Last week, the Canyon High football team, along with family and friends, gathered for its yearly after-the-season banquet--a comprehensive, one-more-time review of the Cowboys' season. It lasted four hours.
There was sportscaster Ted Dawson, a guest speaker, telling the Cowboys to believe in themselves and to apply themselves to life the way they did on the football field.
There was a rousing slide show--set to music, including "A View to a Kill"--featuring a game-by-game look at the Cowboys' 14-0 season.
And then there was Coach Harry Welch. He looked out over the crowd, all choked up, and told them that Cowboy football has prospered, that interest in the program has spread throughout Southern California, around the state, and even around the country. In fact, the coach said, he had friends in Singapore who kept track of the Cowboys. Today Canyon Country, tomorrow the world.
Applause all around.
Certainly, these are good times for Canyon football. Since taking over as coach after the 1981 season, Welch has led his teams to four Golden League titles, three Southern Section Northwestern Conference championships, and the coach is now riding the momentum of a 38-game win streak. He hasn't lost since early in the 1983 season.
All of which has made Welch something of a celebrity around Canyon. It's getting to the point where people are beginning to like him.
In the past, Welch has often found himself in the middle of controversy. Even now, the coach says, "I'm a pain to them." Them being the Canyon High administration.
"For example," Welch says, "it upsets me that my assistants and I have worked 14 additional weeks, over threee seasons, after our contracts were up because of the playoffs. A lot of schools add money to contracts, but we've never received a penny.
"I think it's insulting. I've approached the superintendent--they all just presume we'll be there. Even if they paid each coach $50 a week, but nothing for 14 weeks? It's a source of irritation. It could break me from football."
It is indeed doubtful that the irritation will actually break Welch from football. He's been insulted and bothered before, only to come back more interested than ever.
In 1972, when he first applied for the coaching job at Canyon, Welch had just led the sophomore team to a 9-1 record. Welch said then-Principal Don Jerry ripped up his application, and told him that he would never coach at the school as long as Jerry was principal.
Says Jerry, now an administrative assistant to the superintendent of the William S. Hart School District: "I don't remember ripping up the application. I might have said that though. . . . He was enthusiastic. But the problem was that in his enthusiasm for getting things done his way, he got carried away and didn't follow proper procedures."
There was, for instance, a little squabble when Welch, a sponsor of the school's ski club, not only wanted to use a school bus to take ski club members to Mammoth--a move Jerry said was impermissible--but he wanted to leave school early to do it.
When Jerry told him, "No," Welch went to the superintendent to force the issue. That hardly went over big with his boss.
Welch says that the administration was going to transfer him in 1973 because "in their eyes there had been too much turmoil that I had been linked with."
But, with rumors flying around the school about the transfer, some students boycotted classes. "I went to class one day and nobody was there," he says.
He remained at Canyon.
When the coaching position opened again in '73, Welch applied and was rejected again. While continuing to teach at Canyon, he went to Crespi as an assistant coach, then to Valley College as an assistant in '74. He applied again at Canyon in '75 and '79, but was unwanted.
"I admired him for his persistence," Jerry says.
Meanwhile, Welch continued to stir up controversy off the football field. Welch, a math and English teacher, taught a Bible literature class.
As it turned out, some people in the community didn't approve of his ideas. Says Welch: "I would question some traditional ideas about the Bible just to get the kids thinking.
"Members of one church actually burned me in effigy outside their church because I was teaching the class. They said, 'The devil is teaching at Canyon.' "
After coaching the sophomore team to a 10-0 record in 1980, Welch was finally given the head position following the 1981 season. Interestingly enough, by Jerry himself.
"He was ready," Jerry said. "It was like he was destined to be the coach."
In a way, it seems so. From the time Canyon opened, in 1970, the football team had a record of 51-60-2. Since Welch took the job, the Cowboys are 49-5, including the current win streak.
That raises a question of time. What's left for Welch to accomplish at Canyon?
"Each time he has a different group of players," says wife, Cindy. "If he can help them reach their potential, that's exciting to him."
But wouldn't coaching at the college level be more exciting?