It was like a New Year’s Eve celebration, with players and coaches jumping up and down and dancing as if the ball at Times Square had just dropped.
The only difference was, the lights producing all this joy had nothing to do with a crystal ball displaying the numbers of the new year.
The lights were on the scoreboard.
You could hear things like, “WOO! THE STREAK IS OVER! THE STREAK IS OVER!”
The “streak” players at Melvindale ABT High School, near Detroit, were referring to was a 30-game losing streak -- but they snapped it Oct. 2 with a 26-20 win at Mount Clemens; a streak that spanned nearly four calendar years.
In actuality, it might have felt like ending a 300-game losing streak, given the circumstances the team has had to overcome and the life lessons learned in order to finally experience sweet victory.
No field, little support
Before the 2019 season started, doubt swirled when it came to whether Melvindale ABT’s football program would even exist.
New head coach Demetrius Spicer initially presided over a roster with just 12 players, meaning if two of them got injured, they wouldn’t have the minimum 11 players required on the field.
If only that were the only issue.
Spicer and the program have had to deal with that, and so much more, over the past two seasons.
Consider these other obstacles:
- There’s no field at the school. This is the case for games and practices. The team is forced to play all road games because there’s no stadium at the school and little money to rent a nearby stadium that can be used as the team’s “home field.” With no field to practice on, there were times last year the squad had to practice on concrete in the school’s parking lot. Now, they practice on a small field at Rouge Park, which is nine miles from the school, next to an archery range and pond. The field has no yard markers or goalposts, and offers dirt patches throughout, but it does beat the concrete.
“We call it the swamp because the mosquitoes keep tearing us up,” Spicer said.
- Carpooling to practice. Since there’s no field at the school to go immediately after classes end, the kids are bused home. In the case of Melvindale ABT, a small private school, kids are spread out in surrounding communities. That means if they don’t have a ride to practice at Rouge Park, Spicer and his assistants also have to drive around to various homes and give the teens rides to and from practice.
- Little support from students and parents. Spicer said with all the losing in recent years, there have been a few parents and students who have been critical -- or they just haven’t bothered to support players at games. Spicer said when his team played at Temperance Bedford earlier in the year, coaches and players noticed how Temperance Bedford parents were hand-in-hand with their players, cheering them on as they took the field. It was a display of unity and support Spicer said his players weren’t used to seeing.
“That was weird to them,” said Spicer in a manner that wasn’t critical of Temperance Bedford, but meant to emphasize what his players typically experience. “It was weird to them.”
- Inadequate equipment/facilities. There’s no weight room at the school, so players have to train on their own in the offseason. Spicer also said the program had to ask and search around for grants just to provide basic practice equipment such as football sleds.
“I teach my kids to persevere,” Spicer said.
‘You won’t be here forever’
Before the season, Spicer asked his seniors a question.
“When was the last time you won a game?”
The answer from the seniors: “The eighth grade.”
Last season, the team not only went winless, but scored 14 points for the ENTIRE season.
It’s no wonder there was such joy following the end of the losing streak for a team that started the year with 25 players, until COVID-19 issues reduced that number to 18.
“They’ve been beaten down and battered,” said Spicer, adding that a majority of his players are doing well academically and have college opportunities ahead. “They couldn’t see themselves being a winner in life. That’s what makes this special.”
The team had to overcome a major blow even during the victory over Mount Clemens, as starting quarterback Reggie Taylor left the game in the first quarter with an injury and didn’t return.
“They didn’t put their heads down,” said Taylor, who sports a 3.5 grade-point average. “That pushed them to play harder.”
Trailing by a touchdown in the fourth quarter, the team scored two touchdowns in the final seven minutes to earn the win.
“We were talking about how the demeanor of the school was going to change, and that nobody was going to doubt us anymore,” Taylor said. “Around the school, nobody really looked out for us.”
The momentum couldn’t produce a winning streak, as Melvindale ABT lost this past Friday to Whitmore Lake, 41-0.
There’s a solid chance that there won’t be a second win this year, either.
Given all the team has been through, experiencing a win was more than just one victory on a football field.
It was forever a life lesson.
It showed them that through patience, determination and perseverance, victory can be achieved, despite tough circumstances.
“I have to teach my kids that just because you are here now, you won’t be here forever,” Spicer said.