WHS win earned by present, past Warriors
By Paul Andrew
Tribune staff writer
As the clocked ticked down at the end of Whittell High’s dominating 40-6 victory over Hawthorne on Saturday, the hard- working Warriors put an end to the 26-game losing streak – the longest in Nevada and a stretch of futility that has haunted the program for years.
The Warrior players have spent countless hours working out, learning the system and sacrificing personal time for the team. Dedicated coaches John Summers, David Atherton and Nick Samaras should all take pride in the well-earned win.
This historic victory should also be savored by past players Tommy Esquivel, Travis Swoger, Bryce Rafferty and dozens of others who gave their blood, sweat and tears for Whittell football but never experienced a game ending with the Warriors on the winning side of a football game.
Former coach Dennis Young, who was instrumental in bringing back football to Whittell, despite those who said it couldn’t be done, owns part of this victory as well.
After most of a senior-laden playoff team from 2002 graduated, only 16 players tried out for the squad in 2003. Because of the team’s youth, the probability of injuries and eligibility problems, the Whittell administration made the difficult decision to drop football for the season due to lack of numbers.
With declining enrollment at the school, the varied sports and activities that Tahoe kids have at their disposal, the feeling on campus was that people had seen the last of football at Whittell.
Homecoming was held at a soccer game that year but wasn’t attended with the same crowd size and enthusiasm that football attracts. The band didn’t play publicly until Christmas, cheerleaders were inactive and students and parents weren’t able to experience the camaraderie of high school football on warm, sunny Tahoe afternoons.
There was a void at Whittell High School in 2003.
Young, whose son Jeff was entering Whittell as a sophomore, took the “bull by the horns” and put together a plan to reinstate football. He held rallies at both the high school and middle school, started weight training and got students fired up about playing football. Former Warrior star Mike Crawford, who had a stellar career at the University of Nevada and played for the Minnesota Vikings and Miami Dolphins, attended a rally to promote football and inspire potential players. Still, many weren’t optimistic that Young would succeed.
Despite the doubters, Whittell fielded a team in 2004 but lacked size, numbers and experience – only six players previously played competitive football. Predictably, the team was soundly defeated on most occasions. Surprisingly, no players quit the team, with the Warriors ending the season with the same roster of 25 that kicked it off.
Whittell was a bit more competitive the following year but still came up on the short end of the scoreboard every game. The highlight of the season was a school-record 50 yard field goal by Jeff Young.
Last year, the reins of the program were taken by former coach and current Whittell teacher John Summers and young, enthusiastic alum David Atherton, who still holds the school’s rushing record.
Despite a very young team that included several freshmen playing key roles, there was optimism that the losing drought would end. Close, heartbreaking loses to Hawthorne, Lovelock and Independence showed how far the team had progressed, but the Warriors ended the season winless. Again, a group of hard- working seniors ending their high school careers without a victory.
For the players on this year’s team, there is optimism that Saturday’s win is the first of many that Whittell will experience in the season ahead. For the Warriors of the past who were never on the winning side at Whittell, this win is a tribute to the hard work they put in to help rebuild the program and a victory they also deserve to own a piece of as well.