Running a football play the right way forces a runner to rely on the blocker, or the receiver on the quarterback. It\u2019s no secret why so many teams, like Harding High School in Bridgeport, emphasize \u201cbrotherhood.\u201d At a school like Harding, football coach Eddie Santiago says, there\u2019s another layer to that for players whose families might be living in poverty in a place where, he says, surviving walking down the street is a challenge, where they have to be tough, be in \u201cdefense mode.\u201d \u201cThat\u2019s the biggest challenge,\u201d Santiago said, \u201cthem investing in the man left and right.\u201d Sometimes, though, the man on the left might not be at practice because he needs to be home watching his siblings. On another team, the woman on the right might have moved yesterday. \u201cOne year, a kid\u2019s here. The next, she\u2019s in New Haven,\u201d Bassick High (Bridgeport) athletic director Pat O\u2019Rourke said. \u201cA lot of our families are renters. ... Wherever they can find an affordable apartment, that\u2019s where they move on to, maybe to Derby, to Waterbury.\u201d Like most of its sister cities around the state, Bridgeport faces challenges in athletics (and beyond) that aren\u2019t nearly as big in some of the rich towns that make up a lot of their sporting competition. The city has a median household income of $47,484, over $30,000 less than the state's median household income level, according to U.S. Census data. A Hearst Connecticut Media review found that teams from the state\u2019s five wealthiest towns by median household income won 159 state championships over the past 10 years. The state\u2019s 10 poorest towns and cities, Bridgeport included, combined for just 44 over the same period. Money is at the root of many issues that city schools face - from equipment and private training to a lack of vehicle and added pressures for students to work. And yet, money isn't the only factor. \u201cFor city kids, it\u2019s difficult to get private training, proper nutrition,\u201d McMahon High (Norwalk) athletic director John Cross said. \u201cA lot of kids are working to make ends meet. It\u2019s a huge issue.\u201d Norwalk's median household income is actually above the state average at $89,486. But in Fairfield County, it's surrounded by some of the wealthiest municipalities in the state including Darien, New Canaan, and Westport \u2014 all of which more than double Norwalk's median household income level. \u201c(Suburban schools) may have very involved parents. They may have very involved booster clubs to help the program run a little better, provide extras.\u201d O\u2019Rourke said the city takes care of what Bassick need as a program, but families can\u2019t always take care of the individual incidentals.\u00a0 \u201cSometimes kids take for granted buying a pair of cleats or a glove,\u201d O\u2019Rourke said. \u201cAs adults, we\u2019ve got to kind of be creative to get that for them.\u201d 'You need players' Hearst Connecticut Media broke down the plight of public schools\u2019 football teams in the state's eight largest cities (Bridgeport, New Haven, Waterbury, Hartford, Stamford, New Britain, Danbury and Norwalk). Since 2011, the combined record of those 16 schools \u2014 three in Bridgeport and Waterbury, one in New Britain and Danbury, two elsewhere \u2014 is 564-1,043, or a .351 win percentage. The only programs over .500 during that stretch are Hillhouse High in New Haven and Norwalk High. Hillhouse was the last public city school to win a Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference championship in 2016. The team won two other Class M titles, in 2010 and 2012. None of the other schools in those eight cities reached a state final since 2010. Only three qualified for the postseason: New Britain (2014 and 2018), Harding (2015 and 2016) and Norwalk (2011). \u201cYou need players to have a successful record and to make the postseason,\u201d said former Bridgeport Central coach Dave Cadelina, who owns the last two Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference playoff appearances for the team\u2019s program in 2004 and 2007. \u201cYou need a coach who will somehow generate interest in the program and get those kids interested.\u201d The struggle goes beyond football. The CIAC\u2019s database\u00a0lists 33 championships for Bridgeport\u2019s three public programs, 20 of them Harding\u2019s, including a 1934 championship in golf; that offering was cut along with several other varsity sports across the city in 2015. So that\u2019s 33 CIAC championships in a century. Darien\u2019s girls and boys lacrosse teams combine for 25 state championships since 1997. Since 2000, the only state championships for Bridgeport\u2019s three public-school programs are four boys basketball titles, one in 2001 for Harding, and three for Central in 2003, 2010 and 2014. Bassick\u2019s last team-sport title was in 1996 at the Class M boys outdoor track meet. 'Not like years ago' Harry Bellucci said that when he started at Hartford Public High School in 2003, the football program had around 80 players. In his final year in 2021, he had just 40 in the entire program. \u201cWhen I was the head of the Connecticut High School Coaches Association (CHSCA) football committee, we would talk every year that numbers in football were going down throughout the state,\u201d said Bellucci, who coached in the sport for 44 seasons, previously an assistant at Bulkeley. \u201cWhen I first got to Harford (Public), I was like, \u2018Give me my schedule and we can play with anybody,\u2019 and we did. As numbers declined, we couldn\u2019t compete with Windsor and Southington anymore.\u201d Bellucci noted that when he took over there were only three football teams in Hartford. Now, programs like Sports and Medical Science Academy, Capital Prep and Prince Tech are all competing for kids in the state's capital city, which has a median household income of $36,154 making it the poorest community in the state. Greater Hartford specifically has a number of magnet schools, which aim to draw middle-class children to attend with youth from Hartford - the result of the landmark Sheff vs. O'Neill case that aimed to fix racial and socioeconomic segregation in the city. The changes, however, hurt the neighborhood schools, leaving them with greater areas of need. Among those schools is Weaver, which won three state championships in the late 1990s, which is back as a varsity football program this fall after an eight-year absence, smaller than it once was. \u201cIt\u2019s not like years ago, when there were three high schools in Hartford and three football teams, all LL schools,\u201d Weaver coach Jude Kelly said. Chris Sarlo has the same issue at Kennedy High School in Waterbury: In addition to the other two public schools, Holy Cross and Waterbury Career Academy are also competing for players. \u201cOne of our biggest challenges is too many schools (in a given city) and the talent pool is definitely watered down,\u201d Sarlo said. \u201cLook at Waterbury before Sacred Heart closed. We had 10 schools. We\u2019re competing with parochial schools, private schools, technical schools and the public schools. \u2026 In Naugatuck, they all go to one place.\u201d For some teams, the three-sport athlete of yore is missing since she specialized herself into a one-sport athlete. And while private or Catholic schools may siphon off top athletes by middle school everywhere, that hits hard where numbers were scuffling to begin with. \u201cI can\u2019t fault parents\u201d for taking advantage of those opportunities, McMahon\u2019s Cross said, \u201cbut it\u2019s another tough thing we end up having to face.\u201d Wilbur Cross High coach John Acquavita said he had 112 players on the roster of his New Haven-based team in 2016. He had 42 early in preseason practice but has since added 29 players. Nearly 50 of the 71 had never played organized football before. The longtime Elm City coach won three Class S state championships with the former Hyde School (2000, 2004 and 2005) before moving over to Wilbur Cross. He feels the lower numbers coming off the COVID-19 pandemic has only \u201cmagnified the problem\u201d that has been an issue for some time. \u201cKids watching their siblings has hurt their ability to commit to a sport. A lot of parents are working multiple jobs, so there is no time to get the younger brother off the bus. The (older sibling) has to and he has to stay with him,\u201d Acquavita said. \u201cIf it\u2019s not a sibling (to take care of), they are being asked to work to help the household as well.\u201d 'We can't afford to go to camp' Acquavita and his counterpart at Hillhouse High in New Haven, Reggie Lytle, feel the loss of spring football practice is also part of the problem. Before the pandemic, teams had the option of either having spring practice or extra time in the fall instead. A survey conducted by the CIAC in 2019 indicated that while 39 coaches wanted to continue to use five days of practice during the spring, 101 wanted it in the fall. So the CIAC made the controversial decision to eliminate spring football. \u201cThe CIAC doesn\u2019t give coaches enough time to prepare these kids to be successful,\u201d Lytle said. Acquavita said when kids would come out in the spring, those who liked it would return on time in the fall. Now, the coaches are left to convince them to come out and stay in August. \u201cThat\u2019s the big one. It\u2019s the killer of inner city football,\u201d Acquavita said about losing spring football. \u201cThat is such a tough one to get over. We needed that as tool to come out to see if they like (football). If your school wants to have it, have it.\u201d The CIAC limits coaches\u2019 time with players in the offseason. Some players can get themselves to private camps or get private instruction. \u201cWe can\u2019t afford to go to camp,\u201d Harding\u2019s Santiago said. \u201cAsking somebody already struggling to pay a light bill ... we say, \u2018oh it\u2019s $40\u2019: No, that $40, that\u2019s somebody\u2019s weekly dinner. That\u2019s a bill those kids have to come up with.\u201d In some towns, a car pool to a team-building 7-on-7 tournament is no big deal, O\u2019Rourke said. \u201c\u2018Everybody show up at this time?\u2019\u201d he said. \u201cOur kids don\u2019t drive. The parents are working.\u201d Retention Santiago, who teaches at Bridgeport\u2019s Bridge Academy, said city schools often have a lot of turnover with teachers. McMahon\u2019s Cross said it\u2019s sometimes hard for schools to compete for coaches against a private team that might pay better. Sarlo, meanwhile, is in the midst of his 17th season coaching football at Kennedy. But it doesn\u2019t take him long to come up with the highlight of his tenure. Kennedy reached the Naugatuck Valley League conference championship game \u2014\u00a0when there still was an NVL championship game \u2014 in 2008. Kennedy lost to Ansonia that day. The program has not played in a postseason game since. In fact, none of Waterbury\u2019s three public schools \u2014\u00a0Kennedy, Crosby or Wilby \u2014\u00a0have ever reached the CIAC postseason. So that can beg this question for Sarlo: Why stick it out for as long as he has? \u201cI come to work every day to teach history. I live two miles from the school. Where am I going?\u201d said Sarlo, now 51 and a Crosby graduate. \u201cI am going to retire from John F. Kennedy High School. I will probably retire as a coach when I retire as a teacher.\u201d It\u2019s that type of dedication that a number of city school coaches have had, past and present. Some of them have spent years coaching high school football in the inner city. Some of them have had success and have an idea of what it takes to succeed. Central has not played in a postseason game since 2009. Cadelina took the Bridgeport Central team\u00a0to the playoffs twice (2004 and 2007) and to the FCIAC championship game twice (2004 and 2009). Cadelina, now a Bridgeport Central assistant principal, said the success he had was helped by the dominance the Hilltoppers showed in the weight room and in weightlifting competitions. He said they broke their own state record in 2010 three years after setting it. \u201cThat was our hook, something that worked, that interested the kids and got them involved and translated into our football program,\u201d Cadelina said. Alex Putterman contributed to this report.