Tom Sommers had a big year as Roosevelt High's quarterback in 1959, but it was something that occurred on campus 50 years later that he treasures just as well.
Asked to give the Rough Riders' football team a pep talk at a November dinner in the school cafeteria a few days before annual Pig Game against Fresno last year, Sommers brought with him his former school principal, the late Bob Miner.
Miner was 95 years old, and he would die two months later, but not before he was followed out of the cafeteria that night by a combination of about 15 Roosevelt players and cheerleaders, thanking him for his presence.
"I drove Bob home," Sommers says, "and all he could talk about were those kids. He said, 'Imagine that they came out and greeted me as if I did something big.' We were so impressed with the great caliber of young people there."
Sommers admittedly hasn't been involved with his alma mater for "many years." But so moved by the direction of the school and football program as led by Principal Bryan Wells and coach Mike Hobbie, he returned to give a repeat talk Monday night -- two days before tonight's 82nd Pig Game with Fresno at Sunnyside Stadium.
Roosevelt is 24-18 in four seasons under Hobbie, who raised many a local eyebrow by leaving Florida to inherit a Riders team that had gone 4-68 since 2000.
But more important than the turnaround to Sommers is what he observed at the school cafeteria.
"Not all those kids who came out running to Mr. Miner have homes and parents," Sommers says. "A lot of those kids are being taught that [appreciation] by coaches, teachers, Wells and Hobbie.
"Obviously, that school does not have the same makeup as it did 50 years ago when we were there. But Bryan and Mike are really committed to those students, they're enforcing zero tolerance, and the kids are buying into it. I can't say enough how impressed I was."
The feeling is mutual, say Hobbie and Wells, who welcomed Sommers and seven other players from the 1959 team at last year's pre-Pig Game function, and Sommers and a couple others again Monday.
Arranging their presence was Ken Kemmerer, a former Roosevelt cross country runner who would continue to be a classmate of Sommers at Fresno State. And it was there that Sommers would make the Bulldogs Hall of Fame in baseball.
"Listening to Tom really brought history back," Hobbie says. "It has really been a treat for our kids to see some of the older guys and how fired up they still are about Roosevelt football."
Just ask Sommers about the 1959 Pig Game at Ratcliffe Stadium.
Score? "Roosevelt 34, Fresno 14."
Highlight: "Bob Jensen, our fullback, ran 67 yards for a touchdown on the opening play."
Wells, the school's second-year principal, was struck by the scene tying Sommers and his teammates to the present team: "How respectful our players were toward them, the tears in the eyes of the alumni, it was an amazing moment. Coach Hobbie is doing a great job trying to reconnect with history and restore the legacy of this program."
On the field, however, it promises never to be the same, given the dramatic shift of demographics at the southeast Fresno school.
And history supports that -- the Riders last won a league football title in 1963 and a Central Section championship in 1953.
Section playoffs were suspended from 1957-66. Not long after they resumed, the city began experiencing white flight to the north, Clovis Unified exploded and athletic stability became an annual challenge at Roosevelt and its Fresno Unified brethren.
Often, Hobbie must start from scratch with players.
For example: Only two of his 30 players -- halfback Paul Juarez and defensive back Steve Chavez -- played youth football before high school. And only five have participated in the program for all four years of high school.
Soon after he arrived from Florida, where he coached both high school and college (South Florida), Hobbie immediately lightened Roosevelt's schedule, replacing larger schools in nonleague games with the likes of Tranquillity and Mendota.
That invited some wins, self-esteem and momentum, which has segued into this season (6-3, 2-2) and a drive toward second place behind North Yosemite League champion Hoover (4-5, 4-0).
The Riders will arrive at Sunnyside Stadium tonight against Fresno (2-7, 2-2) having beaten Reedley 41-14 and McLane 41-6 the past two weeks as Juarez and Jeremy Whigham shared near 200-yard rushing games in a triple-option offense steered by quarterback Victor Garcia.
"I don't think things ever go as you'd hope," Hobbie says, "but the team has accomplished some good things. I'm happy."
The Fresno-Roosevelt game will air at 11:59 p.m. today on KGMC-43.1 (Comcast channel 10). It will then will re-air at 8 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. Thursday on KGEO-32.1 (Comcast channel 187).
The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (559) 441-6336.