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Les WillseyStaff Writer, AIA365.com email@example.com
1,000 FB games: Tradition remains strong at Mesa HighSep 4, 2012
When Kelley Moore got wind that Mesa High was searching for a new football coach nearly six years ago the opening piqued his interest. The drawing card?
"Tradition and and history, that was the major portion of it," Moore said.
Mesa's football tradition and history takes on a new level of focus this Friday (Sept. 7) with the school's 1,000th game against Gilbert High at Jackrabbit Stadium. Few, if any teams west of the MIssissippi, have reached the 1,000-game mark.
Moore, who ultimately left Independence High to take over as Mesa's coach in 2007, has his own ample slice of the school's history that's filled with triumph Mesa High is the winningest football program in state history with 639 victories. Mesa played its first game in 1920 and has won titles in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1990s. They fell a win short in the 1970s and decade of 2000 of winning titles.
A lengthy cast of standouts too numerous to mention dot the annulsof all-staters. Players such as quarterback Harold Passey, running back Whizzer White, fullback Don Beasley, halfback Warren Livingston and quarterback Mikel Moreno. Each played on a state title team in a different decade.
No doubt being in the football business for 92 years contributes to the lofty win total, but so does consistency. Along with the win total, Mesa has racked up 11 state championships and 16 runner-up finishes since playing its first game in 1920. Lots of success interspersed more in the modern era with periods of decline.
The tradition, however, lives on. It sparks Moore as he makes the trek from his home in Glendale to coach every day.
"When I was at Independence I hired Steve McKane (son of former head coach and longtime assistant Bill McKane) as an assistant," Moore said. "I learned through them about Mesa. What it was all about. I had bought a house right near Independence with the idea it would be my last coaching stop."
Moore has no regrets, even with the mixed success of his tenure (three winning seasons to begin and two losing campaigns after). Included in that tenure was a trip to the state title game in 2009 where Mesa made a storybook ride to the title game and finished runner-up to Hamilton. Mesa brought a huge crowd to the game, probably half or more alumni.
"That was certainly the most exciting year I've coached here," Moore said. "Even though we were getting blitzed in the championship game (35-0 loss), noone left. It's the people here that make it special."
Even today's players buy in and adore the tradition and history Mesa High football offers. Senior wide receiver Kawika Young, has only one regret in his time at Mesa High. It was the half year he left to live in Kansas.
"I loved Mesa and didn't want to leave," Young said. "My family moved to Kansas the first part of my junior year, and I missed football season. I begged my dad to move back. I've always felt this school is my home."
Young enjoys one of Mesa High football's finest traditions the most -- the Haka. It's a combination chant and dance introduced to the school by a Tongan player years ago. The team performs the Haka prior to the start of each game.
"The most fun is teaching the freshman and sophomores how to do it," Young said. "It's funny to hear the English accents. They kind of go away after they've practiced it for awhile. It pumps us up. Really gets you ready for the game."
Quarterback Lucas Moen, who shifted from receiver to quarterback this season, also enjoys the Haka. It's taken seriously by the players, who warm up to up quickly after an indoctrination in the summer. He's looking forward to being part of the 1,000th game.
"We spend two days at (summer) camp on the Haka," Moen said. "Guys learn the words, what they mean. They figure out the moves and steps. Everyone works hard to do it right. Get the right tempo. It sends a message.
"It's going to be an exciting week. It's not really about us. It's about our community. They come out and support us. We try to return it with community service projects. We want to take down Gilbert for our community. We need to take care of the little things we've been missing the first couple games to make that happen.'
The longest standing tradition -- Mesa High's motto of "Carry On" -- is revered. "Carry On" are the words of Mesa player Zedo Ishikawa in 1932 just before he died an accidental death. He told Mesa coaches as he lay dying he wouldn't make it and for the team to "carry on." Ironically, the game Ishikawa didn't make it to was against Gilbert High, Friday's opponent.
"We sing Carry On it after every home game to the stands and when the bus comes home from an away game when we reach the parking lot," Moen said. "Win or lose, it doesn't matter. The traditions always have meaning for us. Probably more so this week."
Mesa has posted 3-7 records each of the past two seasons after their 2009 runner-up finish. They've started 2012 with an 0-2 mark, losing to Division I powers Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe by scores of 48-6 and 56-7. To Moore's satisfaction, it hasn't detoured his team's resolve. He attributes that in part to what it means to play at Mesa High.
"We're falling off the cliff a bit right now," Moore said. "It's not for a lack of work or effort. Both teams we've played are very good. I told them after we lost to Mountain Pointe the other night they had a choice to make. Stick it out or pack it in. Everyone showed up Saturday. They chose right. Chose to carry on."