It’s been more than 1,500 days since Houston’s Scarborough High School won a football game. That’s 44 losses in a row, stretching back to September 2009. The seniors on the team have never won a high school football game; they were in eighth grade the last time the Spartans notched a win.
But for a team that hasn’t won a game since before the iPad was invented, the Spartans remain calm and, you could even say, oddly confident. They’re convinced that a win is coming and the streak will be broken.
Before this season started, Scarborough coach Jayson Merren jokingly said that his winless record made him “the worst football coach in Texas.” But that’s not quite right. Considering that he gets a tight-knit group of 25 teenage boys to play hard week after week, Merren may be the state’s best football coach who has never won a game.
After all, you’re talking about managing fifteen- to eighteen-year-old boys whose emotions are naturally volatile and always at the surface. This age group is not known for taking the long view of things. Which makes Merren’s influence all the more astounding when you hear these downright philosophic words from senior linebacker LaCurtrick Hudson: “I have friends that say, ‘Why do you even go to practice?’ I tell them, ‘Because it’s going to make us better.’” Hudson, who is now in his third season, told me, “Yeah, it hurts, but it builds your confidence to go out there and work hard. It’s more motivation. If we fight a little harder and work a little harder, we can get this win.”
The numbers of the streak emphasize how steep a hill Scarborough is climbing. The Spartans haven’t scored since the first game of the year and have been outscored 359-6 this season. The 44-game losing streak is the longest streak of its kind in Texas, although they’re still far from the state record of 80, set by Houston’s Jeff Davis High from 1985-93.
So for Merren, it’s about focusing on the little victories. It could be a game where the Spartans have fewer penalties than their opponent or when the clock doesn’t run continuously at the end of the game because the other team has a big lead.
Signs of improvement are starting to show. Over the last two weeks, Scarborough has held teams to around thirty points, as opposed to earlier in the season when they gave up more than fifty points for four weeks in a row. And last year’s squad produced the first player in years to get a scholarship.
This isn’t to say, however, that the team has come to accept losing. Each loss is tough to take and encourages more teasing from classmates and neighbors.
“It’s infuriating,” said junior offensive lineman Kelderick Suazo. He transferred from a large suburban school where he saw the kind of support winning can bring out. “To have to hear them all the time — ‘Y’all suck! Y’all ain’t never gonna win a game!’ That’s not going to help us, if you’re not going to give us the support we need to actually win.”
All of these changes take time, which Merren says he has plenty of, thanks to the support of school administrators. Like a lot of Houston ISD schools, enrollment has been shrinking. Scarborough, located in a lower-middle class area of northwest Houston, dropped from Class 4A to 3A in 2012 and has only 25 players on its varsity roster, while their opponents regularly field teams of forty or more. HISD also offers open enrollment, which means that students can apply to attend schools outside their own neighborhood, a benefit that many families take advantage of. But since taking over in 2011, Merren has established some consistency in the Spartans’ program and now hopes to bring in four or five freshmen each year that previously may have gone to play at another school.
When you’re stuck in the middle of a losing streak, you need some breaks to go your way, and Scarborough is still looking for those. At October 18’s homecoming game, the Spartans gave up a touchdown on the opening kickoff and another on a short punt return and found themselves down 21-0 early in the second quarter. The rainy conditions kept the offense from moving the ball consistently, and then the defense took a shot when Hudson went out with a dislocated shoulder, spending the rest of the game with his arm in a sling and cutting a highly visible figure on the sidelines with his pink uniform socks peeking out from a bright yellow rain slicker.
A pair of late touchdowns sealed the win for Jones and added another game to Scarborough’s streak. Still, they remained convinced a win will come. It might be next week, or it might be next season.
And what will they do when that happens? Hudson and Suazo have thought about what they’ll do when they get a win and break the streak, and they agree they’ll do the same thing they do when they lose: Cry.