This Friday, the McLane High Highlanders visit Yosemite. It marks the return of former Badger head coach JD Burnett, who now leads McLane. For me and many Badger faithful, it will be strange to see Coach Burnett on the visitor sidelines.
This game and the circumstances happened by chance. Burnett set the schedule last year prior to his departure. His position as a PE teacher at YHS was eliminated due to budget cuts last season. He made the smart decision to take over at McLane, which was thrilled to get him. The hiring has paid immediate dividends. Last season, McLane was 0-10. Burnett and staff are undefeated at 3-0 in 2018 with many of the same players.
Much has been written by me of what Burnett did for the YHS program. It was nothing short of amazing. Burnett inherited a program in 2015 that had lost 23 straight games and had little community support. After 0-9 in his first season, Burnett led YHS to two straight playoff appearances. Along the way he rebuilt the YHS summer weight program, bolstered the Badger Football Boosters, created the YHS Wall of Fame, and made YHS an independent for two seasons to reset the program. And the stands at Badger Stadium were full again.
Burnett’s passion came from being a great former Badger player. Mentored by former head coach Aaron Eames, Burnett created the foundation for new Badger head coach Chance Sigala. Sigala acknowledges what Burnett did for Badger Football. They both run similar systems.
Coach Sigala didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. He made the weight program even stronger, hired good assistants and lets them coach. Erik Peterson’s defense has allowed only 12 points per game this season, including a shutout against Riverdale. Coach Sigala has put together a strong offensive line that has been opening lanes for Badger running backs. Sigala has a unified team that is bought into his system. Sigala is also passionate and you can see it in his players.
Speaking of assistants, Burnett has former Badger Bonner Cunnings and Brian Johnson on the McLane staff. They are great coaches and even better men. Cunnings and Johnson, in different eras, were critical components to their respective YHS coaching staffs. The coaching staff at McLane has many players with very difficult socioeconomic circumstances. They have done a tremendous job to bring McLane back to prominence.
Burnett and his family still live in the area. Burnett has a long commute each day to Fresno. It doesn’t bother him. He is doing what he loves. Friday night he will look across the field and see his daughter Gwen in the Badger cheer squad. Wife Jody, also a YHS grad, teaches at Coarsegold Elementary. For the Burnetts it’s is a family affair.
Burnett and Sigala will say this is just another game on the schedule. It won’t be for players and fans. There will be a lot of emotion involved. It is what makes this game so special. This will be a fun one to watch. Both teams are undefeated and want to stay that way. No doubt Badger Stadium will be loud and packed this Friday. Burnett would have it no other way.
Playing at Mariposa is always a challenge
The Mariposa County Fairgrounds, home of the Mariposa County High Grizzlies, is perhaps one of the most unique football venues in California. For fans, it’s great. All fans are seated under a huge roof. No afternoon sun. The seats are metal benches with seat backs. It is loud and the food at the Grizzly Grill is great. The field isn’t as close as normal football stadiums but to have a roof over my head is worth the eye strain. The view of the foothills is beautiful and there is plenty of free parking.
And who doesn’t love Mariposa? It is Oakhurst’s sister city. We have both been through a lot these last few years. Our towns have been threatened with fires. We have each responded with generous reciprocity to the needs of our citizens who have lost. Mariposa is historic. It has a great downtown with great shops and restaurants. Unlike Oakhurst, Mariposa has sidewalks!
For me it is great to have an old rivalry back. Mariposa and Yosemite played each other for years back in the day. As YHS grew, Mariposa kept the same student population. With YHS now less than 700 kids, it made sense to return to playing one another again. It is good for both communities. Who doesn’t love a good rivalry? Like the Badger faithful, the Grizzly fans are passionate. Both programs have proud traditions.
I wish Mariposa and Yosemite could be in the same league. Mariposa is at the southern end of the Sac-Joaquin Section. How cool would it be to have a league with Mariposa, Le Grand, YHS, Minarets, Sierra, and Liberty? All are close in population and are D-V or D-VI schools. Travel time and expense would be minimal. Mariposa in the Southern League has to travel far and wide.
Perhaps the only negative for Mariposa is the football field the kids have to play on. You see the players don’t play on a normal football field. They play on an infield of a racetrack. Only a week earlier, the infield was part of the annual Destruction Derby at the Mariposa County Fair. By the way, if you haven’t been to the fair, it is a blast.
The grass, or what’s left of it, is mixed with large dirt spots. Under the field you will find small rocks and small pieces of metal that work their way to the surface. I have picked up mementos many times being on the field after a game. The field is uneven and there is no field crown for drainage.
In the end, it really doesn’t bother the players, so I guess that’s what is important. The Yosemite players I have talked to love playing the Grizzlies, no matter where it is played. I guess it’s the parent in me. Since the rivalry was renewed three years ago, YHS is 3-0 against Mariposa. The 26-12 win Friday wasn’t easy. It was a battle to the end. The records don’t matter, though. It is always fun.