Washington grad writes about '91 season

Porfirio Barrera based his book on the actual highs and lows of the year when his alma mater won the Public League football title.
Porfirio Barrera based his book on the actual highs and lows of the year when his alma mater won the Public League football title.
Posted: November 15, 2013

Amid all the chaos at home and on the streets of North Philadelphia, Porfirio Barrera says high school football was his escape.

"Some of the things that were going on were pretty crazy," the 38-year-old said. "Football was what kept me focused. That's where I directed most of my energy."

In When Winning Hurts, a self-published novel based on actual events, Barrera recounts the highs and lows he experienced while attending George Washington.

In what originally was supposed to be a screenplay, he talks of growing up without a father, the influence of a highly religious mother, nearly becoming a teenage father, teammates selling drugs, and the dangers in his blue-collar neighborhood.

"It was pretty crazy at times," Barrera said. "Some of it was ridiculous. I remember saying to a friend at the time, 'One day, I'm going to write about my life.' "

When Winning Hurts was released in June by Outskirts Press. It centers on Washington's 1991 season, which culminated in a dramatic holiday triumph and Public League championship.

Barrera decided to pen the book four years ago, after close friend and former Washington teammate Byron "Peanut" Freeman died of a heart attack.

A psychiatric technician at Temple University's Episcopal Hospital, Barrera said he was 4 when his father walked out on his family. His mother, Rosa, who was a pastor at a Pentecostal church, was the guiding force.

"She wouldn't talk too much about my dad," Barrera said. "She would say, 'Your dad's a survivor. That's all you need to know.' "

Barrera, who was a two-way end for the Eagles, remembers when a police paddy wagon pulled up to school one day during practice and took away a teammate in handcuffs.

"He was accused of raping a girl," said Barrera, who changed the names of most of the key players in the book. "He was later acquitted of the charges."

Barrera said another player's father was a drug dealer and reputed hit man for the Junior Black Mafia.

"I remember him being profiled on America's Most Wanted," he said. "That was surreal."

In Barrera's junior year at Washington, his then-girlfriend, a Temple undergraduate, told him she was pregnant.

"With my background, I didn't believe in abortion," Barrera said. "But she was older than me, and she decided to go that route."

Barrera said Washington's coaches, including current longtime boss Ron Cohen and former offensive coordinator John McAneney, served as father figures for many of the players.

"They did their best to put us in the right direction," Barrera said. "When we put that Washington jersey on, we would run through a wall for them. That's how much they meant to us."

In 1991, before earning top Public League honors, the Eagles ended a 16-year dry spell against Thanksgiving Day rival Archbishop Ryan. Down by 21-0 at halftime, they rallied for a 28-24 win in front of about 7,000 spectators.

"Back then, playing Ryan was like going up against a junior college team," Barrera said. "And they were real arrogant. They thought they were better than us. To beat them, that meant everything."

When Winning Hurts is for sale through Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com.


robrien@phillynews.com

@ozoneinq

www.inquirer.com/ozone

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