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High school team plays road game without coaching staff... and wins

An utterly bizarre story played out in Arizona high school football last week.

One of my favorite scenes in the Friday Night Lights book was nothing more than an aside, no longer than a paragraph. The Permian Panthers traveled from the dusty plains of West Texas all the way to the depths of the Piney Woods of East Texas to take on the Marshall Mavericks for a non-district game. Since the journey was 530 miles each way, the team flew to the game but the thousands of fans who made the journey did so in their cars, which meant that the players returned to Odessa several hours ahead of their parents. And, well, you can imagine the trouble unsupervised 1980s high school football players can get into with no supervision.

At Sierra Linda High School in Arizona this past weekend, a Permian-Marshall situation played out in reverse.

Sierra Linda's players didn't return home from a road game with no adult supervision, they played the game with little to no adult supervision.

As the Arizona Republic details in a truly wild story, the tale begins last Wednesday during the Sierra Linda freshman game. 

Officials realized during the game that Sierra Linda's freshman team did not have hip girdles. (The school said its first shipment of hip pads did not arrive until the following day.) After conferring with their superiors within the Arizona Interscholastic Association, officials stopped the game. As a result of that, Sierra Linda head coach Nate Gill was suspended.

Out of protest, the rest of Gill's coaching staff declined to coach that Friday's game.

But Sierra Linda still packed its team on the bus for their scheduled game at Yuma.

Parents were not informed that their sons had made the 3-hour trip from Phoenix to Yuma until the team had already left.

"I would like to inform you that the SLHS Varsity Football game in Yuma is still on schedule and the team departed at approximately 1:30 p.m.," SLHS principal Tim Madrid said in an email to parents. "Unfortunately, our SLHS coaches decided they were not going to accompany the team on this trip. Consequently, we had to scramble to find certified, highly qualified and authorized coaches to substitute in their place.

"I apologize for the late notice as we were still unsure we could make this happen. We did not want our players to miss out on the opportunity to play in the game and we sent 99% of the team."

All but one player made the trip and, playing with a staff of substitute coaches (???), Sierra Linda won the game to move to 6-2 on the season, the school's best in years.

"So our boys won 23-21 coaching themselves calling their own offensive and defensive plays," a parent texted. "Parents, coaches and the community are so extremely proud of what these young men accomplished Friday night and also so far this season.

"And it only speaks to the culture coach Gill and his staff have patiently groomed into the program and these boys the last few years."

Mejia, a member of the Sierra Linda booster club, said that some parents tried to find answers for why the players were sent on a three-hour trip without the coaches they know to play a football game.

Mejia went down to the district office after calls were not returned.

She said that Nora Gutierrez, superintendent of the Tolleson Unified School District, told her that an investigation is underway.

There are so many questions inspired by this story, but the most pressing has to be: Who were these replacement coaches, how did the school find them, and what did they do? 

Oh, and why didn't anyone think to tell the parents what was going on until the bus had already left??

Read the full story here.

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