OAKLAND, Calif. - McClymonds High School, a tiny school set in West Oakland where many of the football players couldn’t afford to buy a championship ring last year, is arguably the Bay Area’s most formidable football powerhouse.
“Mack,” as it is nicknamed with about 370 students, is about to send its football team – for the fourth time – to the state championships.
On Thursday, the Warriors players and coaches will board a bus heading for Southern California where they will play in the California Interscholastic Federation Division 2-A Championship, known as the CIF.
The road trip comes after Mack's big win on Saturday against the Manteca High Buffaloes 46-13. The Bay Area is sending other teams to the CIF conference, too, from De La Sale High in Concord in the open division to Serra High in San Mateo in Division 1-A.
"Knowing how much adversity we have going on. We're just trying to do something positive and have a good look on our community," said senior linebacker, Semaj Sims, about an hour before the book took off.
The championship game is even more meaningful to McClymonds High this year, as players want to dedicate a win to one of their own: Mack graduate and football star, Ramone Sanders, 19, who died last month after a yearlong battle with cancer.
In fact, before Mack beat Manteca on Saturday, many of the players had attended a celebration of life for Sanders. Senior linebacker, Semaj had been a pallbearer earlier that day.
“We dedicated this game to him, we’re going to dedicate the next game to him,” Semaj said after the win. “This is what he came out here to do, so we’re going to finish it for him. If he was still here, he would have been right there on the sideline, too.”
Semaj is the only player on the team to make it to his fourth straight championship game, as he played on varsity as a freshman.
After the game, Semaj shared the win and the trophy with Sanders’ parents.
Head Coach Michael Peters, who has been coaching for nearly 30 years, couldn’t be more proud of his team and his community. Peters' son, Marcus Peters, was also a Mack graduate, who played in last year's Super Bowl for the Rams and now plays for the Baltimore Ravens.
“It’s great for us. I mean, we’re actually putting our city on the map, putting our school on the map,” Peters said. “That just tells you our preparation has been pretty good for the last four years.”
That said, Peters did admit he was on pins and needles. "Yup, I'm nervous," he said. "Every year, I'm nervous."
The team is a shining star at a campus where many struggle socioeconomically and academically. Last year, state data showed 88 % of the school’s population were eligible for free and reduced lunches and more than half the students didn’t meet or nearly met math and English achievement levels. Last year, there was a fundraising campaign to buy each of the players a $400 championship ring.
"We know we're not a wealthy school," Peters said. "That makes it better because we have to fight harder."
For the past three years, McClymonds was in CIF Divisions 4 and 5. This year, the Warriors moved up to Division 2, which means the competition has gotten progressively tougher each year. The 11-0 McClymonds Warriors will take on the 14-1 Pacifica High School (Oxnard) Tritons on Saturday at noon at Cerritos College near Los Angeles.
Linebacker Semaj Sims with the parents of Ramone Sanders. Dec. 7, 2019