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A 29-year-old with a rapier wit and a motivator's moxie, Baniszewski challenges his students in class as keenly as he does his players on the field. During a spirited discussion one day in World History class about minorities in America, Jay Carter lost it.
Baniszewski says of the incident: "Jay started screaming and swearing. 'There's gonna be an uprising and people are gonna die.' He was out of control. I grabbed him. 'Jay! Jay! Change things! Don't just bitch!'"
Word of Carter's blowup cinched it for Coach Kiefer. He didn't want to have anything to do with the talented but troubled youngster.
Principal Slemmer asked Kiefer to reconsider, and the coach did--with strict conditions. Carter could come out, but Kiefer made him do up-downs for weeks before he let him actually practice with the team.
Carter didn't play in the Pride's first few games, but he didn't quit.
"The coaches was very tough on me," he recalls, "but I could tell they cared about me as a person. They stayed with me when they could have quit on me. I just wanted to play football."
As the weeks passed, Carter turned into a star running back and a team leader. He says fear may have expedited his maturing process.
"I was sick of doing up-downs," he says with a wry smile. "Up-downs teach anyone."
Mountain Pointe scheduled nine junior-varsity games for its first season. Kiefer unleashed some fine, young talent--including 200-pound running back Mickey Gates.
Gates had moved to his uncle's home in Ahwatukee to escape the gangs that ran his old neighborhood in Santa Monica, California. A boy in a man's body and a learning-disabled student, Gates proved to be a tough, gifted runner. He also proved to have a remarkably sweet disposition, and soon became a beloved part of the Pride.
"They're my best friends," Gates says of the team. "Playing for Coach is real hard, but I'm learning a lot. He teaches you to be real responsible--to stick with something. I'm just growing up."
Mountain Pointe sailed through its season unbeaten, winning by an average score of 46-6. Along the way, the team captured the imagination of Ahwatukee.
"What Kiefer did was to give the community and the school a winning something that's ours and only ours," says area resident Don Perkins, who has a daughter at Mountain Pointe. "He may have come along at exactly the right time. I'm not big on sports, but we needed something like that."
But Perkins says some folks weren't thrilled by the new team.
"Some people in a survey expressed concerns that Coach Kiefer ran up the score sometimes," he says. "They feel that the football program has an elitist attitude. Some people think Karl is out for himself."
Those in charge at Mountain Pointe vehemently disagree.
"People tend to think that successful football coaches are out for themselves," says vice principal Jane Hickman. "But Karl doesn't set himself apart from the school, no way. His players run over and salute the school band after every game. He pushes them to study. He sees his team as whole people who are part of a whole school. And he builds winners."
@body:C'mon, you knuckleheads. This is serious business.
--Karl Kiefer to his team
It's moments before kickoff in Mountain Pointe's preseason scrimmage against the Chandler Wolves. A few hundred fans sprinkle the stands.
Chandler's players whoop it up on the sidelines. On the Mountain Pointe side, assistant coach Dick Baniszewski reminds the team about the power of mood and image.
"Let them holler and yell," Baniszewski says. "We're quiet--like death. Scary. Until right before the game. You know that movie, The Ten Commandments? Something's coming at you, through a green cloud. Then, boom! It hits you. Let it build. There's no score tonight. You're competing against your own best self. Visualize."
Mountain Pointe holds its own against its bigger, older, more experienced opponent, but Chandler prevails, 20-7. The Wolves dance around the field as if they've won the state championship.
Kiefer briefly gathers his players at midfield. "We made a lot of dumb mistakes, but it wasn't too bad," he tells them. "I'd like to play these guys someday when it counts, but I doubt we will. They're cellar rats."
Though the Mountain Pointe team hadn't played an official varsity game, expectations were high before the season started in early September. The Pride will play at the 4A level until next year, when the school has its first senior class and enrollment jumps from its current 1,700 to about 2,500. In 1993 it's up to 5A, the state's largest--and toughest--classification.
The players feel the pressure.
"We have to win to live up to everyone's expectations," says quarterback Doug Szanto, a straight-A student who wants to be a doctor. "It comes from our friends, our parents, everybody. But I think we've got the discipline to handle it. And we've got the coaches."
Though he's clearly the boss, Kiefer relies on his assistant coaches to carry a heavy share of the load. Many high school assistants act solely as drill sergeants or cheerleaders. Kiefer's aides coach, too: Phil Abbadessa runs the Pride defense and Dick Baniszewski handles special teams and the linemen. And that was Baniszewski beneath the school's lion mascot at the Pride's first pep rally.
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