By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Having two parents around, with the luxury and freedom to accommodate the often-ridiculous scheduling demands that accompany youth sports (see: bleary-eyed hockey mom driving to the rink at 2 a.m.), is a factor not easily quantifiable.
"I'll say this, we've scouted HISD for several years, 'cause we always wind up playing 'em, you know, in the playoffs, and you look up in the stands and there's not a whole lotta support," says Mike Johnston, who now coaches at Houston Christian. "But they're playing out there for the love of the game. And you gotta take your hat off to those kids."
Certainly no one would claim that wealth automatically wins ball games. Exceptional facilities and an army of coaches can't make up for inept players. Conversely, the hardscrabble underdog overcoming long odds is as much a part of the American myth as Horatio Alger bedtime stories. But -- bottom line -- if you think money doesn't matter at all in sports, just ask whatever team the New York Yankees are playing on a given day.
The football facilities at North Shore Senior High School today look a lot more like those of a Katy or a Woodlands than those of a Yates. At the very least, the sprawling, sparkling athletic complex for Galena Park ISD would seem impressive for a surrounding zip code whose median household income is less than both the state and national averages. The stadium seats more than 10,000; the scoreboard features video replay and animation; and the turf is state-of-the-art Astro Play.
Ten years ago, North Shore's facilities did not look like this.
"It's just a world of difference," says Neal Quillin, a veteran Houston high school football coach. GPISD athletic director "Ed Warken and [North Shore head coach] David Aymond have really taken it to another level."
Donnie Lyle, the sports medicine coordinator for North Shore, remembers going in for his interview in May 1989. He found the head coach in a back room of the baseball stadium at the old campus. "I say, 'Well, Coach, where's the training room?' " says Lyle. "He said, 'You just came in through it.' It was a closet. It is a closet today." The practice fields were as much dirt as they were grass and had water sprinklers sticking an inch out of the ground.
North Shore didn't have the competitive salaries either. Mike Coker, who came to the program in 1994 as Aymond's first defensive coordinator, says he took a pay cut of several thousand dollars in accepting the job.
Fan support was a fraction of what the team sees today. "Back in like '90, '91, there was no packing the stands. Ever," says Lyle. "And then at the homecoming game, like I say, the band and the Scarlets [dance team] would perform at halftime and then everybody would get up and leave. I'm not kidding."
There wasn't a whole lot to cheer for.
When David Aymond was hired as head coach in February 1994, the varsity team hadn't made the playoffs in more than 30 years.
"I really felt that it was a diamond in the rough," says Warken, who arrived as athletic director in the spring of 1991. "I think we had some talent."
"We had athletes," says Joe Walker, who was a sophomore player in the program in 1994. "We had guys that people would never hear about. It was just, before Aymond got here, you didn't have the drive."
Aymond took immediate, firm control of the North Shore football program, installing a strict discipline and regimen and playing a greater role in the players' lives. His and Warken's efforts got quick results.
The team made the playoffs the year Aymond was hired, 1994, as bi-district champions. Two years later, it advanced all the way to the state semifinals following an undefeated regular season. Walker tries to articulate the halcyon rush of being on those first competitive North Shore football teams.
"I can't explain the feeling," he says. "It was the selling of tickets, the pep rallies, the people that hasn't been involved or coming to watch the games that came out of the woodworks. You know, families, friends, people driving here and driving there. It was just a whole big, whole movie high school football type of thing going on that we had working that year. And it was a good roller coaster for us."
It's helpful, too, if you're trying to get a $120 million bond referendum passed that includes $21 million for the stadium complex. Galena Park ISD already had been on the march after voters consented to an $80 million bond in 1995 for new schools and campus improvements. The 1999 bond passed by 126 votes.
"When the bond was being passed, they sent out all these flyers throughout all the area, and on the back was the high school football team. And they started winning, and it just perpetuated throughout the community," says Matt Malatesta, a writer who covers Texas football for Rivals.com.
No one familiar with the Friday Night Lights atmosphere of Texas football needs to be told of the redemptive and transcendent power that can reverberate through a community when its high school team gets to winning. North Shore just came off its fourth straight undefeated regular season. More than 80 players have gotten college scholarships -- some filling the ranks of Division I rosters like Oklahoma, Miami and Texas.