Friday Night Frights: Carl Hayden High Football Players Have More to Worry About Than Winning Games

Tre Fields, a co-captain of the Carl Hayden Community High School Falcons football team, slipped into that place between consciousness and dreaming.

A thought rolled into Tre's mind and stuck.

"We are going to win this game."

The 17-year-old senior lineman was resting in bed at his home near 35th Avenue and Buckeye Road. He lives there with his paternal grandmother, some of his nine siblings, and a few cousins.

It was September 16, one night before the Falcons would take the field against the San Luis Sidewinders, a school tucked away near Yuma on the borders of Arizona, California, and Mexico.

Soft-spoken and thoughtful, Tre's not shaken up by much anymore:

His mother long has been out of his life (he calls his beloved grandmother "Mom"), and his father died in prison when Tre was 11. Tre wears number 73 in honor of the year his late dad, Tim Fields, was born.

His uncle Albert Tellez, a surrogate father and best friend, died in his sleep last year after suffering a seizure.

But Tre isn't a bitter kid. Actually, his consideration for those around him is infinitely larger than his 310-pound body.

Tre has been playing varsity football since late in his freshman year, and he is capable on the field. He says emissaries from better football programs have approached him over the years with under-the-table offers to transfer.

But Tre has stayed put.

"Started as a Falcon, and that's what I am," he says. "This is where my friends are, and this where I'm supposed to be."

Tre was very excited about the game with San Luis. Carl Hayden had lost close games to the Sidewinders in the previous two years.

The game was scheduled for Thursday night instead of the usual Friday to accommodate the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. It was a coincidence of the calendar that would not personally affect anyone on either squad.

"One win; all I ask," Tre said on game day to no one in particular. "Been a long time. It's right here. I can taste it!"

Minutes before the opening kickoff, the public-address announcer at Falcon Field spoke to the several hundred fans in attendance (an especially large crowd for the school), his voice echoing into the neighborhood around 35th Avenue and Roosevelt:

"Welcome to tonight's game. Varsity is 0-2 at the moment, looking for its first win!"

That was an understatement.

Carl Hayden High had lost 66 games in a row, the longest losing streak of any high school football team in the United States. The Falcons hadn't won a varsity game since 2002, before anyone on the current squad had reached his teens.

The school seemed to be careening toward the national record of 81 straight defeats, set during the 1990s by tiny Glascock County in east Georgia.

Cleveland Dansby, Carl Hayden's head coach, would go into the San Luis game with a record of 0-42 at the school.

No wins in four years and counting for a man whose outstanding football pedigree included selection as Arizona Coach of the Year in the early 1990s while at South Mountain High.

Coach Dansby read his team an e-mail from a Virginia man shortly before sending them onto the field. The writer, Mike Bell, had heard about the Falcons' losing streak and felt moved to contact the coach, a stranger.

"I know a little about bouncing back against the odds," he wrote, explaining that he suffers from late-stage cancer.

"My odds aren't terrific, but I don't plan to lose, even if I run out of time. The Falcons may be statistically running uphill, but you have built a team and shown young men that it is their character of participation that will define their team way beyond the scoreboard."

He concluded, "I don't gamble on sports, but if I did, I could not bet against the Falcons. Their time is now!"

No one dared to even breathe too loudly after Cleveland Dansby finished reading. A burly man in his early 50s, the coach appears at first blush to be a hard case, but he's got a big heart and his players know it.

"Hey, fellas," Dansby said to the 28 young men in their blue-and-gold uniforms. "That guy put the nut in the shell for us! He's not going to quit, and he's playing for his life. We've been through this adversity, been through it together! Haven't won shit! Have heard the laughs, the cheap shots! Now is our time! Right now!"

What happened at Falcon Field that night was as good as it gets for a football program that long has endured outrageous misfortune.

Carl Hayden ended its awful losing streak, beating San Luis by a score of 44-21.

Winning that one game allowed the team to rid itself of its longtime unwanted role as "The Little Team That Couldn't."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin