What Price Glory?

In an era when booster dollars give high school football teams a high-tech edge, scratching out a winning season gets tougher and tougher

One former coach with the program sums it up: "It's a machine now."

Matt Malatesta, as much as anyone, should understand North Shore's ascendancy. He quite literally wrote the book on North Shore. An engaging read, It's My Life covers last season's championship run. On a Friday morning in November he stands outside the field house entrance and offers a thumbnail sketch of the alpha and omega of North Shore football.

David Aymond leads the team in prayer following the 
final game.
Troy Fields
David Aymond leads the team in prayer following the final game.

"Aymond we kind of monikered the Godfather or, no, actually the Kingfish, 'cause he's a Louisiana guy. And he controls the lives of all these kids basically," says Malatesta. "It's a super-military-type situation. No facial hair, no earrings, no grills, nothing. Once you step in these doors, he's got these kids by the balls."

Inside those doors, with his feet kicked up on the desk, wearing the usual black North Shore sweat suit, David Aymond playfully purrs into his cell phone, "You know, those who slip toil in the doldrums of mediocrity." The 59-year-old talks with a native Louisiana accent that lops the ends off of words and occasionally mashes them together.

A coach for 35 years, Aymond says one of the reasons he took the job at North Shore in 1994 was the fact that it was the only 5A program in the district.

"We would get the kids we were supposed to get. And I could coordinate my middle school programs," he says. "In other words, the system could be in from the second grade on up." Other coaches agree that having this control over the system and culture of football in a whole district -- having the ability to standardize and coordinate at multiple tiers -- is a key factor for success. By the time players hit the varsity ranks, the terminology and expectations are as drilled into their heads as their home addresses.

That need for absolute power is probably partly why North Shore has no booster club.

"Don't care for one, don't want one," Aymond says with a tight lip and a hint of a grin. Other coaches say playing politician to pushy parents can be a maddening process. The school doesn't field a seven-on-seven summer league team, either.

"In order to play in those leagues, it requires fees. You gotta come up with some money. You gotta come up with uniforms, shoes, the whole works in addition to that," he says of the off-season games that are not part of the University Interscholastic League, the statewide school sports regulating body. "So that's more funding that would be needed."

"And you can't coach 'em. So who's gonna coach 'em?"

The control thing again. More than anything else, Aymond relentlessly sings the praises of discipline within the program. "That's living the life of football at North Shore high school, which is, No. 1, academics. Take care of your academics," he says. "We have grade sheets that you're going to see these coaches pick up in the next few minutes from every player."

He continues, "We check that every day…We feel like it has to be a day-to-day. Then like that, it becomes a way of life. And yes, it is about facial hair. And it is about length of hair and whether you tint your hair. It's about all of those things."

He reverts to abstraction: "It's hard for me to tell you, to describe to you your well-being if I don't feel your pulse."

A few minutes later he marches into the study hall and checks a few pulses. The room is chopped into offense and defense, and the two respective coordinators are carefully inspecting grade-sheet signatures.

"Listen up, men," Aymond barks, flashing embers of fire. He asks if anyone has any academic problems to report. Noticing the stubble of one young man -- a kid with glasses and a gray sweatshirt hood pulled over his head -- he jams a finger toward him. "You're not gonna dress out tonight if you're not shaved," he warns. There's some chatter in the back. Aymond stomps on it.

"What part of shut up do you not understand when I asked you a minute ago?" He pulls a dozen teens outside the building into the blinding morning sunlight, eyeballing for any trace of whiskers on their chins. He gives the last guy a gentle pat on the head. "You're ugly, but you're okay," he teases with a smile.

The tenderness that alternates with Aymond's stern side is probably why some players in the program say they consider him a "father figure" of sorts.

"My mother raised me on her own," says Joe Walker, the Mustang alum who graduated in 1997 but returned to work as the secondary coach. "I knew that whatever time, whatever day it was, that I could call Coach Aymond or I could call some of the other coaches that would be there for me."

That legacy continues today.

"He understands what it's like to be in our predicament, 'cause the situation he came up in," says Dajleon Farr, who will graduate in May. "It's like everybody don't have a father figure they can go talk to about some problems, and he's always there and he always opens the door for you, so, man, it's a big difference to a lotta people."

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