There are signs of hope for ALHS football

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 2, 2002

Coach Jeff Marty doesn’t much want to talk about it. Neither do his players. And you can’t blame them.

They weren’t around for most of it. And, as Marty is quick to point out, each season is a fresh start with a new group of athletes whose ability and potential is no reflection on previous teams.

But others are talking, and some of the talk has gotten out of hand.

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At Austin, word was that if their Packers beat the Albert Lea High School football team, an ESPN crew would be dispatched to Albert Lea for a story. Wrong.

The Tigers’ current 38-game losing streak is nowhere near the point of garnering national attention. But it is much longer than Marty or anyone else associated with the program would like.

&uot;Of course, we would like to see it end,&uot; said Marty. &uot;But it has no bearing on what I think these kids can do, have done, or will do.&uot;

The last time the Tigers won a football game was Oct. 16, 1998, when they defeated Rochester Century 7-6. They lost 41-0 to Rochester John Marshall in the final game of the regular season, fell 16-13 to Faribault in the playoffs and have since endured four consecutive 0-9 seasons. Steve Cunningham resigned as head coach after the 2000 season. Marty has been head coach the last two years, after serving as defensive coordinator for a highly successful Detroit Lakes program.

Marty is hopeful, and there are signs the Tigers’ program is headed in the right direction.

This year’s B-squad and ninth-grade teams both finished 3-5 and, according to Marty, were extremely competitive even in the losses.

&uot;I think, realistically, there could have been 10 or 11 wins between those two squads,&uot; said Marty. &uot;There was only one game they weren’t in.&uot;

That’s a definite improvement from 2001, when the squads combined for one win, and an even bigger jump from the previous year when both were winless. This year’s seniors did not win a game from seventh grade through varsity, and Marty said that mind set probably contributed to the Tigers’ troubles this year.

Albert Lea native Tom Jones has witnessed all of the Tigers’ streak as a color commentator on local radio broadcasts and has seen many junior high games as a referee. He strongly feels the streak will soon be a thing of the past.

&uot;The effect of having the youth tackle fifth and sixth-grade program shows in the success of the B-squad and ninth-grade teams,&uot; said Jones. &uot;From refereeing junior high football, it’s shown me Albert Lea players are much more physical than in the past, and much more knowledgeable of the game. It’s an age old saying, but it may be true in this case, we’ve got some talent coming up.&uot;

The Tigers’ skid is not the first and far from the longest for an area team. Glenville-Emmons snapped a 20-plus-game slide 10 years ago and, in the mid ’90s, Alden-Conger had about a 30-game skid. A couple years later Alden-Conger was playing in the state semifinals in the Metrodome.

The longest losing streak in the area ended about 20 years ago, long before Glenville and Emmons paired. The Glenville Trojans drew nation-wide media attention by approaching the national record of 67 consecutive losses.

A Sports Illustrated writer spent several days in Glenville, and all the Twin Cities television stations were at Ellendale on the night the Trojans’ streak was expected to reach 67, but they pulled out a victory.

Craig Rayman, a Glenville native and Glenville-Emmons teacher and coach, remembers it well.

&uot;Nobody wanted to lose to Glenville,&uot; said Rayman. &uot;Teams played harder, so they didn’t. I hope it doesn’t get to that point in Albert Lea.&uot;

Marty, for one, will do his best to make sure it doesn’t.

&uot;We’re really not going to dwell on it,&uot; he said. &uot;We’ll just try to separate our kids from it, help them realize that it’s not their streak. To me, it has no bearing at all on what we’re trying to teach these kids. Each year is a new team, with a chance to win all or none of their games.&uot;