Flagstaff, AZ –
Last Friday night in Flagstaff, the El Capitan varsity team is getting pumped up for its regional quarterfinal against Joseph City.
The game begins, and El Capitan races out to a quick lead. They play stifling defense and fly up and down the court, getting some easy baskets in transition.
That crowd support is a lot different from what the players often heard just a couple years ago, when opponents' fans would taunt them.
"Mostly the insults I've heard are "plygs," just because we're from Colorado City, it brings a lot of criticism."
That's Roland Hammond, a senior guard for El Capitan. "Plygs" is short for polygamists. Colorado City is home to the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It's leader, Warren Jeffs, is awaiting trial in Texas on charges of sexual assault and bigamy.
Hammon says a couple of his teammates are from polygamist families. But he says growing up with it, it's not a big deal.
"We're just a group, and people give us a hard time, and all right, whatever, then we go kick their butts on the court, then what can they say."
They haven't said much this year. El Capitan went undefeated playing against small schools from around northern Arizona, dominating teams by scores like 85 to 6.
The school has faced a lot more trouble off the court. The district was under the financial control of Arizona for several years. When the basketball program was first started, the school could only afford four or five games a year. They play home games in their cafeteria. And head coach Aaron LaCorti says the players have to cover a lot of their own expenses.
"They pay for their meals on trips, their jersey rentals," he says. "They've got to buy their insurance."
To come to Flagstaff, they held car washes and bake sales to pay for their hotel rooms. At halftime of their game against Joseph City, student body advisor Cynthia Wayman says that commitment has played a big part in their success.
"The reason these kids are so tenacious, such go-getters," she says, "is because they've had to work doubly hard, triply hard, than other kids who walk into a school with a sports program in place. Total support from the community. And these kids have had to make it."
At the regionals in Flagstaff, El Capitan thumped Joseph City by nearly 30 points. And that was with their best player, Matthew Blackmore, on the bench for much of the game with foul trouble.
At the state tournament this weekend the Eagles are one of four top seeded teams from around the state. Coach Aaron LaCorti likes their chances.
"We're pretty confident, we're cautious for sure, we know there's tough teams, but you gotta have confidence if you want to win "
El Capitan's success is already the most positive story to come out of Colorado City in a long time. If they bring a championship home, it will be the perfect ending to a storybook season.