When Cross Keys’ football team started speaking in Spanish before some offensive snaps a few years ago, one referee thought the players were cursing.
“We had a game where the official warned us about the language,” Cross Keys coach David Radford said. “I asked ‘What did they say?’ And when he told me, I was like ‘No, they are speaking Spanish. We do our cadence in Spanish.’”
Surprised by the revelation, the ref listened closely over the next few plays. Sure enough, Cross Keys players were communicating in Spanish before snapping the football.
“The referee apologized, saying, ‘I’ve never seen anything like that in my life,’” Radford recalled with a laugh. “After the game, he came over to talk. He was curious to how long we’ve been doing it and what made us do it.
“And I was like, ‘Go look at our kids. The bulk of them are Hispanic.’”
Cross Keys is one of the most culturally diverse high schools in Georgia with students from more than 65 countries who speak at least 75 different languages. The roster reads like a world atlas: Mexico, Zambia, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, El Salvador, and South Korea.
Why such diversity at one school? Cross Keys is located in eastern Brookhaven, one of Atlanta’s most affordable places to live, and many newcomers with foreign backgrounds have family and friends in the area.
Three years ago, Radford look a hard at his roster. Nearly 50 percent of his players came from Hispanic heritage. He decided that Spanish cadence “just made sense.”
Quarterback Diego Gaytan said it has advantages, such as confusing opposing defenses just before the snap.
“They don’t know what we’re doing sometimes,” Gaytan said. “You see their faces and they are trying to figure what we are saying.”
Radford said some opponents have objected.
“Their kids tell our kids we should be speaking in English,” he said. “We tell our kids not to respond and to focus on football.”
Cross Keys (2-5-1) has won the most games more since 2004.
Druid Hills coach Kip Hall defeated Cross Keys earlier this season and said his team was prepared.
“That’s only because we had played against them in passing league the past few years,” Hall said. “But I imagine the Spanish confuses some teams.”
A typical Cross Keys snap sequence goes something like:
Cross Keys coaches will also use Spanish to yell last-second instructions or adjustments from the sidelines.
When Radford first introduced the Spanish strategy, a few players were skeptical.
“They thought it was a joke, being that we had some kids who didn’t know Spanish,” he said. “I told them not to worry, that it will be easy to pick up. And it has.”
One unforeseen consequence has been more Hispanic kids considering playing football at a school where soccer is most popular.
“It allows Cross Keys in a round-about way to bridge American football with our large Hispanic population,” Radford said.