Migration hurts Glades Central football team
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
by Matt Porter
Glades Central players look on from the sideline before a home game against American Heritage this season. (Photo by Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)
The top-ranked team in Palm Beach County, stocked with future Division I players, prepared for a game as the sun set. They were ready to give the fans at Effie C. Grear Field a show.
But the players weren't wearing Glades Central colors.
They were from American Heritage, the Delray Beach private school which, like several other area teams, has left Glades Central behind.
For the first time in decades, the Raiders, a storied program boasting six state championships, more than 30 NFL alums and coast-to-coast name recognition, are losing.
Glades Central (0-3) is a home underdog Friday against fifth-ranked Park Vista. The Raiders haven't had a losing season since 1990, when they went 3-7 under Jay Seider. From then until 2012, they were 243-30, one of the best records in the country.
Though the Raiders are young and graduated several Division I-bound seniors, several factors cause observers to wonder if Glades Central's seemingly endless reservoir of football talent is in danger of drying up.
While Glades Central received two senior starters via transfer this offseason, movement from Belle Glade is significant.
John I. Leonard has nine starters born and raised in Belle Glade. Leonard's top three wide receivers -- juniors Jerry Jones, Kenute Morris and sophomore Tavares Martin - are Muck kids, as are the Lancers' starting offensive tackles.
Royal Palm Beach beat Glades Central in the preseason with seven starters from Belle Glade. Palm Beach Central has four natives including senior Lloyd "Bam" Howard, its leading rusher and top skill player.
"If you look at most of the rosters in Palm Beach County," Glades Central assistant coach Reidel Anthony said, "most of the kids making plays, they're from here."
They move for a variety of reasons, but the economy underlies it all.
Unemployment in the Glades is 32 percent, according to a June 2011 estimate by Workforce Alliance, compared with 11 percent for the rest of the county. The December 2011 closing of Glades Correctional Institution caused the loss of 250 jobs alone.
"There's a lot of fear out there with the decline," John I. Leonard coach Wayne Monroe said. "The parents are looking for a better opportunity. Different pockets of the county are getting really good kids from the areas around Glades Central. It's unfortunate for that school."
The generation of players who have stayed at Glades Central feels the weight of the same expectations -- realistic or not -- of the past four decades.
"We're not doing the job that we are expected to do," senior Will Likely said. "The people that went here before us expect greatness. We have to live up to it."
When they don't, the wave of backlash often hits the coach. Many fans have called for the firing of Roosevelt Blackmon, the school's sixth head coach since 2000.
Despite being outscored 78-22 in losses to Dwyer, Plantation and American Heritage, the Raiders were in each game at halftime. Glades Central Principal Anthony Anderson has expressed confidence in Blackmon and likes how players have handled themselves after losses.
"They still showed character," Anderson said. "That's what we want."
"I always felt the ones who were out there with something negative to say weren't the ones to help you raise money," said Royal Palm Beach coach Willie Bueno, a Belle Glade native who coached the Raiders from 2000-02. "Those ones where the last ones to help you anyway."
Willie McDonald, the public-address announcer at Raiders games, succeeded Al Werneke, who won the school's first state championships in 1971 and 1972. After a 6-4 season in 1975, McDonald's Raiders went 1-8 in his second year, the worst season since the school was created in 1970. He recalls dismissing several players -- "good players, too" -- from the team. "I was there to clean the program up," he said.
He says he knows what Blackmon is dealing with.
"We're young," he said. "We've got to correct the mistakes while the kids are young. We'll come back. We've got to rebuild. In the past, we've been reloading. We can't reload when kids are migrating. So you've got to rebuild now."
But the crowds in Belle Glade have never borne rebuilding well.
Anthony, who starred at Florida and spent five years in the NFL, stood at the edge of the field last Thursday, watching his team prepare to play American Heritage. As he spoke to a reporter, a stern voice called from the concourse:
"All right, Reidel, tighten up tonight."
"All right," Anthony shouted over his shoulder to the fan, then turned back to the conversation. "See what I'm talking about?"
Anthony shook his head.
"Tighten up," he said. "Ain't nothing positive."