Last week, while Camp Kilpatrick football coach Derek Ayers held practice on a dusty field to prepare his squad for its Aug. 24 opener against Grace Brethren High, the Los Angeles County Probation Department announced that this season could be the Mustangs' last.
The juvenile detention facility—the first in the U.S. with a state-sanctioned high school sports program and the focus of the 2006 film, Gridiron Gang (above)—will halt athletics in November. Kilpatrick is being relocated during a three-year construction project, and the program's future is uncertain.
Ayers, a probation officer and former UCLA receiver, insists that sports saves lives at Kilpatrick: "Gang members who would have been shooting if they saw each other on the street—they're picking each other up in practice and giving high fives."
Two former Mustangs have gone on to play in the NFL, including second-year Bengals defensive end DeQuin Evans. But going pro—and winning games—has never been the point. "It's about motivating kids and seeing something through," says Ayers, who fears that the athletic program may never return if it's suspended completely. "[We teach the kids] at Camp Kilpatrick, we don't deal with excuses," he says. "We find a way to get things done."
COLUMBIA PICTURES/PHOTOFEST (GRIDIRON GANG)