Community rallies behind Wellton (Arizona) Antelope to send them to Alaska for football opener

Photo: Antelope coach Gary Mauldin

In a town of about 3,000, in the southwest corner of Arizona, Wellton Antelope High School’s football team once had a road trip 290 miles away to Tombstone.

But thanks to a community raising $12,000, they’ll be traveling 3,100 miles to Alaska on Aug. 22 to open the season two days later at Juneau-Douglas/Thunder Mountain.

Coach Gary Mauldin said that Juneau gave his team $10,000 for traveling expenses.

Finding  that the plane tickets had increased in price, Antelope had to come up with more money.

The community rallied to raise about $12,000, Mauldin said, through donations, car washes, barbecues, fund raisers. Cocopah Casino and Resort gave the Antelope football team a $1,000 check.

Mauldin said that 25 players are going on the trip, along with managers, film crew and cheer squads, and some parents.

“The community and city of Yuma, they’ve been great,” said Mauldin, who is entering his seventh year as head coach. “Ranchers have been supportive.

“We were able to buy new jerseys. Our away jerseys were bad and that was something we needed in the past. It’s amazing. Money still is coming in.”

Last year, Laveen Cesar Chavez went to Alaska to open its season and beat Anchorage East 40-14.

This is only the second year Juneau-Douglas/Thunder Mountain is playing varsity football after going 0-8 and being outscored 317-49 last year.

This is a chance in a lifetime for Antelope, which has about 225 students, one of the smallest 2A schools in Arizona.

“A lot of our players tells us we went to Tombstone one year for football and  that was a big trip,” Mauldin said. “Some of them have never been outside of the area.”

Last year, Antelope went 8-3 and returns an experienced group that should be even better.

The Rams opened against Laveen Heritage Academy last season, only because Glendale Joy Christian shut down its football program, leaving Antelope without a game in Week 1.

Antelope was supposed to scrimmage Heritage, but was able to get Heritage to make that Antelope’s Week 1 game.

With Heritage not able to play Antelope this year, the Rams advertised for a game.

Initially, Permian, the school in Odessa, Texas, made famous in the book and movie Friday Night Lights, stepped up and offered $3,000 to get the Rams to El Paso. Buckeye experienced  Texas high  school football last year and lost at Odessa 63-7. Odessa, a month later, lost to Permian 42-10.

“I asked (Buckeye coach) Kelley (Moore) about it, and he said, ‘It’s a great thing, but you’re going to get your butt kicked,’ ” Mauldin said. “I didn’t want that for the first game. Then Juneau came in.”

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