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‘A victory for us’: South Oak Cliff residents revel in football team’s success as it heads to state

This story, originally published in The Dallas Morning News, is reprinted as part of a collaborative partnership between The Dallas Morning News and Texas Metro News. The partnership seeks to boost coverage of Dallas’ communities of color, particularly in southern Dallas.

By Sriya Reddy

Special Education teacher
Staci Holloway, a Special Education teacher at South Oak Cliff High School, signs a poster wishing the school’s football team luck in this weekend’s state championship game. South Oak Cliff will play Liberty Hill on Saturday for the state title.(Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

When South Oak Cliff High School’s Golden Bears take to the field Saturday to play for the Class 5A Division II football state championship, it will be the culmination of a storied season that may have come as a surprise to some.

But not to the community that has long supported the school.

Some in South Oak Cliff said they felt a change in the air back in spring. Others saw the puzzle pieces fall into place over time. But the one thing that the community agrees on is the team’s success reflects the neighborhood’s own revival.

South Oak Cliff principal Dr. Willie Johnson said that he’s proud of the students, but he always believed in what they could achieve.

“No one would think that our inner city school would be able to compete at this level because of some of the challenges. This is Dallas ISD – in the hood,” Johnson said. “But for us, this is expected. We expected to be here, and I said that at the beginning of the year to our coaches.”

South Oak Cliff is east of Interstate 35, and the school’s population is about 60% African American and 30% Hispanic. It’s in an area that has seen blight and neglect, but that also boasts strong community ties.

Johnson said that the team’s success builds on other successes at South Oak Cliff, like working to improve the academics or the creation of a new park a couple of yards away from the school that has become a community oasis.

“All these things are falling into place,” Johnson said. “All these things are happening. It’s much bigger than football.”

Dr. Willie Johnson
The team’s success is no surprise to South Oak Cliff High School Principal Dr. Willie Johnson. “No one would think that our inner city school would be able to compete at this level because of some of the challenges. This is Dallas ISD – in the hood,” Johnson said. “But for us, this is expected.”(Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

If South Oak Cliff defeats Liberty Hill to become state champions, the team will make history that transcends the neighborhood. It has been 63 years since a Dallas ISD football team won a state championship.

Cedrick Miles, co-owner of Fade Row, a neighborhood barbershop, said that he bought five sweatshirts to support his alma mater on Saturday. The 1998 graduate has been an avid supporter all year long and noticed the change in atmosphere at South Oak Cliff early on.

Cedrick Miles
Cedrick Miles, co-owner of Fade Row, wears a State Finals sweatshirt at his barbershop in Oak Cliff. Miles says he spent around $150 on state final apparel with South Oak Cliff’s logo on it. Miles has banners and shirts already ordered if South Oak Cliff High School wins the state title over Liberty Hill High School on Saturday. (Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

“I just went down to the school, and the environment, energy, the people around you – there’s just more pride,” Miles said.

Next door at Pan African Connection Bookstore Art Gallery and Resource Center, Akwete Tyehimba and her son Bambata Tyehimba have been cheering on the team all season. When Bambata brought the football team Chick-Fil-A in April, he said he already felt that something good was going to happen.

“I saw the energy that was flowing through the locker room all the way in the spring. So I could tell this was going to be a special season all the way in April.” Bambata said. “The guys got a great program, great coaches, great kids and I’m truly excited for them.”

Although he wasn’t a graduate of South Oak Cliff, he and his mother still feel like a part of the community.

“We want everybody to be a part of that energy,” Akwete said. With all the other stuff that’s going on. You know, you hear all these negative things, but we need victories and this is already a victory for us.”

Find more high school sports coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.

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