Phoenix- In 1951, three years before the Supreme Court banned segregation in public schools, in the tiny mining town of Miami in southeast Arizona, a sports legend was born.
That year, The Mighty Vandals went undefeated, broke nine national high school records and 18 state records and won the state championship. The team of mostly Mexican teens from the poor side of Miami, Arizona, were led by Coach Ernie Kivisto, a Midwestern transplant, who coached the team from 1947 until their championship win.
“I’m hardly a hard-core sports fan, but when I learned the Vandals were scoring more than 100 points a game and breaking national records left and right, the story sucked me in,” said playwright James Garcia. “I just as intrigued by learning where these kids came from, and the contrast between their celebrity on the court versus the challenges they faced off the court in the era of segregation.”
The Mighty Vandals, written by James E. Garcia, will be performed at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts, 8355 W. Peoria Avenue, October 4-6. Produced by New Carpa Theater Company and presented as part of the biennial CALA Alliance 2013 International Festival, the play tells the story of the Miami, Arizona community and its basketball team during that championship year. Garcia says he visited Miami and spoke to residents and former players from the team to create his script, which was first produced as a short one-act as part of the Herberger Lunch Time Theater program in 2009.
Garcia said he literally stumbled across this story a few years ago when he was invited by a friend from Miami, Roberto Reveles, who told him he needed to write a play about his home town, even though Reveles had no idea exactly what he wanted Garcia to write about.
“After touring the town with Roberto, we happened to stop in the local city library and that’s where I discovered the Miami High School Hall of Fame,” said Garcia. “As soon Roberto began talking about the ’51 Vandals, I told him, Roberto, this is the story.”
The show is directed by Janet Arnold, former producing director of the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company.
“I really enjoy working through the creative process with James,” states Arnold, who recently directed Garcia in his one-may play, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Culture Wars,* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) at the Herberger Theater. “The cast is terrific and they do a wonderful job bringing the story to life.”
Coach Kivisto is played by Richard Wales, who has appeared with Desert Foothills Theatre, Ghostlight Theatre and others in town. Sandra Foster Williams, who has been seen at Broadway Palm West, Phoenix Theatre and others, plays Jane Ann Kivisto, the coach’s wife. The Miami ball players include Larry Penunuri, Jr., Michael Bowler and Aaron Blanco. Billy Ramsey is Coach Flipper, from the rival George Washington High School team; and Dilcia Yanez Rokusek is the newspaper reporter. Other actors playing local townspeole include Arturo Martinez, Marcella Grassa, Kathryn James, Tom Rees and Janet Arnold.
Performances of The Mighty Vandals are Friday and Saturday, Oct. 4 and 5 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, October 6 at 2:00 pm. Tickets are $12-$16 and available at Theater Works box office at the Peoria Performing Arts Center, Theaterworks.org or 623-815-7030