It seems like yesterday to Mesa businessman and philanthropist Wilford Cardon that he scored the winning touchdown for the Mesa High School Jackrabbits, thanks to block by former Maricopa County Supervisor Tom Freestone.
But that game was in 1955, at a field in Santa Barbara, CA. that overlooked the ocean, when Mesa was a small town with one high school. at Mesquite High School in Gilbert, in the semi finals of the 5A Division playoffs.
Mesa, a once perennial powerhouse that had fallen on hard times in recent years, reached the semi finals for the first time since 1993 by upsetting Brophy Prep, 13 3, on Nov. 20.
“Mesa has so many high schools that the whole city does not rally behind Mesa High,” Cardon said. But, “in your heart of hearts, for all us old guys, we’re all excited and want to be in our stands.”
Coach Kelley Moore said the Jackrabbits are a blue collar team from a blue collar part of town. He said half of his players work, not to buy cars but to help pay bills at home as families struggle during the recession.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is to be a beacon.pandora jewelry We’re doing everything we can to give the community of Mesa something to smile about for 2 hours,” Moore said.
Former Coach Bill McKane, who led the team in its last semi final game 16 years ago, said the school has a rich history with four or five generations of families attending the school.
He said Mesa High was named The Team of the Century for its accomplishments in the 20th century. Stars such as Wilford “Whizzer” White, Vai Sikahema and Deuce Lutui graduated from the school and went on to college football and the NFL.
“I think the community looks at it with great pride and satisfaction. Mesa High School is back,” McKane said.
John Goodie, a Mesa park ranger and volunteer coach at Mesa High, said many people wrote the team off as “road kill” before the first game because it was placed in the tough new Fiesta Division after years of struggling.
“No one figured Mesa High School would still be standing. It was David defeating Goliath when we beat Brophy,” he said. “The Jackrabbits have defied all odds.”
Sikahema and Lutui, cousins who both went on to NFL careers, are both looking forward to the game. Lutui plans to attend; Sikahema said family members and friends will call him in Philadelphia to keep him posted during the game.
“I can’t remember any specific dates or games from my pro career,” said Sikahema, who spent eight years in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers.http://www.charmspandoraca.com He is now the sports anchor at the NBC station in Philadelphia.
But Sikahema’s high school highlights keep playing in his head as he thinks about Mesa High’s big game tonight, flashing back to Dec. 6, 1979, almost 30 years ago to the day.
Sikahema said he was injured on the second play of the championship game. Mesa High lost to Tucson Amphitheatre, 27 0. In the semi final game, Sikahema said he caught a Hail Mary pass on a fourth down and 32 yards to go for a first down to win the game against Maryvale High School.
“This is a huge milestone for Mesa,” Sikahema said, especially with the talent in the region diluted with the growth of east Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert in the last three decades. “I’m thrilled there is resurgence.”
When Lutui’s father, Inoke, died recently, the entire team honored his decades long support for the team by visiting the family’s home wearing their jerseys. They also sung the school’s anthem, Carry On.
“It was a comforting thing to my mom and my family,” Deuce Lutui said. “It really touched home. We had the support of everyone in the community.”
Lutui said he is so proud of his Mesa High roots that he has brought several of his famous Arizona Cardinals teammates to the games, including Beanie Wells, Anquan Bouldin, Bertrand Berry and Matt Leinart.
The NFL players probably have been inspiring the Mesa High players, Lutui said. Sikahema also addressed the team at half time during one game by telephone.