Carl Hayden High School running back Roy Moody faces his teammates in the Falcons' silent dressing room. It's moments before the team's football game against the Moon Valley Rockets on a cool Friday night in west Phoenix.
"No one cares about us, baby," Moody starts, his strong voice bouncing off the metal lockers. "We are all we got. Nobody gonna help us. Got to be a family. Got to play with all our heart, baby. Forget what happened at the rally."
As he stands there, Moody's 18 teammates reflect briefly on the school's pep rally earlier in the day. Traditionally, such rallies allow a school's athletes to bask in glory, while cheerleaders strut their stuff and the principal waxes poetic.
But at Carl Hayden's noon rally, several students had booed and hissed at the football team, which hasn't won a game all season. Angry and humiliated, the team had marched out of the auditorium.
Two hours after Roy Moody's stirring pregame talk, the Falcons return to their locker room. They yank off their blue-and-gold helmets, physically and emotionally spent.
Final score--Moon Valley 42, Carl Hayden 14.
So ends another autumn Friday at Carl Hayden High School, where losing--again and again--is a frustrating fact of life. Football at the school bears little resemblance to the game as played at such East Valley powerhouses as Mesa and Mountain View high schools.
For the Mesa schools, the promised land is the state championship game at Sun Devil Stadium in early December. For Carl Hayden, the promised land is a win.
The school's last winning season was 1971, years before today's players were born. The U.S. senator for whom the school is named was alive at the time.
The Falcons haven't won a football game since October 1991, and have lost 26 of their last 27 games. The team's most recent win, 14-13 over rival North High, has become the stuff of lore. Like parents telling a favorite bedtime story, the Carl Hayden players who were there that night regale underclassmen with the glorious details.
The dire football situation is even more pronounced when compared to the longtime success of Carl Hayden's basketball program. That team won Arizona's large-school championship last year, and it considers itself a failure when it doesn't vie for the title.
While the hoopsters are a source of great pride to the school's 2,300 students, few students will have anything to do with the football team.
To play football at Carl Hayden, one must endure a student body that is, by turns, apathetic and antagonistic--witness the heartless jeering at the pep rally. Who needs that kind of grief, many athletic-looking youngsters reply laconically when asked why they're not out on the gridiron.
Because of injuries and bad weekly grade reports, only 15 Falcons suited up for this season's third game, against Central High. Having so few players available at this level of high school ball is almost unheard-of. By contrast, Central dressed out 38 players that night.
The lack of bodies took its toll in the 37-13 Carl Hayden loss. Players such as gutty, 120-pound senior Pete Abeytia were forced to play almost every down on offense and defense. He and several other Falcons practically had to be carried to the dressing room after the game.
There are other sadly compelling reasons for Carl Hayden's generationlong football troubles.
The school is located in the heart of one of the Valley's poorest and most violent neighborhoods, at 33rd Avenue and Roosevelt. It's easier for many young men to join gangs and think they're somebodies than to face the rigors of football--especially losing football.
On top of that, many boys work menial jobs after school. They do so not necessarily to afford designer clothes, but to help put food on the family table. Many Carl Hayden students--principal Kino Flores says he doesn't know exactly how many--live with only one parent, often a mother struggling to make ends meet. Several Carl Hayden players work weekends.
The area's Pop Warner and junior high football programs are inferior, and provide little help. And many west-side parks and playgrounds have become places to dodge bullets, not tacklers. On its face, Carl Hayden football is a depressing, gut-wrenching affair. But in a real and poignant sense, the Falcons are the Valley's true Friday-night heroes. In the face of spirit-sapping adversity, the team has displayed camaraderie, perseverance and pride.
The players know they're in this together, sink or swim, as Roy Moody reminded them before the Moon Valley game. At a school, in a neighborhood and during a time haunted by racial strife, these Hispanic, white and black teenagers stick together on and off the field, with no apparent regard for race or ethnic background. And though they are pained by the burden of losing, the Falcons have come to believe they're not failures because of their dismal record.
"We believe that hard work and teamwork will get you somewhere in life, whatever the scores are," says quarterback Mike "Dieter" Regalado Jr., an honor student and third-year Latin whiz whose leadership skills and gift of gab are likely to carry him far.
"Some kids at school get to joking about the losing, and it gets to you," he says. "It's hard to keep everything inside. But we're friends for life. We're not quitters. All we need is 11 players, and we'll fight like hell. We're like a gang--a good gang. When we win, everything's gonna go crazy. It's gonna be sweet."
@body:In the East Valley, boys are bred for football. Their parents nurture them, their Pop Warner coaches push them and--if they make the cut--high school masterminds such as Mountain View's Jesse Parker mold them and win championships.
At Carl Hayden, where football is not a tradition but an exercise in futility, the coaches have a different task. "I teach them to be good people, good teammates, loyal to each other," says second-year head coach Gary Somo. "Then I want good football to come out of that foundation."
The top job is the first for the 48-year-old Somo, a veteran assistant coach whose last stop before Carl Hayden was at Camelback High. Though he's suffering with his team, Somo won't let the onslaught of losses upset his focus: to prepare his players for life, not for the state playoffs. Given that goal, Somo's record of 0-17 doesn't mean he's doing a bad job. It would be curious to see how local coaching gods Parker, Mountain Pointe's Karl Kiefer and Chandler's Jerry Loper would fare with the same personnel, the same situation. Somo's intense drive stems from his own life experiences. The son of a Youngstown, Ohio, factory worker with a ninth-grade education, Somo earned a doctorate in Higher Educational Administration from Arizona State University at the age of 29.
"Kids in general these days don't have the curiosity, the questioning of facts that they should," Somo says. "It's like they'll be happy to work at a Circle K for the rest of their lives. I want better for my kids, my team and my students."
His baptism last year as a head coach was a cruel one. Somo's outmanned Falcons scored only 27 points all season, while giving up 486 for an 0-10 record. That's an average score of 49-3 against.
Things got so bad, someone asked Somo if the jug in the coaches' bathroom contained whiskey. (It was Listerine.)
Somo earns less than $3,000 above his salary as a math teacher for coaching football. That probably covers little more than the costs of his long daily drive from his home in Mesa. It didn't cover the extra money he gave his assistant coaches out of his own pocket last year. Like a good preacher, Somo knows what his audience needs. He doesn't sugar-coat things, but he doesn't ridicule his players, either. In his pregame speech before the Moon Valley game--the same day as the nightmarish pep rally--this is what he told his team:
"Too many people in this country quit. I'm proud of your ability to try to keep coming back. You're not walking away from your problems. And every guy is paying a heavy price.
"Remember, when you go out and search for this win, it's for you. Don't do it for the coaches. Certainly don't do it for Carl Hayden High School. Do it for yourselves. And when you accomplish it, there's gonna be a pride inside you so big, I can't even describe it."
After the Falcons' crunching loss, Somo's seasonlong course in life skills continued.
"Don't shortchange yourselves," he told his discouraged troops after the game. "You're still on that road, I'm afraid. You know, Reverend Jackson said, 'Conceive it. Believe it. Achieve it.' That's very apropos. Right now, we're stuck on 'Believe it.' I just want to know one thing. Do you want it bad enough?"
"Yes, sir," was the muted response.
"If you mean that, you'll be at practice tomorrow morning. You'll be there because you love and support each other. Always! If you can honestly tell yourselves that you did your best tonight, walk out of here with your heads up, or you'll really get on my bad side. Now get out of here!"
Somo has lost his composure only once all year. It happened in Yuma, at halftime of the game against Kofa High. The coach overheard two of his players bickering about a botched play. Enraged, he jumped in the face of the older of the two players.
"I will not stand for that, not for one damned second," Somo told the startled senior. "You guys make mistakes, that's one thing. But you are teammates. I don't want words~! I want deeds! Do you understand that?"
@body:Carl Hayden's season opener is at home against North Canyon High, a brand-new school in north Phoenix. It will be the Rattlers' first game ever, but the Phoenix newspapers have picked them to beat the Falcons.
"They think it's gonna be the same old Carl Hayden," Somo tells his team in his pregame locker-room speech, by way of motivation. "The same old bunch that's been losing for 30 years. And they're right until we prove otherwise."
The locker room has the requisite inspirational slogans taped to its walls. One, the "Player's Oath," reads: "I will hustle. I will display courage. I will know my assignment. I will care about my teammates."
What's lacking are mementos of past Carl Hayden teams. A photograph of Kevin Miniefield, the former ASU star now with the Chicago Bears, hangs prominently on a wall in the cramped coaches' office.
But Miniefield played under Somo at Camelback High, not at Carl Hayden. "I want you to maintain a sense of balance tonight, no matter how things go," Somo continues. "We're not the same people who went through all those defeats last year. The same names, but not the same people. Those people didn't lift weights, didn't keep up their grades. I want you to cash in on that work right now."
Roy Moody leads the Falcons in a short prayer at the edge of the field. "Let us play a good game, Lord," the 17-year-old murmurs, pausing as his teammates repeat his words.
"And, please, Lord, don't let nobody get hurt. Amen."
Moody then shouts to the heavens: "Let's kick some ass, baby."
The team sprints across the field to a smattering of applause. Only about 150 people are in attendance, half of them on the North Canyon side. The paltry turnout doesn't surprise Carl Hayden principal Kino Flores, who watches his team's home games from the sidelines.
"To be honest, many families don't allow their kids to come here at night," says Flores, a former high school football coach himself. "We'd probably get more people out if the team started winning and this neighborhood wasn't such a bitch."
He's speaking of the drive-by shootings, the gangs and the endemic poverty that afflict the residents living near the school.
Carl Hayden and North Canyon seem evenly matched, but errors dominate the first half, which ends with the Rattlers leading 12-7.
Midway into the third quarter, the Falcons face an early-season moment that can define an insecure team. Down by 12 points, they drive to North Canyon's one-yard line. Two penalties and three plays later, it's fourth down, still on the one.
Dieter Regalado hands the ball to Roy Moody, who runs smack into an unblocked Rattler linebacker at the goal line. North Canyon takes over on offense. In disgust, Moody tosses the ball down at his tackler.
His bad temper results in a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. That moves the Rattlers out of the shadow of their own goal post. Carl Hayden has failed its first big test.
The Falcons' nicks and bruises begin to mount. Under school district policy, a medical doctor must be present on the sidelines during games. But unless an injury appears severe, the doctor usually looks on as the players tend to each other with Band-Aids and tape.
At many schools, trainers take care of minor injuries. But Carl Hayden High doesn't have a trainer on staff: The district requires its trainers to be nationally certified, and principal Flores says he can't attract such a highly qualified individual for what the school can pay.
The game ends in a 26-13 North Canyon victory. The first-time winners dance joyously around Falcon Field. The losers stare at them glumly, until Carl Hayden assistant coach Derek Mason orders them to the locker room.
Sitting in the dank space, the Falcons begin to realize that this was a game they could have won. "Damn!" one player keeps saying. "Damn!"
Somo chastises his players briefly for their missed assignments, excessive penalties and loss of intensity in the game's waning minutes. The coach then blames himself and his assistants for the occasional confusion on the sidelines.
He ends on a positive note.
"We've come a long way for a team that gave up 50 points a game last year and scored nothing," the coach says, his voice cracking. "It was a football game, guys. We didn't get blitzkrieged. It's there--I know you can taste it. We just had too many glitches tonight."
The loss itself isn't nearly as sad as what happens after the players get dressed and leave. The Carl Hayden Booster Club has organized a little postgame get-together. Because of a miscommunication, however, none of the key invitees has showed up--not the school administrators, not the football coaches.
The disappointed boosters hardly touch the fruit punch and cookies. They mill around until about 11 p.m., then give up and go home.
"I wanted to quit right there," club president Mike Regalado Sr. says later, "but I can't do that. The kids got to persevere, and so do we. We want the kids to take everything that happens during football and relate it to life. Life is tough sometimes."
@body:Life doesn't get any easier the following week. The outcome becomes apparent early, as Apollo High trounces Carl Hayden. But the real test comes after the Falcons return from the away contest. Someone has broken into the team's locker room. It's probably an inside job, but no one knows for sure. Missing are hundreds of dollars in cash and personal items.
Many Falcons have little in the way of material possessions to start with. The theft devastates them and their coaches.
"About all you can do is shake your head, smile and carry on," Coach Somo says, stunned by what's happened. "Welcome to life in the big city."
@body:Mike Regalado Sr. played for the Falcons in the early 1960s, and can recall the days when Carl Hayden football wasn't such a futile proposition.
"We lost our share of games, but we had more players, more parental involvement, more enthusiasm," the plastering contractor says. "I was leaning toward being in a gang at the time--the Knights. Football helped me turn it around, like I hope it's doing for these kids."
The father of Falcons Mike and Eric Regalado, he's deeply involved with the football program. He often buys ice and Gatorade for the team before its Friday-night games. He hires the players for odd jobs when he can. And he and the other booster-club members sponsor a hot meal for the team before each game.
"These kids are by their lonesome unless we pitch in," Mike Regalado Sr. says, shaking his head. "Those rich schools get whatever they want, no questions asked. We cannot get money from the district for anything."
Phoenix Union High School District athletic director Dan Arredondo says he's keenly aware of Carl Hayden's struggle in football.
"I know it's very demoralizing," says Arredondo, who was an assistant coach for the Falcons in the 1970s, "but success breeds success, and they've been in a losing mode for so long. The drop-off rate for football players between the freshman and senior years is very high at Hayden. Kids have to find jobs, or quit school, or get into other things, some of them not good things. I think it's a sign of the times that inner-city schools--make that high schools in general--just don't have as many students in athletics."
National statistics give credence to Arredondo's point of view.
The National Federation of State High School Associations reports that in 1977-78, more than one million boys played high school football. In 1991-92, that number had decreased by about 8 percent, to 912,945.
That was less dramatic than the 22 percent drop in overall sports participation by boys during that time, from 4.4 million to 3.4 million.
The number of girls playing high school sports decreased by 7 percent in that same span, despite federal legislation banning discrimination against female athletes.
Carl Hayden principal Kino Flores says he can't speak to the national statistics. But he has a theory to explain some of the football team's woes.
"Parental support is a very important factor," Flores says. "We don't have it like in Mesa or Ahwatukee, where mom and dad work 9 to 5, then hop in their van and go to the game. We have so many instances of kids where there's only mom, and she's working. Some of those mothers have done remarkably well in keeping their boys on the straight and narrow."
Roy Moody's mother, Carol Moody, fits into that category. Her husband, an Air Force lifer, left her and her two young sons years ago. She works two part-time hospital jobs and is constantly on the run.
"We've gone through some slim times, but we're not quitters," says Carol Moody, a 36-year-old native of New York City. "My whole life is my children and my work. Sometimes, I get very down because I'm not doing better for them. Roy seldom asks me for anything, but I want to do it the correct way for him at graduation--rings, suits, the whole thing. I just don't know if I can."
Carol Moody says that hers is a "reality house," in which hard truths are confronted head-on.
"No baby stuff allowed," she says. "Roy gets a little temperament at times, gets it from me, probably, but I stay on him. He's not wild. He be boring, thank God."
Sports are a vital part of Roy's life, and that's good, Carol Moody says.
"But I keep tellin' him, 'Don't go building your hopes up around football, son. You wish we had a better-running car? Get yourself an education, then you can buy anything you want.' I'm sure my neighbors hear me loud and clear. And now I've got a determined young man on my hands."
@body:The 1993 season wears on for the Falcons.
It hasn't fulfilled the expectations of Coach Somo, who had been repeating "Nowheretogobutup" like a mantra as the season approached. It looked as if he had reason for his upbeat attitude--other than the hope that springs eternal in every coach.
About a dozen Falcons attended a summer football camp in Holbrook, the first time in memory any Carl Hayden players had done such a thing. Mountain View's coach, Jesse Parker--the Bear Bryant of Arizona high school football--ran the weeklong camp.
Somo had been hopeful the strict fundamentals and mental discipline Parker insists upon would carry over to the season. He's seen seniors such as Jonas Johnson, Alfred Stell and Mike Woods improve their play. He's also had some magnificent new athletes on this year's team, most prominently James Juniel, a senior wide receiver trying organized football for the first time.
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But as the season winds down, things haven't worked out for the best in terms of wins and losses. The Falcons have been close in some games, but have been unable to get over that awful losing hump.
Somehow, though, a few rays of hope have slipped through. Somo has been playing several underclassmen with solid potential, including a freshman running back named Ty-Juan Swasey. A 170-pound speedster who's not afraid of contact, Swasey is the kind of youngster Coach Somo wants desperately to keep interested in football--Carl Hayden football.
"We've lost kids like him to other schools for years," Somo says of the free-spirited youth his teammates call "Ty-Wonderful" or "Ty-Wanda." "If we can find a bunch of other kids who want to play ball. . . ."
Somo allows himself only a few seconds to dwell on the fantasy of a championsip future: "As for now, I'd really just love for these kids to win a game. One game."
With two games left in his high school football career, Roy Moody has already put his experience into perspective. "I love the guys," he says, "but this losing is killing me." This sensitive young man cries unashamedly after each loss. Then he showers, gets dressed and leaves with his head up.