The initial intended purpose of this column was to celebrate a historic milestone in the Mesa High School Jackrabbits’ rich football history, which has been all about tradition since their first game in 1920 and continues Friday.
We thought Friday’s homecoming football game against the Desert Vista Thunder would have been Mesa High’s 1,000th game. Mesa’s longtime statistician Alan Wilkins and commentator Virgil Schatz, both with 25 years of service to Jackrabbit football, spent a week doing research looking through old yearbooks and other sources — and informed us recently that we’re not quite there yet.
For the record, Friday’s homecoming game will be No. 981, with 626 wins, 312 loses and 42 ties. Tradition at Mesa High is valued and indeed sacred, as I wonder how many high schools keep a tracking record of their football history. The students, faculty and staff still “carry on” with certain ceremonies and rituals during football season and throughout the school year.
The motto “carry on” is sacred, as many of you reading this know. These were the last words of a 1930s Mesa football player name Zedo Ishikawa, who died in a tragic backyard accident and told the visiting coach on his death bed to tell the team to “carry on” just before he passed on.
After every game, win or lose, Mesa High School students lock arms together in the stands and sing the school’s song, “Carry On Mesa High.” The football team, when returning from away games, stands up in the school bus and sings “Carry On” as the bus enters the school parking lot. Sometimes the song is sung full of joy with a victory, and sometimes it’s not, but it’s sung always.
The football team visits the Mesa City Cemetery every August, cleans around the grave of Zedo Ishikawa and walks the entire cemetery picking up around other grave sites, still carrying on.
Third-year coach Kelley Moore, who drives 78 miles round-trip from Glendale daily, says his wish came true when he was selected as Mesa’s coach because he always wanted to coach a program rich in tradition. He says one of his intentions in taking the job was to restore the past glory and instill fear in opponents once again. He knew the character and commitment was still there with the kids many whose parents, grandparents and some great-grandparents are proud Mesa High alumni.
Homecomings are always exciting at every high school, and the students and staff at Mesa have a big one planned. There are skits in the mornings in the auditorium where former cheerleaders and bunny ropers of decades ago perform, and a big pep rally during lunch at the campus amphitheater. The parade after school, the big tailgate party along with a small carnival held in the parking lot promises excitement for all.
Mesa High’s record going into Friday’s 7 p.m. game is 4-2, as the Jackrabbits compete in what is often referred to as high school football’s equivalent of college’s premiere Southeastern Conference — the fierce 5A super Fiesta Region. The Jackrabbits have been competitive so far and, I hope they’ll be victorious tonight for fans and alumni. Folks, pull out the old, purple-and-gold T-shirts and other Mesa High gear of years past. Don’t worry if they don’t fit because you’ll be among family. Put on those rabbit ears and join us for some food, fun and football as we cheer the team and homecoming court, and crown the 2009 king and queen.
At Mesa High, we will always and forever “Carry On.”
John Goodie of Gilbert has been a volunteer coach on the sidelines of Mesa High School football for 15 years.