Here’s my column from Friday, in case you missed it.
It’s been just more than a season and a half since Duarte principal Eric Barba fired varsity football coach Wardell Crutchfield Jr. because Barba wanted to “go in a different direction.”
The Falcons have played 17 games since then and lost all of them. If the direction Barba wanted to take the program was south, then he’s succeeded in a big way.
Duarte was no ordinary football program when Crutchfield was at the helm. The Falcons, after lying dormant for years, sprung back to life when Crutchfield became head coach in 2004.
The team won league titles and playoff games. Even better, it sent offensive lineman Mike Harris to UCLA, defensive back Jermaine Thomas to Fresno State, running back Chris Harris to Utah St., receiver Corey Fluker to UNLV, kicker Andy Vasquez to Arizona St. and receiver Esa Johnwell to Washington St., all within a few years.
Jordan Canada and Jerone Cox, who both transferred following Crutchfield’s firing but were ruled ineligible for their senior seasons by CIF, wound up at Montana and Eastern Michigan, respectively.
Under Crutchfield, the city’s talent-rich Duarte Hawks youth football program no longer stockpiled the rosters of other area schools. The kids stayed home, won ballgames, got scholarships and injected some pride and notoriety into a campus and community that badly needed it.
It wasn’t an easy task for Crutchfield, who met the same roadblocks that coaches of Duarte’s past and present have to deal with – there’s little support from the administration and community.
Heck, I remember the ’06 Falcons had no blocking sled and no equipment manager, and most pregame meals were bought by Crutchfield and his staff.
Duarte won despite it all. The school became relevant again for something positive. Those who have seen the light know what a good football program does for a high school campus.
But administrators don’t get paid by a football team’s wins and losses. They get paid by test scores and attendance. That makes things like a thriving football program expendable.
The point of this piece is not to defend Crutchfield. He declined to comment for this story, as did Barba, who didn’t return phone calls placed to his office.
The point is to show all of you just how fragile any football program is.
The point is to show that winning and sending kids on to college to chase their dreams never should be taken for granted.
The point is to also warn you just how dangerously close the Valley is getting to having one of its schools not be able to field a varsity team.
Duarte’s numbers have dipped dangerously low this season. Two sources said the team currently has 17 players. Barba told this newspaper last week the number was more like 21.
Bassett was in a similar situation this summer when new coach Craig Cieslik ran off several would-be players before running off himself. Drive-by accounts of Bassett’s summer practices put the team roster at 12 players.
Some players returned, though, and the team has fought hard this season under Aubrey Duncan.
Think about it for a second. Imagine whatever school you root for not being able to field a varsity football team. No homecoming game. No marching band at halftime. No cheerleaders screaming on the track. Even if the team never won a game, those things still create memories that last a lifetime.
That day appears to be coming. The only question is where.
As good as they are, none of my previous points stacks up to the most important point of them all, which is that no football program is safe in the hands of the wrong administrator. We’ll never truly know why Crutchfield was let go. Schools, citing privacy, never give reasons for personnel decisions, but Crutchfield still teaches at Duarte and is defensive coordinator at Baldwin Park.
We can only go off Barba’s reasoning at the time … you know, the whole “different direction” thing. He’s certainly gotten his wish, and the program definitely has changed course.
Hopefully, extinction isn’t the final destination.