CARSON — As the Oakdale High players gathered in front of their fans for a final send-off, defensive coordinator Hondo Arpoika stood off to one side, taking in the scene.
After 21 seasons on the sidelines, including four at Hughson High and the rest at the Corral, the 43-year-old coach is leaving the field. This spring also will be his last as the Mustangs' baseball coach.
"It is tough and right now it's just sinking in," he said. "I'm so proud of these kids. This was a great run. But I've been doing both sports for 21 years and mix a couple basketball seasons in there. It's been a long grind."
The only thing that could have made the moment sweeter for Arpoika would have been an Oakdale win. Other than that, it was perfect.
Not only was he going out on the biggest stage in California high school football, but he was able to share the moment with sons Miko and Hondo, both senior standouts on the team.
"Not many kids can say they played football, and even fewer can say they got to play for their dad," Miko said. "He knows what we're capable of, and nobody really knows that but him."
"It's awesome and one of the best things I could ever imagine happening to me," said son Hondo. "I always wanted to be coached by my dad and I have throughout my whole life.
"To be able to come to the state game and have him retire like this is unbelievable. I couldn't wish for anything more."
Arpoika let it be known before the season started that he'd be leaving the program.
"Other people have tried to convince him to stay, but we haven't," Miko Arpoika said. "Coaching is so stressful for him and I know we're stressful on him, too. Probably 80 percent of the gray hairs on his head are from us.
"He's been doing it for so long and his dream was to retire from coaching when we graduated and we didn't talk him out of it."
Head coach Trent Merzon also knew better than to attempt to sway Arpoika's decision.
"I laughed at Hondo before the game because only he could decide at the start of the season to retire and then have the season go to a state championship and have us play 16 games," Merzon said. "The year I retire we'll probably go 7-3 and I'll get sent off down the road somewhere.
"Hondo means so much to this program. He's been great for a long time, and doing two sports for that long really takes a toll that people don't understand. When you give and give and give like coaches have to, something takes. It creates stress at home, and you have to have an amazing wife. Your family either buys in, or you'll have nothing left."
Merzon said that long-time assistant Tim Meyer would be taking over as defensive coordinator.
Arpoika is giving up his teams, but not his job as a physical education teacher.
"It's an honor and I've been very fortunate to do it here, in a great program and a great community," Arpoika said. "But I can't quit teaching. I need the money. I have to make a living."