Gregg Dodderidge

Things you can feel: Badgers-Mustangs rivalry. PJ Kuzmitski’s unconquerable spirit

PJ Kuzmitski visits his Yosemite High teammates last season shortly after he was released from Valley Children’s Hospital. PJ’s right leg was amputated below the knee, the result of an injury suffered during practice.
PJ Kuzmitski visits his Yosemite High teammates last season shortly after he was released from Valley Children’s Hospital. PJ’s right leg was amputated below the knee, the result of an injury suffered during practice. Sierra Star file

This is The Rivalry. Call it what you want – I’ve heard “Battle of the Mountain” – but it is the biggest game of the year for the fans and students. Not the coaches. At least that’s what they will tell you. Coaches take each game one at a time. But for the Mustang and Badger faithful, this is the one you circle on your calendar.

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Yes the Mountain Bowl against Sierra has the history. YHS has also re-ignited the rivalry with Mariposa which has been exciting. But for pure passion, it’s Yosemite-Minarets without a doubt. I’ve heard this from parents and students alike from both sides.

Kudos to both schools for agreeing to play as well as being committed to keeping this now great tradition growing.

It was a great atmosphere and awesome weather Friday night in O’Neals. The Mustang Equestrian Team is so amazing and no doubt unique to the Valley. The Minarets fans were loud early, but it quieted down in time. Thank you to all fans for your donations to a great cause at halftime.

I thought it would be a closer game as did many others. The Badgers made fewer mistakes and the Mustangs had too many turnovers. Both teams ran the ball well. We saw two really good running backs. Nic Harper had 147 yards and a touchdown and four 2-point conversions. Tyson Ellis did all he could for the Mustangs countering with 266 yards and a touchdown.

Great to see PJ

For me perhaps the biggest highlight Friday night was seeing Badger Peter “PJ” Kuzmitski on the Badger sidelines. PJ was there at the Parlier game, too. You can tell how much it means to the players and coaches. PJ wears his jersey. He never sits. He is always talking to teammates. He is so inspirational.

PJ incurred a horrible injury to his right leg during practice last Sept. 27. PJ’s leg was amputated below the knee on Oct. 3. PJ’s injury and recovery received national attention with the Raiders’ Derek Carr sending a personal video with prayers for his recovery. But it was PJ’s attitude post-injury that blew everyone away.

When I met PJ I was so impressed. There was no dejection, just optimism. No doubt it just rubs off on his teammates. It’s hard to put a value on how much PJ means to the Badger players, especially being on the sidelines.

Jeff Guynn was PJ’s youth wrestling coach and close family friend. Guynn said it best to the Star last October: “Peter was the most coachable athlete I have ever had in youth wrestling. He always gave 150 percent effort. His spirit is so strong, the injury will not change who he is.”

There is no doubt about that.

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