Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011 | 3:28 a.m.
For a football team that has only won a single game in the last two years, Mojave’s big win on Friday represented the hope that things are finally changing — athletically at least — at the struggling “turnaround” high school.
The Rattlers’ 25-22 win over the Boulder City Eagles Friday night just might be the morale booster the school needs to restore “Mojave Pride” at the North Las Vegas school. For years, signs bearing those words around campus rang false for Mojave students.
The varsity football team had only made the playoffs once in the school’s 15-year history. There were several devastating shutouts over the last few years, including an embarrassing 52-0 rout against Palo Verde in 2009 and a repeat 48-0 loss earlier this month.
Academically, Mojave students are known for having some of the lowest test scores and graduation rates in the valley. After several high-profile incidents, the school also received a bad reputation for discipline issues, violence and gang activity.
With all that was stacked against this 50-member team, the downtrodden Rattlers had a lot to prove coming into the game on Friday. It was more than just snapping a 17-game losing streak; it was to restore a small sense of pride at a school that had lost it over the years.
“These kids, they just want to win,” said coach Joe Delgado. “They want a feeling of victory not only on the field, but in life in general.”
Delgado — a short, stout man sporting a goatee — also had a lot to prove going into Friday’s game at Boulder City. Although he has coached youth football since 2002, Delgado has only coached at the high school level for just over a year. Rival schools scoffed at Mojave’s choice for a head coach, three of them scheduling Mojave for their homecoming games.
“They see Mojave on their schedule and they’re like, ‘Let’s pencil them in for our homecoming as a sure win,’” Delgado said. “That’s what we’re trying to change. We don’t want to be the lay-down school anymore. We don’t want to be the automatic win. We want to go out there and give everyone a run for their money.”
What Delgado lacks in coaching experience, he makes up for in enthusiasm and commitment. Over the summer, the team held grueling early morning practices, and many team members shelled out $300 to attend the first weeklong Dixie football camp in several years. About a quarter of the team went to summer school to earn eligibility to play this season.
The school, under new Principal Antonio Rael, also stepped up. Mojave provided new uniforms and reupholstered the tattered weight benches over the summer. Top administrators are mandated to attend all home games to monitor the stands for safety and cheer the team on.
It was all done to create a family atmosphere, within the team and around school. While boosting test scores figures prominently in Mojave’s turnaround efforts, student achievement is more than just academics, Rael said. It’s about building character through extracurricular activities like football and rebuilding a sense of school spirit.
“We want to build a successful team that sets the tone for the entire school,” Rael said. “Success breeds success on the field and in the classroom.”
One win isn’t a panacea for all of Mojave’s challenges. It’s not a harbinger for academic success or even an omen for more wins this season. But it’s a start toward changing the negative perceptions of Mojave, Rael said.
The 34-year-old former Arena Football League athlete knows a bit about building up a sports team. Rael has attended all of Mojave’s varsity football games, as well as those of other sports teams. But he’s not the kind of principal who can go through a game sitting in the stands.
Rael assumes the role of a pseudo-coach. He paces the sidelines, yelling at referees when they make a bad call and encouraging players by shaking their hands and screaming out pointers.
“You gotta beat them to the corner,” he yells across the field to a running back. “Let’s suck it up. Let’s do this.”
Rael knew this game was going to be close. To win, the Rattlers had to beat not just the Eagles — an away game during Boulder City’s big homecoming weekend. Mojave had to learn to beat all the self-doubt it has built up over the years.
Before the team left for the game, Rael summoned the Rattlers for a pep talk. He shared with them a story about how elephants are trained in circuses.
When they are young, the elephants are shackled to a stake in the ground, Rael said. Even as they grow bigger and develop the power to easily pull the stake out of the ground, the elephants believe they cannot break their chains. They are conditioned to believe they will fail.
Rael gave his players green strings to tie around their wrists. It’s a reminder they are limited only by their mindset, he said. Trust yourself, he told them.
“I believe in you. You can win.”
Mojave High School is Rattler Nation, but really it’s home to underdogs.
Minutes from the Nellis Air Force Base the school is nestled near Commerce Street and West Ann Road, an area littered with foreclosed homes.
The school is attended by many students who are underprivileged or at-risk. After Mojave failed to meet No Child Left Behind standards it became one of five Clark County Schools determined to do a 180.
In order to make the turnaround a reality, Mojave has implemented new faculty, extended the school day by 20 minutes and is geared towards boosting school spirit.
“The problem we have right now is that our children aren’t proud of their own school,” Mojave principal Antonio Rael explained an August interview. “When our children begin to take pride in our school, our community will follow.”
- Year built:
- Rattle Snake
- Principal (Year Hired):
- Antonio Rael (2001)
- School motto:
- “Promoting Achievement, Creating Success”
- Mission Statement:
- “The Mission of the Mojave High School Community is to provide a safe learning environment that will empower students to develop excellence, pride, respect, and skills necessary for future success.”
- Approximately 2,000
- School Report Card:
Compiled by Gregan Wingert