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Spotlight on: Smith Center

Hometown: Smith Center, KS

Group: 2-1A



By Jimmy Oliver

SportsPower Correspondent


It’s hard to believe that a school so small could produce such a constant, dominant force.


Set in a tiny town with just one stoplight, Smith Center is an institution with an enrollment of roughly 150 students (and just 116 between the 10th and 12th grades). There are 57 boys on the football roster this season -- which makes Smith Center’s (State PR: 82.44, Rank: 1) story all the more impressive. 


Not only is there a limited pool to form a team from, but head coach Roger Barta is doing more with less, and it’s paying giant dividends.


So far in 2008, the Redmen have outscored opponents 203 to 57 in just five games, including a shutout of Ellis this past weekend by a 40-0 margin.


Pretty astounding, indeed, but this is nothing different than what Smith Center has been posting – and raising eyebrows with -- for decades.


Just last season, the Redmen tallied 72 points in the first quarter against Plainville en route to a national record for the most points in a single period. Even more astonishing, Smith Center allowed just 20 points all season in 13 games while producing 844 on the scoreboard en route to a state title.


Meanwhile, the program owns seven state championships, starting in ’82 and then following up in ’86, ’99, ’04, ’05, ’06, and ’07.


And the team is not just about winning games and championships, either. Barta sees the program as a tool to help his players further down the road in life. 


“I don’t know if winning or losing is what our program is about,” said Barta in a recent interview during his squad's impressive '07 title run. “Maybe something we did will help them (the players) five, 10, 20 years from now and help them be successful in life.”


And this is where the philosophy of the program comes into play, as well. The high school athletes are taught that Smith Center is “Where tradition starts” and “Where tradition never graduates.” Indeed, it's important to strive for as many victories as you can, but it's the intangibles learned along the way that make the biggest difference in one's life.


Last week, the Redmen played a then 4-1 Colby team that came in very capable of putting up points. The Eagles had been averaging 23 points per game while holding opponents to just over 10 per outing. At the time, it appeared that this midseason matchup could have shaped up to be one of the biggest challenges of the regular season for Smith Center, but the Redmen made quick work of their counterparts en route to a 40-0 romp.


Up Next: October 17 at Washington (State PR: 38.38, Rank: 33).

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Spotlight On: Bessemer Academy

Hometown: Bessemer, Alabama



By Ryan Rohde

SportsPower Correspondent


After opening its doors in 1970, Bessemer Academy was just one of the many new private schools across Alabama designed for white students who wanted to segregate from black students.


After all, the town of Bessemer hails just 10 miles southwest of Birmingham, where racism was ever-present during that period.


Fast-forward almost thirty years to 1997 and the town of Bessemer had changed. The steel industry was gone, the formerly majority caucasian town was now 70 percent black, and Bessemer Academy was struggling to keep its head above water.


With more and more whites leaving Bessemer, and enrollment plummeting at the school, academy officials needed to make a change in order for the school to get back in good standing with the community.



Ultimately, they decided the best way to make a difference was to build a football powerhouse.


“A great debate team is not going to bring in students. But a great football team will," said Ben Allison, a former member of Bessemer's board of directors, in a 2005 New Orleans Times-Picayune article by Josh Peter.    


The plan the school followed was simple. First, the initial step in building a formidable, respectable program was to hire a new coach.


Bessemer was not known for its football prowess, so there weren’t any established coach knocking on the door. Soon, however, the school decided to hire Mark Freeman, a car salesman and local Pee-Wee football coach.


Next, Freeman and the school understood that in order to build a quality team, they would need the best athletes, black or white. And this was going to be no easy task at a school with an openly racist past and inclusion in the Alabama Independent School Association, a league formed for teams that wouldn’t play against teams with black players. 


Meanwhile, Freeman’s first year at Bessemer resulted in a 4-7 campaign, while the second season showed marked improvement by going 6-4. Clearly, the team was improving, but there was still something missing.


Then, LaRon Yow enrolled at Bessemer during the ’00-‘01 school year. His mother sent him to Bessemer because she was worried about the learning environment at Jess Lanier, the town’s only public high school.


Yow was the team’s only black player that season. He started out playing receiver, but Freeman moved him to defensive line and watched the talented athlete finish his senior year with 19 sacks.


Additionally, Freeman also raised eyebrows when he hired a black assistant coach without the school board’s approval. Roderick Foster was a standout player at Alabama-Birmingham and the school’s first black employee outside of the maintenance or janitorial staff.


In the Times-Picayune article by Peter, Foster said he took the job to “open the doors to the community of Bessemer and to whoever thought it was a white school.”


Other black players followed in Yow’s footsteps. By 2001, the Rebels went 9-2 and made reached the AISA state championship before falling to Monroe Academy. The following season, Bessemer went undefeated while winning the school’s first championship.


Today, Bessemer’s enrollment today stands at almost 500 students, 43 of them being black and 12 of them members of the football team. After clearing that hurdle in ’02, the Rebels also won state championships in ‘04, ‘06 and ‘07.


And so while Freeman no longer coaches at Bessemer, the former head coach was certainly a vital part of the school’s success and has clearly left his mark on Alabama high school football history.


Indeed, Bessemer succeeded where other Alabama private schools did not over the years. 


They learned acceptance and inclusion, and it has made all the difference in the world.


Next up: October 10 vs. Morgan Academy (State PR: 55.39, Rank: 37).




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Spotlight on: Saint John Bosco

Hometown: Bellflower, California

Group: California Southern Section




By Brett Manney

SportsPower Correspondent


The school motto at Saint John Bosco comes from the Latin phrase, “Ad Deum Qui Laetificat Juventutem Meam," which stands for, “To God, who gives joy to my youth.”


The Saint John Bosco (5-0 overall, State PR: 95.35, Rank: 5) football team has plenty to be joyful about so far in the 2008 season after a disappointing ’07 campaign in which they finished with a 3-6 record. Already this season, the Braves have eclipsed those three wins en route to a perfect campaign so far.


For a squad that plays in one of the toughest football conferences in the country (California Southern Section), the Braves have not advanced to the Southern Section playoffs since ‘04, when they fell to[ Long Beach Poly|] in the Div. 1 second round.


Head coach Kiki Mendoza’s team is on a mission to avenge last season’s losing record, and so far, his squad is heading down the right path.


And there has been plenty of joy so far on a Braves team that's laden with veterans. The senior-heavy Braves are led by star quarterback Keith Price and wide receiver Will Shamburger.


Price, a three-sport star and dynamic signal-caller, is a University of Washington recruit while his favorite target, Shamburger, is a Boise State recruit. The duo provides John Bosco a dynamic one-two punch and has given defenses headaches all season.


Meanwhile, the Braves are ranked fifth in FootballPower’s California state rankings by putting up huge wins. Bosco has scored 202 points through five games and has allowed only 58 points. For a team which such dominating victories, it finally appears – along with their unblemished record -- that the squad is gaining respect in ‘08.


Says Frank Bullison of the Long Beach Press Telegram, “They dominated two pretty good teams (Loyola and St. Paul) the past couple of Friday nights, and were more impressive on the nights I watched them play - against Cabrillo and St. Paul - than were Mater Dei (vs. Carson) and Los Alamitos (against Mayfair) when I saw those teams play up close.”


The next matchup for the Braves comes not until October 17th in their league opener at home against Santa Margarita Catholic (2-3, State PR: 56.41, Rank: 143).


The best has yet to come for Bosco as they anxiously await the arrival of dynamic running back Alex Fletcher. The Lakewood transfer could play very soon if he meets the necessary academic requirements.


As told to the Los Angeles Times by Mendoza, “He’s as good as any football player we have.”


Indeed, adding Fletcher to an already explosive offense should continue the Braves’ dominance in 2008.


And for a team that has suffered misery in the recent past, it’s apparent that they been resurrected with youthful joy.


Next up: October 17 vs. Santa Margarita Catholic.

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Spotlight on: Gateway Gators

Hometown: Monroeville, Pennsylvania

Group: PA AAAA




By Andre Coles

SportsPower Correspondent


The Gateway Gators refuse to settle for anything less than a state championship in 2008. After coming within one point of the title game last season, this year’s squad is poised to finish the task.


The Gators continue to use last year’s second place finish against state champ Pittsburgh Central Catholic as motivation in every game this campaign.


Meanwhile, in a recent interview with Michael Love of, head coach Terry Smith echoed those sentiments and explained his team’s passion for a championship this season.


“The kids are focused on it right now. This is an experienced group who is working hard. Having that bad taste in their mouth makes them work even harder.”


As a result, the ‘08 squad has been leaving a bad taste in the mouths of every opponent so far this season. The Gators are already off to a 6-0 start and have outscored opponents 278-38.


The Gators' success this season has been no fluke either, as the squad has a more than capable leader in Smith, along with a talented cast of players that carry out his philosophies and passion on the field.


Smith, who is a former Gator and Penn State University receiver himself, has never endured a losing season at Gateway. Overall, in his seven years at the helm, Smith is 59-18.


And leading with his experience as a coach and a player, Smith feels like this season’s squad might be his best in some time.


In an interview with Dave Mackall of the Tribune-Review, Smith said, “Potentially, this is the best team. There’s a lot of talent and a lot of valuable experience here. And we work hard.”


Smith’s message is certainly saying a lot for a program that has sent over 45 student-athletes to compete collegiately since he took over in ‘02, including this year’s group of impressive seniors of which four have already made Div. I commitments.


Big name seniors Dorian Bell and Corey Brown have already committed to Ohio State University, while Colin Rodkey and B.J. Stevens have chosen Indiana University and Miami of Ohio, respectively.


These players provide the experience and leadership Smith speaks of. 


“The returning starters are leading by example and leading verbally. They’re doing everything we’ve asked of them.”


With that being said, as the second-ranked team in Pennsylvania according to FootballPower’s most recent poll, the Gators will face their toughest challenge of the season this upcoming week. 


For the first time in its history, Gateway will face a formidable Trojans squad of Erie McDowell High (State PR: 69.90, Rank: 37).


As long as the Gators continue to use last year’s loss in the WPIAL championship as motivation, while continuing to follow Smith’s lead and ride their experienced and big name seniors, this squad should be wearing medals around their necks when the season comes to a close.


Next up: October 10 at Erie McDowell.








Check out the Gateway Gators own team Website here!



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