Kennedy High cancels remainder of football season
on October 22, 2009
Amilcar Gonzalez said he wasn’t passionate about football when he joined the team as a freshman at Richmond’s Kennedy High. Now he’s a senior, and playing quarterback is all he wants to do.
Gonzalez injured his shoulder three games into the season, in a loss to Moreau Catholic, and was supposed to be sidelined for three of the Eagles’ remaining four games. He was hoping to play one last time, at home against St. Mary’s on November 13.
He won’t be able to. No matter how fast he returns from the injury, Gonzalez most likely has played his last high school football game. Co-athletic director Harry Campbell said Kennedy would forfeit the remainder of its schedule because of a lack of players.
“Everyone’s dream is to come to high school and play football all their years,” Gonzalez said. “It’s tough on the students and the coaches.”
Coach Anthony Freeman said he decided to forfeit an Oct. 16 game at St. Patrick-St. Vincent of Vallejo, after injuries and eligibility issues reduced the active roster to 15 players. That loss left the Eagles’ record at 0-5, having been outscored by a combined total of 160-12 on the season.
Freeman, though, said he was optimistic that a couple of players would return from injury this week and the team could suit up to play Piedmont on Friday. He expected to have around 20 players, enough to finish the final three games of the season, he thought.
Campbell, though, didn’t think that was enough. The North Coast Section allows for a minimum of 11 players, but that means every player would have to play offense, defense and special teams without a substitute. Campbell said he was concerned the players, most of whom are underclassman, would be exposed to a greater chance of injury playing against more experienced competition with no backups.
“Guys were upset at me, (asking) ‘Why can’t we finish it out?’” Campbell said. “You can’t finish a season with 14, 15 guys. I feel for them being upset, but I had to make a tough decision where safety is concerned.”
The school will continue to field a JV team for the rest of the season, eight underclassmen moved down from varsity. The JV team was to play its next game at 3:30 p.m. Thursday against Piedmont.
Campbell said he didn’t want to field a varsity team this season in the first place, and preferred to focus on JV. He said the decision to have a team was made by the West Contra Costa County Unified School district. Calls to the district for comment were not returned.
Kennedy principal Roxanne Brown-Garcia said the status of the football team was discussed at summer meetings with district officials, but she characterized the meetings as nothing unusual.
“Our school had enough to participate with a varsity team,” she said.
Though Campbell cancelled this season, Brown-Garcia appeared to leave the door open.
“If we have enough children healthy, we will definitely continue our season,” she said.
The coaches and players, though, are focusing on the JV team for the rest of this year. Campbell and his staff now assist JV coach Mack Carminer, a 1996 Kennedy graduate who played defensive back at Nevada-Reno. The new JV unit had its first practice together Monday.
Carminer said he took the job in August because he wants to help the team improve enough to be competitive, as it was when he was a student. His ambition for the rest of the season is making it through with everyone they have now.
“Wins and losses do not dictate what a positive season is for us on the JV team,” Carminer said. “We want to strive to be academically eligible and compete in the last game.”
A few of Carminer’s assistants are also Kennedy grads. As he watched 21 players – who now make up the just about the entire Kennedy program – run through practice, Jason Burnell, a 1983 grad, said the difference between then and now is striking.
“It’s sad when I played here and we had 100 kids come out,” he said. “The biggest difference is we had standards. These kids haven’t had a winning season in so long.”
The Eagles last NCS playoff appearance was in 2004, when they lost to Bishop O’Dowd in the first round, and have had losing seasons ever since. There was some hope after last season, when the team opened the season 4-1 under coach Delo Hilton, before losing its final five games.
During the summer, though, when it looked as though the team might have enough players to field a varsity team, Hilton resigned. Campbell said at that point he figured there wouldn’t be a football season. When word was passed down to him that the school would start the season with a team, he hired Freeman two weeks before the season.
Freeman, a former Albany head coach who was coaching at Piedmont last season, hastily assembled his staff, tried to figure out which players were healthy and eligible, and started holding practice. Even with the forfeit to St. Patrick, Freeman thought the season would continue.
“I’m a football coach, I don’t believe in quitting,” Freeman said. “If you have 11 guys, you play with 11 guys. I’m also a parent, and I don’t want to see these kids get hurt.”
Being injured has been frustrating for Gonzalez. He said it’s been tough to watch his teammates run around on the field and not be able to join in. Now that he knows he won’t be playing high school football anymore, Gonzales said he’s shifted over to an assistant coaching role and wants to help the younger players improve.
“I am sad, or mad, not being able to play and watching people do what I want,” he said. “But I can’t really do nothing against them because I know that they love the game, too.”
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Thank you for covering our story. I’d like to add a little bit to my comment about standards. When I played at JFK, there were standards and traditions that were set by the coaching staff and handed down from the upperclassmen to the lower classmen. There were standards for the way we practiced. There were standards for the way we played and it was made clear to each and every one of us what was acceptable.
Coaches Freeman and Carminer are working hard to restore the Eagle Pride that we old timers remember. Each day they set the bar a little higher and the players are responding.
We do not have the numbers that we once did but we do have a core group of kids that are showing up every day to practice and are starting to “get it.”
It should also be noted that several of the seniors, despite the status of the varsity season, have shown up at practice to encourage and help the JV players improve.
Thanks again for covering this.