"Tradition never graduates" is Bayard Rustin High School's football team's mantra – they proudly wear it on their navy and gold jerseys.
It rang true on Friday night when the team defeated cross-town rival West Chester East, 35-12.
The Golden Knights are a perennial powerhouse, and their rich tradition of winning can be attributed to Head Coach Mike St. Clair – the Philadelphia Eagles High School Coach of the Week, presented by Hyundai.
Bayard Rustin High School's football program's inaugural season took place in the fall of 2006, the same year the school itself was established. Due to West Chester's rapid growth, Rustin was constructed to meet the demand for a third public high school.
A new school meant a new competitor for West Chester Henderson and West Chester East – a rivalry that's grown into a yearly battle to be the best team in town.
St. Clair began his coaching career as an assistant at East in 1993, but when his two daughters were redistricted to be students in the new Rustin building, he was presented with the opportunity to teach social studies and assume the role of the team's very first head football coach.
In that very first season, Rustin had no upperclassmen. St. Clair started with a roster of mostly freshmen and sophomores; which posed a challenge on the gridiron but created a unique opportunity that allowed him to mold the program as he saw fit.
"I brought all the traditions that we had at West Chester East and integrated that with the mentality of Henderson, so it was a merging of the two schools. It just took off right away," said St. Clair.
"We didn't have any seniors the first year, so we were able to establish a culture and traditions right away that, I think, have helped keep us on the winning ways."
And those winning ways have been persistent. In the inaugural season, Rustin went 3-8, but they've only endured one season below .500 since then.
"Each year, we try to bring the kids in as ninth graders and instill in them what our program is all about: hard work, dedication, team. The seniors and the juniors try to be good role models and let them know what's expected of them, and it seems to have carried through throughout the years," said St. Clair.
The team's three goals each year are simple and clear; and almost always attainable for the program: win West Chester (beat Henderson and East), win the Ches-Mont league, and make it to the playoffs.
After Friday's win over West Chester East, St. Clair's squad is well on its way. The Golden Knights are slated for another winning season; the team is already 2-0.
This season marks his 17th at Rustin and 30th overall in a coaching role in West Chester. In his past 16 seasons at the helm of Rustin, St. Clair established a reputation of success within his program, building the team from the ground up, and transforming it into one of the area's fiercest competitors.
"I'm just really proud that we were able to come to a new school, establish a winning tradition, and just have great kids come through the system that have done outstanding things, in college and then into professional careers," said St. Clair.
Coach St. Clair will receive grant dollars for his football program, and he is one of the finalists who will have the chance to represent the Eagles for the honored Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year Award.