Until Saturday morning, I hadn’t watched a second of South Oak Cliff football. I can identify only a handful of their players—mostly Corinthian Coleman, who has an A+ name—and I couldn’t tell you what their uniforms look like on days when they aren’t dressed in the “icy white” they wore Saturday. Head coach? Newly acquainted. Big-time recruits? BRB, checking 247Sports.
I am mostly a blank slate when it comes to the Golden Bears—learned the mascot over the weekend, too—which owes itself to nothing whatsoever other than we live in a city blessed with far too much sports for one person to consume, even for me, whom this magazine pays to be a sports degenerate.
Here’s what I do know: South Oak Cliff is the sports story of the year in Dallas, and they would have claim to that distinction even had they not won DISD’s first recognized state championship since 1958 and first UIL state championship since 1950.
I latched onto SOC’s story for the same reason tens of thousands filled the Death Star Saturday and thousands more watched at home on television. SOC is the archetypal underdog story turned up to 11, a team that withstood and transcended conditions they never should have had to endure. It is a safe bet that the majority of teams that won state championships this year have their own practice field. At the very least, their students attend classes in buildings that don’t perpetually spring leaks. SOC spent two years without a practice field, forced to bus students to other fields around town to squeeze sessions in, and they still don’t have a watertight building six years after the student body staged a walkout following too many days of classes with buckets and trash cans set up to catch dripping water.
Life isn’t fair, and football damn sure isn’t, either. Some people get more than they deserve; others, far less. Those in the latter camp too often come from resource-scarce neighborhoods like South Oak Cliff for reasons that have little to do with individuals and everything to do with entrenched, inequitable systems. Even if they’d lost, Jason Todd and his Golden Bears transcended circumstances and boundaries that were set up to hold them back.
But they won, and they won with a group of kids who carry a team GPA over 3.0. And so it was impossible not to relish the moment as Todd, the first Black head coach to lead a Dallas-area team to a state title since 1990, held up his lucky blow pop and shouted out the name Freddie James, head coach of the 1988 Carter team that had won the state title, only to have it stripped away in a protracted legal battle over whether they’d fielded an ineligible player (watch this if you haven’t already). It was impossible not to feel happy for the players in those icy white hoodies sobbing tears of joy, holding up mocked-up newspaper headlines of their triumphs, gold medals draped around their necks or clenched between teeth. This was a city pulling behind a team that, as running back Qualon Farrar put it after the game, “came from dark days and hard times, and we hit the top.”
Saturday also sent a message, one that Greg Tepper, managing editor of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football, articulated beautifully on the postgame broadcast:
“This is a win for South Oak Cliff, and this is a win for Dallas ISD. It’s also a win for every inner-city program and every program that was told, ‘You don’t live in the right part of town. You don’t have the right kind of kids. Your kids aren’t coachable. Your kids aren’t disciplined. Your kids can’t win at the highest level.’ South Oak Cliff kicked in the door for every inner-city program in the state of Texas.”
Everything about it felt good and will feel doubly so during the team’s victory parade today. For many, that’s where this story ends. Yet those of us late to the party shouldn’t treat this as an offramp for our newfound awareness of who the Golden Bears are and why their narrative is so intoxicating. They were underdogs because we, as a city, forced them into that role. We did that through decades of disinvestment and redlining. Dallas created SOC, and now it’s on Dallas to work toward a more equitable future for its state champions.
On Saturday, South Oak Cliff earned the right to be called the very best in Texas. That is worth celebrating. No sports story in town is more delightful. But while the Golden Bears have won, Dallas has a long way to go.