit four games for playing an ineligible transfer student. Propst resigned on Oct. 30 but coached the team in the postseason; Hoover fell to Vestavia Hills 21--17 in the quarterfinals.
239 CONSECUTIVE DUAL MEET WINS BY THE CHESHIRE (CONN.) GIRLS' SWIM TEAM, A NATIONAL RECORD
91 TD PASSES BY COREY ROBINSON OF LONE OAK (KY.)
MAKING A DIFFERENCE | Taylor Bell
DEVON YADA'S room is as messy as most 13-year-olds' rooms, but his soccer trophies are perfectly ordered and proudly displayed on a shelf. He has autism, but thanks to Taylor Bell, a senior at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Devon and other children with mental and physical disabilities can play soccer in a program designed just for them.
Bell (near right, with Devon), a two-time captain for Pulaski who had periodically volunteered with special-needs children, founded Total Outreach Program for Soccer (TOPS) before his freshman year. "My best memories from childhood are of playing soccer with my friends," says Bell. "I wanted all kids to have that opportunity." He recruits classmates to be volunteer coaches for eight-week clinics in the spring and fall and for a one-week camp during the summer. TOPS started out with 15 girls and boys just playing sharks and minnows, but now more than 50 children are divided into three age groups during tightly organized one-hour sessions. Bell will graduate in May and plans to study physical therapy or sports medicine in college, but he has recruited four students and six parents to serve on an advisory council to continue TOPS. More than 100 kids have benefited from the program, and after years of moving from field to field, they now play on the same ones as other Little Rock recreational teams. Says Bell, "The kids can look over and say, 'My brother's playing today, and I am too.'"
PREDICTIONS FOR 2008
MATER DEI (Santa Ana, Calif.) will be the top football team in the country and win its 10th CIF championship thanks to QB Matt Barkley. Rated the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2009 by Rivals.com, Barkley threw for 35 TDs this year.
B.J. MULLENS, a seven-foot center for Canal Winchester (Ohio), will be the nation's best big man. The Ohio State--bound Mullens is athletic for his size, has quick hands and can drain a consistent 15-foot jumper.
DERICK HINGLE/DH PHOTOGRAPHY (TURNER)
THIS IS NOW Two years after Katrina, Turner led South Plaquemines to the state title, rushing and passing for five touchdowns.
COURTESY OF KIM YADA (BELL AND YADA)
UNSTOPPABLE In the heat of competition Markwardt said she felt no pain from her injury.
ILLUSTRATION BY JEFF WONG
JASON LEE (HANDS)