The Mendota High football team will be in the national spotlight this weekend with features airing on ESPN's "Outside the Lines," "SportsCenter" and the Spanish-language ESPN Deportes. The reports are the result of the work by crews from the sports cable channel that visited Mendota repeatedly between July 1 and Dec. 8.
Scott Harves, who produced the reports, became aware of Mendota and its successful football program while researching poverty statistics for another story. The more research he did, the more he realized the potential power of the story.
"I became shocked and curious about the city. Then when I saw they had won the championship a second time, I wondered just how they were doing it," Harves said. "We are always looking to tell life stories through sports. I know in your area that what's going on in Mendota isn't unique, but I think some people would be shocked to know this situation exists."
The features focus on how the city -- where the unemployment rate is almost 38% and poverty is so high that 94% of the students qualify for the free/reduced lunch program -- has produced powerhouse prep football teams. In 2013, after two Central Section Division VI championships, Mendota moved up to D-V to compete against larger schools. The West Sierra League champion Aztecs eventually lost in the D-V title game.
This success has come despite many of the players working long hours in the fields to help support their immigrant families.
The chief motivation for this success is coach Beto Mejia and star running back Edgar Segura, The Bee's Player of the Year last season and the most prolific running back in the section's 121-year history. Mejia was The Bee's Coach of the Year in 2012.
An expanded one-hour "SC Featured" special -- which includes an extended interview with Mejia -- is set for 8 a.m. Sunday on ESPN2. The coach visited ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., during a snowstorm to talk with "SportsCenter" anchor Lindsay Czarniak.
In the one-hour interview, Mejia says, "Half these kids probably come from (single-parent) homes. They all learned how to survive at a young age because of the hardships they've endured. We might be closer to 70% of kids who have to work, to help out their families."
ESPN crews visited the high school over a six-month period, going with football players as they worked in temperatures of more than 110 degrees, trained in the weight room and attended evening practices. ESPN staffers also were present for seven games this past fall, including the season finale and they were invited into the homes of coaches, players for interviews and they also interviewed Bee preps reporter Andy Boogaard.
The "SC Featured Mendota" story debuts at 6 a.m. Sunday on "Outside the Lines" and will air on "SportsCenter" at 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. that same day. A Spanish-language version will be broadcast at 6 p.m. Sunday on ESPN Deportes and a digital version of the story, with video, will be available on ESPN.com.