The most moving story in Central Section football — not just this year, not just last year, but for three years running — could be found at McLane Stadium on Friday night.
They were dressed in teal and black, all 26 strong, challenging a school, Fresno, nearly four times their size.
They were led by a 31-year-old man unfailingly loyal to his team, school, community and, above all, to his son, Isaiah — a rockin' fifth-grader 10 years after being born premature at 1.7 pounds.
"It's amazing the impact he has had on my life," Mendota coach Beto Mejia says of the boy who lived his first seven months in an incubator. "Things will only get better for me and him."
In football, that's difficult to fathom beyond this season for Mejia.
Difficult, beyond Edgar Segura, closing one of the most prolific careers for a running back in section annals in a program that has volunteered up to Division V after capturing consecutive Division VI titles.
Difficult, beyond ESPN and ABC's 20/20, both of whom since the summer have trucked into the west side with cameras firing and tape recorders rolling while preparing documentaries that will be completed this season.
Imagine that, for a farming community of 11,000 with 40% unemployment?
Imagine that, for 680-student Mendota High?
Yet it's all true in a developing national story illuminated by Friday night lights.
"The players have handled it well. They're not overwhelmed by it," Mejia says. "But I really don't think they understand the significance of it. I think they will after they go to college for a few years, reflect and know that we really do have it tough, that working in the fields is the option if they don't get an education."
Mejia continues to pursue additional education himself, specifically, a teaching credential and a master's in special education.
"I'm student-teaching, coaching, a dad — I'm constantly on the go," he says.
He's had the Aztecs on the go since he joined the program as a junior varsity coach in 2008. Since, entering Friday, he was a combined 51-4 (29-1 JV, 23-3 varsity).
And it was his call — virtually unprecedented — to bump up to D-V in the middle of the section's standard two-year revolving division realignment.
The next cycle will begin in the 2014-15 school year, but he wasn't going to wait after starting both of the last two playoffs in the semifinals because of shallow, six-team D-VI pools.
"We wanted a challenge," Mejia says — again. "We played only two games (in the postseason) each year, so I felt the team was cheated. Since we've gone to D-V, now we have to earn it."
Buckle up: Edison vs. The 'Shaw next week
The section's No. 2 Edison — playing like nothing less than a No. 1 — set up one of the most attractive intersectional games in section history by pummeling Merced 45-0 on the road.
Junior quarterback A.J. Greeley, continuing to ease the loss of three-year star Khari McGee, ran the Bears dizzy; Tyrone Smith made an acrobatic scoring catch; Tyler Horton (TD), Chris Allison and Kevin Nutt had interceptions as the Tigers bolted to a 33-0 halftime lead in a match of 2-0 teams.
Meaning? Edison (3-0) has an opportunity to send the state a message when it hosts Crenshaw (1-1) — maybe the best team in the LA City Section — next Friday at Sunnyside.
Immanuel not only honored its 1973 Sierra Division championship football team Friday night, the school had 22 of the 26 alumni players arrive for its 38-21 win over Minarets at Reedley High.
Most remarkable, however, was the presence of then-coach Dan Thiessen, who made the drive from Bakersfield despite his second go-round with cancer.
The 1973 team, in only the school's third season of varsity football, defeated Riverdale 13-6 for what would be the Eagles' first of eight section titles.
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