“Every game we dedicated to the late Coach Brown. In that last game when we knew we’d be champions, I switched places with our guard. I tackled a player who had on a face mask, which was rare. I found out two days later I broke my hand.”
Enrico Benaglio, Fullback
“Most of us were 5-7 like me. But I was built like a pig—fast and quick. I couldn’t be brought down and I could move anyone including players who weighed 325 pounds.” Fritz Larson, Guard
“There was no type of grass in town. We had to fight the gravel. When we played for the championship, Flagstaff refused to play the game on our field. So we had to go to Clarkdale field and play on grass. We beat them anyway. They had gold chains waiting for them made by a local jeweler up in Flag that said: Northern Champs 1950. They had to give the chains to us instead.” Richard Quesada, HalfbackMuckers is a work of fiction, but the spirit of the novel is inspired by the true story of the 1950 Jerome High School football team. Jerome, Arizona, is one of the most popular tourist destinations due to its mining past and steep incline, but in 1950, the high school football team accomplished the impossible.
They were a ragtag team of players with a mountain of odds against them: the smallest team in Arizona in a mining town set to shutter, a football field made of slag instead of grass, and a coach suffering from injuries endured in World War II.
Considered an integrated team in 1950 Arizona, the Muckers often played schools that were all-black or non-Hispanic white, but not Mexican and "Anglo" like they were. Not only did the Muckers win the Northern Arizona Conference title, they went undefeated, trouncing teams from cities like Phoenix and Flagstaff, who were much larger. The remarkable feat earned them bragging rights for the mythical state championship. (Playoffs didn’t occur until 1959.)
Seven months later, the school closed and the mines soon after, making Jerome a ghost town. Many Muckers players went overseas to fight in the Korean War and the team championship was forgotten. The feat would have remained buried if I hadn’t discovered a box of letters at the town’s history society left by Jerome High’s principal. Through these letters, which spanned two wars, and researching newspapers, I realized this was more than a football story--it was an epic tale of segregation, war, and poverty.
Prejudice, under the guise of the Communist red scare, had seeped into every part of American society. Like African Americans, Mexican-Americans in Phoenix and other areas of Arizona were voted out of attending schools with non-Hispanic whites.
In Jerome, everyone went to the same schools. They were united on the field too, but divided in their community, with distinct locations along the mountain according to nationality and race. The swimming pool, known as the American pool, had separate swim times for Mexican-Americans.
The Muckers players overcame these tremendous obstacles to work together and win. I wanted to give them the state championship game they never had, so I created an actual game in my novel--North vs. South--played by individuals with family situations that are entirely the product of my imagination, but interwoven with the courage the players displayed and the dignity they refused to have taken away.