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New Play “The Mighty Vandals” Recalls the ’51 Championship

PHOENIX — After a successful premier run at the Peoria Performing Arts Center, New Carpa Theater Company’s The Mighty Vandals will be staged in Miami, Arizona (home to the championship team the play is about) and at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix as part of the CALA Alliance International Festival.

“The Mighty Vandals” will be performed in the auditorium of Miami High School Oct. 26 and 27 and at the Herberger Theater on November 2.

“We’re thrilled to be taking the show to Miami, the town that inspired this amazing story,” said James E. Garcia, playwright and producing artistic director of New Carpa Theater Company. “I love telling stories knowing the people who inspired the play we’re watching on stage are sitting in the front row.”

Considered one of the greatest high school basketball teams in the nation, Miami’s Mighty Vandals went undefeated, broke nine national high school records and 18 state records on its way to a perfect season in 1951.  The team of mostly Mexican and Mexican American teens from the poor side of Miami were led by Coach Ernie Kivisto, a Michigan transplant and the son of Finnish immigrants, from 1947 until their championship win.

“As soon as I heard about the play, I thought it’d be great fun to bring it to town,” said Miami Unified School District Superintendent Sherry Dorathy. “There’s no one in Miami who hasn’t heard of the ’51 Vandals. It’s part of the fabric of the town’s history. We’re thrilled it’s coming to town, and thankful that Freeport McMoRan was willing to support bringing it here.”

Playwright James Garcia

The Miami performance is being sponsored by the Miami Unified School District and Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold. The mining company is a major underwriter of the performance.

Garcia added, “The play is a cross between ‘Hoosiers and ‘Stand & Deliver,’ because it’s as much about a great high school sports team as it is about overcoming discrimination and the value of good education.”

“I’m not 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, and that it was Latino kids playing basketball, the story sucked me in,” said Garcia. “That said, I was just as intrigued by learning where these kids came from, and the contrast between their celebrity status on the court versus the challenges they faced off the court in the era of segregation.”

The storyline takes place from 1947 to 1951, before the Supreme Court banned segregation in public schools. Although Miami High School was integrated, the town’s neighborhoods, elementary schools, and other public facilities were segregated. In the final game of the season, Miami played Carver High, Phoenix’s all black school at the time.

 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 hometown, 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-man 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. Playing three of the Miami ball players are 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 writing a book about the Vandals.  Other actors playing local townspeople include Arturo Martinez, Marcella Grassa, Kathryn James, Tom Rees and Janet Arnold.

 The performances in Miami of The Mighty Vandals are Saturday, Oct. 26 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 27 at 2 p.m. at the Miami High School auditorium at 4739 South Ragus Rd. Tickets are $8 general admission, $7 for groups of six or more, and $5 students and seniors. Tickets can be purchased at the door. For group reservations, call 623-252-2772 or email info@newcarpa.org.

The Herberger Theater Center show is November 2 at 7:30 p.m. It is a free performance sponsored by the CALA Alliance International Arts Festival. To reserve tickets for the November 2 performance, call 623-252-2772 or email info@newcarpa.org.

The Mighty Vandals is produced by New Carpa Theater Company and presented as part of the biennial CALA Alliance 2013 International Festival. The CALA Alliance is an Arizona community-based organization dedicated to educating and inspiring everyone about the richness of Latino cultural heritage.  The Festival is a biannual event, taking place in 2013 from Oct.4 through Nov. 6.  More information is available at calaalliance.org

New Carpa Theater Co. was founded in 2002 in Phoenix by James E. Garcia. The company is dedicated to creating Latino and multicultural theater works. For more information, visit newcarpa.org.

About Linda Gross

Writer, photographer. Passionate foodie, lover of good books and storytelling. Lives in Globe. Plays in the historic district. Travels when possible.


  1. Thank you! I look forward to bringing this show to town!

    James Garcia
    Playwright/The Mighty Vandals

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