With a stable of elusive returners and bruising running backs reminiscent of those from the powerhouse John Adams High School teams of yesteryear, the Spartans reclaimed the city championship on Sunday.
Senior running back Kevin Patterson scored four touchdowns and senior receiver Akeeme Chavis starred on special teams in the Spartans’ 58-42 victory over Wadleigh Secondary School, from Manhattan. The teams played for the city’s Cup Division title.
“We just went out there and pushed and pushed and pushed and we just played Adams football,” said Assistant Coach Randy Holtzer. “We were motivated to give it our 110 percent. I’m just so proud of all of these guys.”
The taste of victory is not new to Holtzer. A 1969 John Adams High School graduate, he played halfback and linebacker on teams ranked tops in the city. Three of the Ozone Park team’s other coaches are John Adams alumni and the school produced three city titles in the 1980s.
But in recent years, the team has slumped. They went 0-9 last season and 1-8 the previous year.
“It was hard. Everyone just wanted to work harder, and it paid off,” said Ariel Medrano, a 17-year-old senior from Richmond Hill, who played on both losing teams. “I came back here for my senior year. I said that I couldn’t go out like that.”
Medrano and the other returning players from last year’s team joined this year’s fresh faces on Aug. 18 at their first practice together. As the team got into their routine of practicing six days a week, head coach Gerald Weitzen told them he saw the team going deep into the playoffs.
After beating Stuyvesant High School of Manhattan in the season’s opening game on Sept. 7, players started to believe him.
“Normally, we lose our first game, that would just drop us right down,” said James Suggs, a 15-year-old junior from South Ozone Park who played safety.
But Christopher Berrios, a junior, said that even if the team had lost its first game, he believed that they would have fought back this year.
“The guys matured,” said Berrios, 16. He explained that the group grew together through their disappointments from years past.
The team won their first seven games, beating Springfield Gardens High School and Franklin K. Lane High School, from Woodhaven, along the way. But on Oct. 27, they fell to Wadleigh Secondary School 24-20.
“We were confident. The coaches and myself. We thought that we’d beat them 40-0,” Holtzer said. They were well on their way, leading 20-0 at half time. “And then they came out and just drilled us. They drilled us and we didn’t expect it.”
The team suffered another setback two weeks later against Bryant High School, from Long Island City, at their homecoming game in front of hundreds of classmates, teachers, friends and family members.
Players say that the embarrassing 27-0 defeat motivated them to gut out a hard-fought 16-7 win over Bryant High School in a rematch the following week in the first round of the playoffs.
The undersized Spartans got a break playing the championship game the next week on the artificial turf field at Midwood High School in Brooklyn. “Our speed is better for that surface,” said Carlito Atkins, a sophomore cornerback.
This speed resulted in the team playing in games this season in which 77, 60 and 58 points were scored. But none of these were as wild as the game fans saw on Sunday. Adams and Wadleigh players scored on plays of 92, 60, 53 and 52 yards.
Chavis returned a punt for a touchdown on the first Spartan possession and returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to put his team out of reach.
“This is something that probably 1,500 guys from the city wanted to be in and we were able to get into that game,” Holtzer said. “We told them that this is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity, and they went out and did it.”
Others were just as proud of the group.
“I think that sports needs to teach kids how to behave, how to carry themselves,” said Grace Zwillenberg, the school’s principal. “They lost the last two seasons. That couldn’t have been easy for them. To come back this year, to win it like they did, I’m very proud of them.”