Cortez: Hats off to prep football traditions

Today's high school players have links to the past, try to make their mark on future

August 24, 2013 

One of my favorite traditions involving high school football centers around my alma mater, Merced High.

Years before I attended school there, Merced and Madera were members of the North Yosemite League and bitter rivals. Their 1954 meeting, on the night of Oct. 29, featured a special guest — Gov. Goodwin J. Knight, California's 31st chief executive.

Apparently, the governor was an avid sportsman. Not only was he in the stands that night, but he awarded his white Stetson to the victor. The governor wrote, "To the Winner of the Madera Merced Big Game!" He also signed the hat and wrote the date on the brim.

Merced won the hat that night and the teams played for the Stetson until 1967. After that, the Bears left for the Sac-Joaquin Section and the teams played only sporadically over the next two decades. They rekindled the rivalry in 1993, but it fizzled again and they haven't played since 2007.

Click on conference for previews MMC, CCC, VOL, TVL, WAC, SL and MLL.

But here's the great thing about traditions: You can always revive them. Just like at Modesto High.

For years, Modesto High's team wore beautiful scarlet jerseys. Then they switched to crimson.

"There's a line in our alma mater that actually refers to crimson being the school colors," Modesto principal Jason Manning explained. "But for the past seven or eight years, when we've played (traditional rival) Turlock, we've switched to the scarlet jerseys for that game."

First-year coach Richie Alkire was asked by the Silver Panthers, the school's booster club, if the scarlet jerseys could be made permanent. Alkire liked them enough, so the school is going back to its classic look.

Of course, some traditions never go out of style. Like the post-victory Gatorade bath.

Ever since the Super Bowl champion New York Giants made the Gatorade dunk popular during the 1986 NFL season, the ritual has become a staple of virtually every football program in the nation.

Nothing says victory quite as clearly and as quickly as a middle-aged coached being soaked with ice-cold liquid on a chilly autumn night.

And for that very reason, we chose the Gatorade bath to be the centerpiece of our tradition-themed preseason football edition.

We invited two players from Modesto — the oldest school in town — and two from Downey — the second oldest and the reigning MMC champion. A couple of brave journalists volunteered to stand in for the coach (let's face it, coaches have much more important things to do this time of the year than to get doused just for our amusement). And, if I'm totally truthful, it felt pretty good on a hot summer's day. You can't tell, but Sports Editor Brian Clark is the one getting the victory bath in our cover photo.

Friday nights in the Central Valley are draped with tradition. And you'll get to read about some of those in this edition.

Traditions, of course, come in various forms. Up in Summerville, they eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before every game. At Modesto Christian, they claim their turf by plunging a Crusaders' sword at midfield before home games. And at places like Central Catholic, Escalon and Oakdale, well, they simply win.

That's tradition enough, I suppose.

A really neat tradition takes place up in Sonora, where each year the players re-paint the "S" on the side of the hill behind the stadium. They go up once per season, and once only.

We thought taking a picture of that ritual might make a nice photo for this section, so we called about the possibility. We were told the painting session had already been done.

Undeterred, we asked if a couple of players could be spared to climb up the hill, with paint cans and brushes in hand, to do a little touch-up job. You know, for the cameras.

Nope.

The players go up once. And once only.

You don't mess with tradition.

Reach Joe Cortez at jcortez@modbee.com or 578-2380; follow him on twitter @modbeepreps.


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