(The following editorial does not represent the views of Garey High School, Fontana High School, or Coach Al Brown.)
As the Inland Empire has expanded, so has its offering of schools and sports programs. In 1987 the city of Fontana had one high school, Fontana High, which meant one football team in the city. At that time, the Fontana High football program was widely viewed as one of the best in the country under legendary Coach Dick Bruich. Fast forward to 2015, the city of Fontana now has four other high schools, besides Fontana High, which all compete in high school football. Fontana High, once the flagship of Inland Empire football, now has to struggle to compete against schools years ago that they would have dominated. Such is the reality of many football programs in this modern era, where teams who were once formidable opponents now are constantly looking to releague for relief just to have a chance to compete. The results of schools losing students, and in turn athletes, can be most noticed in the football programs where the biggest population shifts have taken place. Someone who lives in this reality is Head Football Coach Al Brown, of Garey High School in Pomona. Brown has been working non stop to change the perception of his school’s football program for the past four seasons.
While most high school football freshmen have some level of experience playing organized football, even it is a year or two, Coach Brown’s freshmen usually have pads on for the first time ever. The difference in football experience between what Coach Brown’s players have is night and day compared to programs only a few miles away. Hearing coaching advice from others on what Garey needs to do to get better in football, is a constant for Coach Brown. At Garey the pep talk after many games is centered around effort and not giving up, characteristics that will help many of his players later on in life. Besides teaching them about football, Coach Brown makes sure his team is involved in the community. His team hosted an event to raise awareness for the “House of Ruth” a non-profit that works against domestic violence. Brown also coordinates fundraising all year long because most of his players will not have enough money for the $50 spirit pack which is an afterthought for most schools.
People on the opposite end of the spectrum argue that high school football teams that lose often need better coaching, new administration, or need to train harder in the off season. When teams lose, no matter who the coach is, there will always be criticism of coaches from youth league football to the NFL. Parents, community members, alumni, and former players of football programs similar to Garey’s that lose often, come under even more second guessing and “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” than the average high school. Knowing that schools that were home to great athletes years ago, but now look nothing like the past is a bitter pill for some fans to swallow. Some people come from the rule of thought that no matter where a program is you can always win, others say that you can improve but winning is not promised based on who you are playing.
The impact that losing can have on a football program is more substantial than most would guess. High school football programs at most schools are the largest source of financial support for their school’s ASB. Revenue from ticket sales for home football games can mean tens of thousands of dollars for a ASB account. When teams lose often, there is usually a drop off of ticket sales for home games. Away games see as few as 10 traveling fans to cheer on their team. This unfortunately is common among many programs that struggle in football throughout the IE. The student body is often heard saying comments like “we suck” behind their team’s back which is a result of a developed culture of losing. Losing in itself is tough for all athletes, but losing by large amounts can affect the self esteem of a team and school. Many coaches battle coaching players who have a “quick to quit” mentality when they face the shame of losing a game by 40 points. Coming back to school on Monday to answer questions such as “did you guys win?” or “what was the score?” can be hard to deal with over time. Even Athletic Directors and Principals can feel the pressure to “go in a different direction” creating a revolving door of coaches.
In this day in age of MaxPreps, recruitment, and social media the question remains… “how are programs that just don’t have numbers supposed to compete?” At many well known Inland Empire High Schools, the number of varsity players can reach up toward 60 players with depth throughout. At schools similar to Garey, varsity football summer camp can start with 25 athletes and the freshmen levels sometimes have to fold all together.. It appears that the gap between schools that can barely get a team together and those that are experiencing success is becoming greater every season. Much of the gap is based on where athletes decide to attend school. When athletes start high school, most want to play at the best school possible with the best team. Very few good high school athletes are comfortable knowing they will spend their high school career as the best player on losing team. At Garey High, last season alone, two of the very best football players the program has had in four years both decided to transfer to other schools for their senior seasons. Not to mention countless other players that live within the school’s boundaries that should have played at Garey but went on to be impact players at other local high schools.
Coach Al Brown of Garey High School represents a number of coaches and schools that have to identify themselves as winners despite the scoreboard. Understanding that the game of football has to be kept in perspective, as training for the game of life. Some say that football is not so much about X’s and O’s but Jimmy’s and Joe’s. Could Nick Saban, head football coach of the University Alabama, change the win loss record at Garey High or Fontana High without recruiting? How much coaching and weight lifting can a team do to make up the difference between the school’s on the brink? At what point do schools decide that it is better to discontinue a program and save money than have their students lose by thirty plus points a game? Should switching to 8-man football be an option for schools who year in year out struggle?
To the many “Coach Browns” that dedicate their lives to mentoring young people and to the athletes that they coach who keep playing despite the final score, IE Preps Magazine salutes you!
IE Preps Magazine