The Texas high school football playoffs get underway this weekend, and Game 17 of the University Interscholastic League's Class 4A Division II playoffs pits West Orange-Stark, 8-2 and champions of District 9, against Houston Scarborough, 0-10 and riding a 57-game losing streak.
In a playoff game.
In an effort to get as many teams in the playoffs as possible, the UIL has spread the state's thousands of high school football programs between nine playoff brackets in six classifications. To fill nine brackets - and two in Class 4A, where Scarborough competes - four teams per district must make the playoffs. Scarborough, which has come out on the wrong end of 57 consecutive games, finished fourth in four-team District 10 - which means the Spartans are in.
As Angel Verdejo, Jr., wrote for the Houston Chronicle, Scarborough is like so many underfunded schools, with an over-worked coaching staff playing anyone that will come out. The Spartans' head coach, Ajani Sanders, helped all four of his starters sign scholarship papers as the defensive backs coach at Klein Collins (Texas) a year ago. Now, his typical player may be a freshman playing his first or second year of football, thrust into action in a varsity game.
"It's just another game," Sanders said. "I don't want them thinking, 'Playoffs? Oh, my God - we're not supposed to be here.' And then they might believe it.
"So right now, it's just another game, and we're happy to be in it. We'll play and play our butts off."
A winless team is not anyone's idea of playoff material, and any six- or seven-win teams sitting at home this weekend have a justifiable beef. But their problem is with the UIL, not the Scarborough players and coaches. They didn't ask to be put in this position, but Sanders plans to take advantage of it nevertheless.
"I've been there," he said. "But I'm not going to negate the hard work that these kids put in. I won't take that from them at all."