Legendary High School Football Coach Jesse Parker Honored at Mesa Get-Together
We spent an abundance of time last week around the local high school football scene. First, of course, was the publication of "Friday Night Frights" (still on the newstands for a few more days, and available here for a lot longer than that), about the trials and tribulations of Phoenix Carl Hayden's football program.
Then we blogged about Laveen Cesar Chavez High and its perennially controversial coach, Jim "I Didn't Do It" Rattay. Chavez has an excellent team this year, but as of today, will not be allowed to participate in the approaching state playoffs because of recruiting violations. (The school is appealing to the Arizona Interscholastic Association).
Recruiting? Yes, we know -- it's just high school football.
A highlight for us was Friday afternoon's luncheon in Mesa honoring Jesse Parker (the hombre in the photo), one of Arizona's coaching legends in any sport at any level.
Coach Parker recently turned 70. He resigned from Gilbert High's head coaching job after last season with 309 career wins, good for second in the history of Arizona high school football.
This year, he's assisting former coaching adversary Jim Jones up at Mesa Red Mountain, the first time in four decades he's worked under another coach. It's an unlikely scenario for the veteran coach, but he claims to be having a pretty good time.
Parker provided us with one of our memorable stories, a 1988 pre-Internet piece simply entitled "Tough Coach." We had a terrific time reporting and writing this one over a period of several months, and the photos by Jon Gipe took the project to a new level.
Turned out that this toughest of tough-guy coaches was a memorable teacher at Mesa Mountain View High, where he taught Advanced Placement history courses for years as he won several large-school championships at the helm of his beloved Toros.
Even better (and totally counter-intuitive), Parker was and is an unabashed old-school liberal whose ideas were shaped by a dirt-poor upbringing in rural Oklahoma, in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "New Deal" enabled him to get a college education.
The coach was the first recipient of the Jesse Parker Legacy Award, which he accepted a bit sheepishly before launching into a bit of personal history that left the audience of 150 or so spellbound.
Most of those able to attend were Parker's former football players. But a good number of his advanced-placement students also came by to pay their respects, remembering Parker as the best teacher they ever had.
One of the football players on hand was current Arizona Speaker of the House Kirk Adams, who played for Parker's Toros a few decades ago.
"Coach turned me into a man on and off the field," Adams said. "He is one of the most influential people I've ever been around."
And we're quite sure he meant it.