Cardinal Hayes High School football team defies odds to win 1st state championship

Sam Ryan Image
Thursday, December 7, 2023
Bronx high school football team makes history
Sam Ryan has the heartwarming story.

BRONX, New York (WABC) -- It was a Cinderella season for the Cardinal Hayes High School football team in the Bronx, that defied the odds to win a state championship.

Cardinal Hayes had one win in its inaugural football season in 1942. Now 81 years later, they are the talk of the town, capturing their first state title with Saturday's win over St. Francis.

The Cardinals had just two wins all of last season. The turnaround was worthy of a school-wide celebration on Thursday.

The auditorium was packed in Cardinal red and gold. The entire student body and staff were in attendance to celebrate the New York State champs, a first for a New York City school. The cardinals received their state medals Thursday.

"I'm thankful for all the faculty and staff and administration that put this together because this is what all my teammates and coaches deserve to have the entire student body come and celebrate what we did," said junior Rich Bellin.

They can add that to the shiny new hardware on full display in the school's main hallway.

"It's a great feeling. I actually walk in and stop and look at it for a second," senior Ray Boyd said. "I really accomplished that on my team."

You may have heard about the adversity that this team has overcome.

No lights and poor field conditions forced the Cardinals to play all of their home games on the road. This senior class is also the class that embarked on their high school journey in 2020, the COVID year. The fall games moved to spring, and that schedule was limited to four games

"They were our smallest class in the history of the school. We have a very small number of seniors," Cardinal Hayes Principal William Lessa said.

"The statement that inner-city kids were affected by the pandemic is so true," Cardinal Hayes coach C.J. O'Neill said. "To watch them come storming back is just amazing."

The celebrations don't end there. Coach O'Neill had the exciting task of awarding the school a day off for winning their super bowl, the Monday following the NFL Super Bowl.


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