Ordinarily a high school football team meeting is about the last place you expect to hear the name Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Then again, the De La Salle High Spartans of Concord, Calif., are not your ordinary football team. So it was without a trace of condescension that De La Salle athletic director (and assistant football coach) Terry Eidson invoked the name of the early-20th-century French philosopher while addressing the Spartans before their Oct. 24 game against Liberty High of nearby Brentwood.
"Always remember that Teilhard de Char-din wrote that anything worth having in life is worth suffering for," Eidson advised the players arrayed before him in the school chapel. The players, obviously no strangers to the subject, articulated their agreement in language mercifully devoid of the "likes" and "you knows" we've come to expect from adolescents.
"Yes, it's the work that matters," responded Colin Ensley, a burly defensive lineman and tight end. "Winning is just a by-product of work. It is the journey that counts, not the destination."
"Right," chimed in linebacker Carson Brown. "We have an obsession here with going in the right direction. It is the pride we take in ourselves and our work that's important."
That said, these boy philosophers went out and clobbered poor Liberty 53-7. It was the Spartans' seventh straight lopsided win of the season and their 71st in a row over the past six seasons. On Oct. 31, De La Salle would beat Pittsburg High 55-7 for the win that tied the alltime high school record of 72 straight, set by Hudson (Mich.) High from 1968 to '75. And last Friday night the Spartans victimized College Park High of Pleasant Hill, Calif., 56-0, giving De La Salle the undisputed national record.
The Spartans haven't lost since Pittsburg edged them 35-27 in the California North Coast Section Class 3A championship game on Dec. 7, 1991, a date that will live in infamy. Before its current record-breaking string, De La Salle had winning streaks of 34 (1989-91) and 44 (1984-87). In 19 seasons at this Catholic boys' school in the heart of San Francisco Bay Area suburbia, coach Bob Ladouceur has lost exactly 14 games while winning 209 and tying one. In the '90s Ladouceur is a cool 98-1. His teams have won 12 North Coast Section championships, which is as high as they can go, since California has no state-championship games. And Ladouceur is working his way through his 11th undefeated season.
How can this be? De La Salle is in most respects a typical suburban high school. Granted, it is not coed, but a Catholic girls' high school, Carondelet, is just across the street, and the two institutions share many extracurricular activities and some upper-class courses. The De La Salle student body, football players included, is mostly white, mostly middle-class and not entirely Catholic (75% this year). A full 99% of last year's senior class went on to college. A year's tuition at De La Salle is a stiff $6,080, and 130 of the 896 students receive some form of financial aid. But such aid is based strictly on need. De La Salle offers neither academic nor athletic scholarships. And to make certain that no preference is given, the names of families applying for financial assistance are withheld from an independent financial-aid review board. Every prospective student must pass an entrance exam.
So, despite the wails of envious rivals, this is no football factory. Indeed, over these many winning seasons, relatively few Spartans have graduated to football fame in college or the pros. Three De La Salle alums play in the NFL: New Orleans placekicker Doug Brien, Green Bay guard Aaron Taylor and New York Giants receiver-kick returner Amani Toomer. Brien says he was the only player in his 1989 senior class to play Division I-A college football, "and I was a walk-on at Cal, proof enough that Coach Lad has a rare ability to take just pretty good players and make them into a great team." Taylor, who won the 1993 Lombardi Trophy as the outstanding collegiate lineman at Notre Dame, recalls that his 13-0 De La Salle team in 1990 was made up of "small white guys"—with the notable exception of Taylor, who is black and weighed 270 then. (He weighs 305 now.)
But De La Salle's beleaguered public school opponents have long complained that as a private school De La Salle is not hemmed in by the enrollment boundaries that apply to them and can therefore draw its talent from anywhere within a reasonable distance. And unlike the previous record holder, Hudson High, De La Salle is not situated in a small town but virtually at the center of a populous network of suburbs in the valley east of the Oakland-Berkeley hills.
There have also been persistent, if ill-founded, rumors that De La Salle recruits its athletes. Brother Robert J. Wickman, principal of the school, rejects the notion. "We do not recruit, period," says Wickman, who frequently lectures coaches, teachers, parents and alumni on the evils of such practices. Any violation of this edict by school employees, Wickman says, "is grounds for dismissal."