People always say that without the sour, the sweet is never as sweet. Well, the folks at Cross Keys High School have had enough sour in their time that these last two weeks have been as sweet as it can get. In a football program where losing is expected, the Indians have defied all expectations and won their last two football games to bring their record to 2-3-1 on the season and, had they been able to find a way to win in a 7-7 tie against Strong Rock Christian, the Indians would have an even record at 3-3. Cross Keys isn’t greedy, though. When asked, senior Yonuel Hidalgo said, “It was my last year and I just wanted to win one game.”
UNFORTUNATE PAST …
This is the 53rd season of football at Cross Keys and over that time the Indians have managed to win 115 games, while losing a whopping 388 and playing to 13 ties. The early days weren’t that bad though. In the first seven years, the program had three winning seasons under head coach Sam Edenfield and in 1964 had a chance to make the playoffs. However, that was Coach Edenfield’s last season as the coach of the Indians and things have been bleak ever since.
Why was Edenfield let go? It is pure speculation, but the rumor is that after the team lost a road game that would have put them in the playoffs Edenfield made the team walk all the way back to the school. Is there an Edenfield curse on this team? After his departure the team has only had two winning seasons in 47 years, including an 8-2 record in 1994, but because the Indians did not play a region schedule that year, they were not eligible for the playoffs. The Indians went 6-4 in 1989 for their only other winning season.
OFF THE SCHNEID …
After beating North Cobb Christian and Walker in consecutive weeks Cross Keys has its first winning streak since 2004, when they defeated Walker and Avondale in back-to-back games. “The first win was amazing because for some of these guys it was the first time ever winning a football game,” head coach David Radford said.
For senior Carey Cooper, it seemed like he had been winning the whole time, “It was good, we take it day by day, so when it came to game time we knew what to do.” After the victory, the Indians were named Atlanta’s Fox 5 team of the week.
“For the school being able to win that Fox 5 team of the week, it was a total school effort when it came to voting, that was big because this was the first time that we’ve had something that took everyone in the school, so that was huge for us,” Coach Radford said. “For some of these parents to see their kids on TV, or get recognition, especially dealing with the population we have, this is a blessing for this program and these kids.”
For the Indians, it is their first outright win since beating Prince Avenue Christian 30-28 in 2006. Cross Keys does get credit for a win last year against North Springs, but it was a forfeit win because the Spartans used an ineligible player. In the actual game, Cross Keys was shutout 28-0. In the win over North Cobb Christian the Indians were able to score 54 points, which is the most points scored since 2004 when they scored 59 points against Avondale.
A MELTING POT …
It is hard to get anyone to come out and play for a team that has been as bad as Cross Keys has over the years, but no one could guess how difficult it truly is. “We have like 36 playing, for us to get 30 kids, this is the most kids we’ve had since I’ve been at Cross Keys,” Radford said.
It takes 22 kids just to field an offense and defense, and 36 isn’t even enough players to have a two-deep depth chart. The number may be small, but the collective experience of this team is much greater. “I literally have guys from all over,” Radford said. “We have a kid from each continent in our program.”
For a team to have one or two foreign players is not uncommon, but for a team to be this ethnically diverse is unheard of in many parts of the U.S. But for Coach Radford the diversity is a blessing. “I think because a lot of our guys come from somewhere else that’s what makes it more acceptable and it’s easier to bond and gel together because they all in some sense share the same story as far as their family coming over, or just being an outsider.”
Being such a different team, the Indians have faced some tough times because of their differences, “We’ve played some teams in the past that would run up the score or say some very derogatory things towards our kids and like I said [to the team], ‘Guys, if we ever get in the same boat [winning], we shouldn’t do that. We wouldn’t do the same thing, because they know how it is to be in that boat [losing].’ ”
OTHER TONGUES …
Having a team this diverse can give you some advantages other teams do not have. For the last three seasons the Indians have been calling their audibles at the line of scrimmage in Spanish so that the other team can’t understand them. “We were looking at doing an African language… (but) it just made sense to do it in Spanish because of the large numbers we have on the team,” Radford said. Even the players enjoy it, “It took awhile to get used to because I didn’t know what it meant so after I learned what it meant I was ready,” wide receiver Carey Cooper said. “It throws the other team off. It helps out a lot.”
Contributors: Stephen Black