The death watch is over.
Someone finally pulled the plug on the high-school football program at Joy Christian School that has been on life support since the end of the 2015 season, when the head coach walked out the door after winning a state title.
This was a mercy killing. It just wasn’t fair to the players the last couple of years to put them through the humiliation of loss after lopsided loss, without the slimmest hope of putting together a winning season.
What makes this sad story so hard to accept is that Joy Christian went undefeated in 2015 and won the Division V state championship. That was the final year under head coach Brian Cole, who left the following spring. And Cole’s departure was followed by a mass exodus of parents who were sympathetic to the unhappy coach, who had expressed his disagreement with the school’s changing approach to athletics.
The next year, 16 players showed up to begin preparations for the 2016 season. Not even enough to scrimmage.
Cole, who was also the athletic director, had been the driving force for the football program during his five years at the tiny school in far north Glendale. And he was well into the process of building Joy Christian into a small-school dynasty.
Cole won a 5A state championship with North Canyon High School in 2005, when that team went undefeated. Then he took over at Joy Christian and won five section championships in five years, made three appearances in the state title game, and won two of those. He compiled a 53-6 record at Joy, winning one of his state titles when the school was still playing 8-man football, and then another when they moved to 11-man.
During Cole’s last season at the helm, Joy destroyed the competition, outscoring their opponents, 738-177.
The only thing that stopped that runaway train was a change in leadership at the school – actually, a constant change in leadership. When he unexpectedly resigned in May of 2016, after taking the team through spring practice, the school was on its fifth director in six years. Cole said at the time that he “didn’t agree with the school’s vision toward athletics moving forward.”
So Cole stepped away from the game, not knowing whether he was going to get back into coaching right away. He had two sons he had to focus on, both still working their way through high school, and needed to find a new school for them.
He was immediately snatched up by Phoenix Christian, where he installed a system and philosophy that has carried him through success at three different schools. The Cougars finished the 2017 season 12-1.
Micah Johnson took over the football program at Joy Christian when Cole left, shepherding a rag-tag outfit through an 0-8 season in 2016, unable to score more than 14 points in any one game.
The school’s athletic director, Patrick Blakesley, took over the program last season and managed to win a game – but just one. But that team faced the same hurdles that Johnson struggled with, primarily a lack of talent and not enough players. Opponents outscored the hapless Eagles, 484-76.
That season concluded with six games in which Joy’s opponents put up at least 50 points in each outing, while Joy managed to collect just 19 total points for all six games combined.
At that point, the writing was on the wall. It was time to consider folding the tents.
It’s always hard to accept when an entire program is eliminated. But sometimes it’s the only option left.
That appears to be the case at Joy Christian.