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Friday, October 5, 2012

Celebrating A Championship

One of the reasons that I am here in California at this time is because tonight is a celebration of something big that happened in our lives 35 years ago.  After reaching the finals of the California Interscholastic Federation (C.I.F.) Southern Section (California's equivalent of a state championship since it is such a huge state), the previous two seasons and coming away with losses, in the autumn of 1977 the team once again made it to the finals and this time came away with a winning outcome! The game was played at Anaheim Stadium, home to the California Angels professional baseball team and it was a big deal to be there in that huge stadium!Why is this game so celebrated in our family?  My father, Ted Mullen, was the head coach of the team and I was a senior in high school at the same school, Villa Park High School.  
The school has never again won the title and this win was the sole time it achieved this great outcome.  Winning the southern section of the C.I.F. represented the pinnacle achievement for my father in his career and after losses in the previous two attempts, this win was perhaps even sweeter.
My dad's football coaching career was a family affair.  We were all involved, never missing games, riding the waves of victory, suffering the blues of defeat.  Fortunately, Ted did not lose many games so we didn't have to suffer through that depression very often!  But the autumn of 1977 was a special time for us.  The team was ripe for victory and was full of incredibly talented athletes.  Many of them were my close friends and peers from school so the sense of togetherness that pervaded the campus environment was quite special.  As Friday approached, the buzz grew louder and louder and the school along with the entire community began to turn their sights on the stadium lights.  Ever watch or read Friday Night Lights?  This was my life.
I was privileged to be a part of the pep squad that year as school mascot.  We were the Villa Park Spartans and our colors were blue, black and silver.  I'll never forget putting together my outfit.  I didn't exactly want to look like Spartacus but wanted it to be fun and memorable so I went with a silver lamé dress and a black cape with a bright blue lining.  The kicker came when I found some silver shoes that worked perfectly!  What a thrill it was to call cheers for that magical season, close to sidelines where I could at least sense the electricity on the field.
The amazing thing for me 35 years down the road is this simple fact: So many of the guys who played on that team still keep in touch with my parents.  The players speak so highly of this time in their life, giving praise to my father for the genius coach that he was, for the ways in which he led them to this great victory.  Their affection for my mother is a tribute to her involvement as well.  She was indeed my father's greatest fan, missing only 1 game in his entire career because she was too sick to get of bed.  My mom stood behind my father with great support only occasionally questioning why he didn't blitz more on defense!  The fact that she knew what a blitz was spoke to her deep knowledge of the game as well.
So tonight, 50-60 players from that team and countless others who were my peers in high school, cheerleaders, members of the band and drill team, coaches and neighbors who traveled through these Friday nights with us will gather at Fred Kelly Stadium, our home field, to enjoy a high school football game, between my high school, Villa Park and Foothill High School, incidentally, the only other school where my father won the same championship, to be recognized at half time for this great achievement now a long time ago.  Then we'll gather at a restaurant to share stories and reminisce about a special autumn and a football season that gave us much more than just a win.  The guys speak of the life lessons they take away from having been a part of Coach Moon's team and alway speak with such joy and admiration for the man I've always known as dad.  My one great regret in this life is that I never played for a coach as talented as my father and I never was part of a winning tradition like the one our football teams had.  But even so, I am grateful for the excitement and joy that we all shared by being part of my father's career as a high school football coach and easily celebrate the success he so clearly deserved.
Yes, tonight we celebrate a championship but I suppose for me, it's mainly about celebrating the champions I truly feel my parents are.  Their footprint on people's lives is so clear and it's humbling for me to see how these guys still love them, even after all these years.