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.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin