Prep football loyalties divide Chandler family - East Valley Tribune: News

Prep football loyalties divide Chandler family

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Posted: Thursday, December 3, 2009 7:34 pm | Updated: 2:30 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

George Kitamura, 70, has been a Chandler High School football fan since his family moved to the city in the 1970s.

But Friday night - arguably one of the biggest games in Chandler High history - he'll be sitting with the opposition.

His grandson, Jimmy, is a defensive end for Chandler's Hamilton High School Huskies.

The two teams are meeting in the state 5A-I football semifinals at Tempe's McClintock High School, and the rivalry couldn't be more intense.

The Thanksgiving prayer at the Kitamura family dinner ended this year: "May the best team win."

Chandler has never beaten Hamilton. The Wolves came within three minutes of doing so when the teams met earlier this season. But the Hamilton Huskies - the defending state champions - pulled off a comeback.

Kitamura and his wife, Beryl, are regulars at Chandler High on Friday nights. Not only did their children attend the school, but their daughter, Sheryl, is now the band director for the Chandler Wolf Pack Pride Marching Band.

"I've been married to it for 30 years," George Kitamura said of Chandler football. "But we'll sit on the Hamilton side because of our grandson being on the team."

Jimmy said on most Friday nights, his grandparents divide where they're at. One grandparent starts at Chandler while the other starts at Hamilton to see him play. At halftime, they switch.

George is certainly proud of his grandson and his team, but he speaks with equal awe of the Chandler team.

"It's kind of amazing. All these years we've been going to the Chandler games. The fans aren't always there. That's why we have supported them," George said.

The divided allegiances in the Kitamura family sometimes extend into Sunday nights, when several generations gather for dinner. Jimmy said he often wears his Hamilton shirt just to see if he can get a rise out of his aunt.

"She usually doesn't say anything, but one Sunday she went to the closet and pulled out my dad's Chandler letterman jacket. I thought, 'Oh no.'"

And then there was the Thanksgiving meal.

"My aunt is rooting for Chandler to win all the way. It made me happy to see that my grandfather was rooting for me and not his own daughter. It was a great Thanksgiving. There was an argument at the table about who is going to win, who has the better team and who is going to work the hardest," Jimmy said. "Ever since that comeback win we made against Chandler it's been going on and on at the table."

While there is noise at the Chandler family's dinner table, don't mistake the quiet atmosphere at Chandler High this week as indifference. That's not the case, said assistant principal Dave Constance.

Students leaders at Hamilton High are enjoying spirit week and a pep rally Friday. But Chandler High is taking a different approach.

"We walk quiet. We walk strong. We don't talk about it. We're not hyping it," Constance said. He had requests from the media to do big stories about the game that an estimated 8,000 people are expected to attend, but he denied them.

"No, we're here to play the game. Everything will be taken care of on the field. We're just here to play some football, and we're ready to play," he said.

In contrast, the atmosphere at Hamilton is more boisterous. Student body president Jenny Sedler, 18, said students at her school know a special game will be played Friday.

"There are a lot of signs everywhere that read: Go Huskies, Beat Chandler. People are dressing up for spirit week. Everything is all decorated promoting the game," she said. "Really, it's not needed, especially after the last game. Everyone being so fired up about this, we definitely want to go out and win it."

Jimmy Kitamura said this showdown against his crosstown rival - and former youth football teammates - for a berth to the state title game on Dec. 12 was unexpected.

"I did not know it was going to come to this. This game is going to be a lot of fun," he said.

Chandler Unified School District Superintendent Camille Casteel agrees. She plans to be on the field during the game, crossing from one side to the other each quarter. She almost had to divide her time into two games: Chandler's Basha High School was denied a chance to compete in the semifinals by one point in overtime against Ahwatukee Foothills' Mountain Pointe High School on Nov. 20.

"That's one of the reasons I am such a sports enthusiast. I think it has the ability to spark a tremendous sense of pride not only in the school but across the district," she said. "It's a nice place to be with all the sadness and depressing news - to go out and see a fine group of young men finding success on the field. My hope is they all walk off the field knowing they did their best and they'll have those memories for a lifetime."  

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