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Take it from the players, the old ones The development of MVHS sports culture and football rivalries

By Rana Aghababzadeh and Ankit Gupta

From a young age, MVHS alumnus Ryan Hancock ‘90 spent his time exploring what he says was a 10,000 square foot area off Bubb Road on his bike. Just a few blocks downtown, at the corner of De Anza Boulevard and Stevens Creek Boulevard, past the multitude of apricot and walnut orchards, was the R. Cali Brothers Mill that processed grains and feeds.

That 10,000 square foot of land is now an Apple parking lot. That mill is now the grounds of a plaza with a Hilton hotel and the Montebello complex. But it was more than just the factories of Cupertino that separated it from today. According to Hancock, there was a much deeper focus on athletics, so deep that sports were considered something that could allow students to succeed beyond high school, and that’s just what Hancock did.

He was always an athletic kid, little league baseball and AYSO soccer filling up his schedule. At what was then called Kennedy Junior HS, he did wrestling, basketball and track and field. At MVHS, he was a three-sport athlete, playing football in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring.

“I always was involved in sports — [it was a] big part of my life,” Hancock said. “MVHS was pretty athletic, so it was fun to be able to participate in three sports.”

MVHS, Hancock explains, was different compared to what it is today. In terms of the athletic program, Hancock describes a competitive environment that produced a lot of successful teams.

“It was great — we were the area champions of baseball,” Hancock said. “We won it all. There wasn’t really a state championship, but we won as far as we could and we won it all. We had a successful football team, but my junior and senior year we lost in the first round of the playoffs.”

As important as baseball was to Hancock, playing football at a professional level was his childhood dream. Across Cupertino, student athletes looked up to Sean Dawkins from rival Homestead HS, who was a first round pick for the Indianapolis Colts in 1993 and went on to play for nine seasons in the NFL.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Hancock

As for Hancock, a knee injury in college turned his focus towards baseball rather than football. Coming out of high school, he was drafted by the MLB team, the Anaheim Angels, but instead decided to play football and baseball at Brigham Young University in Utah. After the injury, Hancock played a season for the MLB team, the California Angels (currently known as the Anaheim Angels).

Photo courtesy of Ryan Hancock

Despite the intense athletic environment at MVHS, Hancock still reflects fondly upon the memories that he made during his high school days.

“We had a lot of fun and sports were a big part of the culture at MVHS,” Hancock said. “Back then, we had a good turnout. A lot of students were involved and interested [...] we were competitive in many sports.”

For Hancock, sports can be just important in life as academics. Life lessons that can be adapted in the future come from sports and Hancock believes that it is an essential part of growing up. According to him, this mindset started to shift for MVHS families at the inception of the Silicon Valley age.

Hancock explains that the culture of sports at MVHS was uncannily different than what it started to become as early as in the 1990s. It was also then that Cupertino became an affluent area, putting a particular emphasis on school work compared to other areas.

“Kids were always motivated to do well in school because they had parents pushing them to be successful,” Hancock said.

However, when his brother attended MVHS in the 1990s, he believes that the title Silicon Valley started to become prevalent, and a lot more people wanted to live there, especially in Cupertino. Still, he believes that sports weren’t considered less important. It was simply that families focused on their children getting through school and graduating.

“I think [high school sports are] important, and I hope that never changes,” Hancock said.

During his football seasons, from the years 1986-1989, Hancock recalls the rivalries that the team had, specifically against local Homestead HS. But in recent years, HHS has barely played games against MVHS because the schools are rarely in the same league. Today, MVHS’ biggest football rival is Cupertino HS, which, too, moved up a league recently.

“It got really bad in terms of physicality. The two groups would play hard against each other and we may see someone at McDonalds or Strawhut Pizza and there would be confrontations and that kind of thing." — Former MVHS Head Coach Jeff Mueller

The Helmet game, the annual rivalry game between CHS and MVHS, originated decades ago and according to former MVHS football player Yoyo Wang ‘13, it is one of the most popular sports events, along with Homecoming, that brings the community out to games that they wouldn’t have otherwise gone to.

While playing at MVHS, Wang felt that his team picked up the intensity of practice to prepare for the game. He explains that one of the most iconic moments is right before the game.

“You cheer, they bring out the helmet to present on the field, and both teams were to take a look at it,” Wang said. “[The coaches have] been coaching for awhile and you know this means a lot for some of the parents who just grew up in the area.”

He recalls one of his most vivid memories of the Helmet game during his freshman year at MVHS, before he played on the team.

During the 2008 game, a CHS player was removed from the field and later ran on the field, stirring a brawl between both teams.

Nevertheless, Wang describes the rivalry as uplifting in general, and that there wasn’t a particular hate for CHS. However, former MVHS head coach Jeff Mueller, who played for the team and graduated in 1973, experienced a different kind of rivalry with CHS.

“It got really bad in terms of physicality,” Mueller said. “The two groups would play hard against each other and we may see someone at McDonalds or Strawhut Pizza and there would be confrontations and that kind of thing. [It] carried over into baseball and basketball. It was just an overall rivalry with every sport.”

To Mueller, the rivalry with CHS has always existed. In his time as a player, one particular game against CHS sticks out. On a rainy day in 1973, the two teams battled in sluggish conditions as the CCS title was on the line. In what Mueller describes as a “mudbath,” the game ultimately ended in a tie.

“We were playing in a foot of mud,” Mueller said. “We tied the game, [and] there were probably close to 10 to 12,000 people there. It was the old stands, and then it was four to five people deep around the field. It was a big deal.”

When Mueller returned to MVHS as the head coach, he was disappointed to find that the once polarizing rivalry with CHS was not what it used to be.

“When I got here, in 2001, it was like 'okay we're playing Cupertino HS,’” Mueller said. “I said well, ‘I’m gonna make this thing a rivalry again.’ It took me a year or two to do it, and we finally got to the point where everybody in the football program itself figured it was our rival.”

Mueller ended up lead MVHS to 14 consecutive wins over CHS and says that rivalries are an essential part of the high school experience.

“I think that high school rivalries are very important,” Mueller said. “I don't know [why], but I think it is important for you to have a rival and it forces you to go ahead and concentrate more, dedicate yourself more and it gives you a common goal.”

But another reason that the Helmet game was more anticipated, perhaps more then than now, was because of the lack of a home field for MVHS. MVHS’ current football stadium has only been around for about six years. During Wang’s time at MVHS, the home games were played on the FHS field. According to Wang, this made it difficult for a large turnout.

“It was weird because you couldn’t just go to the neighborhood game,” Wang said. “You have to drive up to Fremont HS. There were a lot of people not able to drive, [so] it's really hard to go out there to catch a ‘home game.’”

Mueller felt this was important and could relate from the perspective of a former MVHS player, so lobbied for the creation of the MVHS football field.

“We had the field, but I wanted lights,” Mueller said. “April Scott came to me and said, ‘Well what do you want?’ I said, ‘Hey, I want the whole show.’ And at the time I was the athletic director, so we got the whole show. We had limitations with lights and all that, but that's okay.”

Since the improvements on the MVHS field, the Helmet has gone back and forth between the teams home sites. But as of late, it has become relatively one sided as CHS has managed to keep the Helmet for the last three years. On Aug. 31 of the 2018 fall season, CHS beat MVHS with a score of 42-15.

Despite the fierce rivalry with CHS, Mueller is still friends with some of the players that once were on the opposite side of the ball. Hancock’s shares a similar perspective — he believes that high school athletics and rivalries extend beyond the field, and make for lifelong memories.

“When you have memorable teams, and even if you don’t win it all, but you have a team that goes far, there's camaraderie there,” Hancock said. “Memories that you never forget.”

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