Tuesday, April 26, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
One of the Mojave High football team’s top players arrived late for practice a few years back in arguably the biggest week of preparation in program history.
The North Las Vegas school was one win away from qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade of existence and the player’s tardiness would have resulted in a suspension from the team at most schools.
The player quickly rushed over to Rattlers coach Tyrone Armstrong to apologize, reminding the coach he was at a tutoring session for the upcoming proficiency exams.
Armstrong broke into one of his famous speeches, like a pastor speaking from the pulpit. Armstrong’s messages are charismatically delivered and thought out. And, when it comes to education, the coach never hesitates speaking his mind on the importance of hitting the books — even if that meant losing on Friday nights.
Armstrong said Monday he won’t be back on the sidelines next fall after nine years at the school, becoming a casualty in a Clark County School District reorganization plan aimed at securing a federal grant to improve five low-performing schools. Under grant rules, a maximum of 50 percent of teachers can be hired back at the five schools — including high schools Chaparral, Mojave and Western.
For coaches, not being retained in the classroom means losing your job on the athletic field.
“I want you to be the best athlete you can be, but academics mean so much more,” said Armstrong, a U.S. government teacher. “Sometimes we did sacrifice wins. We sacrificed to increase their quality of life and ability to go on after high school. We raised the standard for them and pushed them harder. The kids won’t remember how many games we won, lost or tied. They’ll remember how we prepared them for a better quality of life.”
The reorganization gets worse for Armstrong. His adopted son, Chaparral football coach Donnie Davis, also won’t be back after two years at the helm of his program.
“He is learning what this business is all about,” Armstrong said. “He is learning the world of high school athletics is different, especially in Nevada. Where I come from (the Midwest), the high school football coach is held in high regard. It’s a sacred position. There is more of a community feel and backing.”
Armstrong posted a 22-54 record in nine seasons, leading Mojave to the 2007 playoffs with an 8-3 record. It was his only winning season and the lone time the Rattlers made the postseason since the school opened in 1996.
Just don’t expect Armstrong to consider his tenure a losing effort. He proudly lists several former players who have graduated, or are on track to graduate, from college.
“It’s tough because I enjoyed teaching the kids I have had at Mojave,” Armstrong said. “They get a bad rap, but they are very intelligent. Making sure the players stayed on top of their books was very important to me.”
Former Mojave wide receiver Rashaun Greer, who was on the practice squad with the Chicago Bears last year and is in the Canadian Football League with British Columbia, credits the lessons taught by Armstrong for his success in college. Not only did Greer do enough at Colorado State to excel on the football field, he also earned a degree in sociology.
“He always demanded a lot from me regardless if I was tired or if I thought I was doing my best,” Greer said. “He was never satisfied. He got me out of my comfort zone in the classroom. He would always call on me or ask me to lead discussions.”
Greer was part of the NFL sponsored Play it Smart academic program Armstrong instituted at Mojave, with the coach learning the ins and outs of the program while representing Nevada at a coaching convention at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Ohio. Armstrong also hosted study hall classes, telling athletes they had to be in good standing in the classroom to be in uniform on game day.
“Everybody fed into it,” said Terrance Davis, a senior last fall and one of the team’s best players. “With him, it was always student first, then athlete. It’s real sad for everybody because he is such a good coach. He cared about all his players.”
One of the relationships Armstrong is most proud of is with Donnie Davis, who played football and track for Armstrong at Las Vegas High in the early 1990s. When Davis was having problems at home as a teenager, Armstrong and his wife opened their house.
“He basically took me in and made me a part of his family,” Donnie Davis said. “My biological parents weren’t there, so he took me in. He was my mentor and my coach. Ever since then, I call him ‘Dad’ just like we are blood.”
Like Armstrong’s program at Mojave, Davis struggled with participation numbers at Chaparral in only winning one game in two years. Davis, however, feels he’s aligned the program — one comprised of several underclassmen — to be successful in future seasons.
“Whoever the next coach is, the program will be better off than when I got came in and got it,” Davis said. “The players are battle-tested and stronger. Those kids are ready to do some great things.”
Teachers not retained by their current school will be assigned to other schools in the district. Ironically, Davis will teach physical education at Mojave, but said he won’t be involved in the football program. Western football coach Fernando Carmona will return.
But before Davis and Armstrong leave their current posts, both will continue to be dedicated to working with their athletes. Davis is a coach for the Chaparral track team and Armstrong has a weight-lifting class with several football players. The group took second this spring at a valley-wide competition, losing to perennial power Palo Verde.
“They’ve decided to go another direction, but I’m not turning my back to the kids,” Davis said. “Our main concern is for our kids. We are hoping whoever comes in and takes over continues to do what we have done and send them in the right direction.”
Armstrong, who has been coaching since 1978, plans to take a much-needed break next fall.
“I feel like Tom Landry when he left the Dallas Cowboys,” Armstrong joked. “There is a new sheriff in town, so I’m out.”
Chaparral High School has seen better days.
Once among the top performing schools in the Clark County School District, Chaparral High is undergoing changes to counter dismal test scores and the lowest graduation rate in the district.
The campus located near East Flamingo Road and U.S. 95 is one of five turnaround schools not meeting the expectations outlined in No Child Left Behind.
Chaparral is now looking to clean up its reputation, touching every aspect of the school from restrooms to test scores.
Changes weren’t received well by students who openly protested the cuts to faculty and the new order that banned the use of cell phones and music players during the school day.
Under stricter rules, tardy students are locked out of classrooms, bathroom breaks during class time aren’t allowed and the lunch hour was pushed back to 1:40 p.m.
Superintendent Dwight Jones told students he’s not settling for half successes.
“Right now, 50 percent of the kids in this school don’t graduate high school. Is that acceptable to you? Think about that. Right now, some of the friends that you’re with aren’t going to graduate. Is that OK? That’s unacceptable to me. I think you guys ought to kick all of us out.”
- Year built:
- Principal (Year Hired):
- David Wilson (2011)
- Approximately 2,250
- School Report Card:
Compiled by Gregan Wingert
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