There are nights, as he patrols downtown, that officer Lee Mayweather will stop along Chestnut Street and gaze up the hill where AT&T Field sits. Closing his eyes briefly, Mayweather can picture the black track that encircled the football field where Kirkman High School once played and remember the three years he spent playing on Hawk Hill.
It's been 19 years since the Golden Hawks' final game, and the school closed its doors for good in the spring of 1991. A tiny roster caused the football program to struggle for the last decade of its existence, and the Golden Hawks are most remembered for a 51-game losing streak, which led the nation at the time.
Mayweather was a junior two-way lineman when Kirkman snapped that losing streak 22 years ago today with a 12-8 season-finale win at Taft Youth Center.
It had been nearly six full seasons since the program had won, and during that time Kirkman had scored one touchdown or none in 45 of the 51 losses, including 22 shutouts. The Hawks hadn't been closer than nine points to any opponent during the streak.
"The losing part wasn't fun, but we understood there were a lot of things working against us," Officer Mayweather said. "You looked at the faces of the other players, and you wanted to win for each other. You also didn't want the coaches to think they were wasting their time with us.
"To look up at the scoreboard that night and finally see our team with a win was a huge relief for all of us. When I see those guys I played with now, we laugh and joke and tell stories about games we played, just like any old athlete. We don't talk about the losses or the streak, just the fun we had at practice or a big run or tackle we made."
After Taft scored on the first play from scrimmage, Kirkman's defense, coached by Wayne Turner, was the difference in preserving the win. Kirkman scored one touchdown in the second quarter, another in the third to take the lead and then intercepted two passes in the second half and stopped Taft inside its 5-yard line twice in the fourth quarter for the win.
Turner was an assistant at Kirkman from 1975 to '88, then took over as the Golden Hawks' head coach for the final two years of the program. After the school closed, Turner took over at Tyner and has turned the Rams into the city's most consistently successful program, earning 17 straight playoff appearances and becoming the first Hamilton County public school to win a state title in 1997.
"I like winning as much as anybody, but I had just as much fun working with those kids as I have at Tyner," Turner said. "At Kirkman, the kids put so much into it and you felt bad for them. We'd play well for a half, but we had so few numbers we'd wear down and lose it in the second half.
"I have nothing but great memories of my time coaching there, and I'll tell you this, it makes you appreciate winning a whole lot more."
The year after breaking the streak, Kirkman won two games, consecutively. In the final season of the program, the Hawks won three games, the most in nine years, including the final game ever.
"That team taught me to be the person I am today," Officer Mayweather said. "Any time I've had an obstacle in my life, I look back on the lessons I learned playing football at Kirkman. I think if we could persevere and overcome to end that streak, anything is possible.
"Being a part of that program, with those people, is something I wouldn't trade for anything. I still talk about Kirkman football."
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has been with the Times Free Press since its inception and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...