The 2017 Kingsburg High football team stormed through its inflatable tunnel last Friday night, emerging from a cloud of smoke that added to the excitement.
“Go Kingsburg!” yelled a few members of the 1967 Viking team who were honored before the game for their long-ago league title.
“C’mon Geezers!” said John Perry, who played linebacker for Kingsburg 50 years ago. Then it was the turn of the ’67 Vikings to pass through the tunnel in their white T-shirts with the green printing that said: “Viking football, 1967 WSL champions.”
“This is a hoot,” said former Kingsburg player Curtis Rasmussen, who played center in ’67 despite being just 5-foot-4, 145 pounds. “It was 10 years since Kingsburg’s last title and we had a small team and not much was expected of us, but we made it to the playoffs and that’s what you live for in high school.”
The team went 6-2-2 overall and tied for the West Sequoia League title with Exeter before losing to Chowchilla in Kingsburg’s first-ever football playoff game. They did not receive championship rings, but did get miniature gold footballs. Young Caitlyn Van Laar – the granddaughter of Rasmussen – wore her granddad’s bauble to Friday night’s game.
"Does she get to keep it after the game?" Rasmussen was asked.
"No," he said.
To say the late 1960s was a different era is an understatement. Back in 1967, 10,000 marched in San Francisco to protest the Vietnam War, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in the first Super Bowl and Jimi Hendrix released his iconic album “Are You Experienced?”
There was no cable TV back then, no Internet, no Smart phones.
“We were really into sports and it started when we were younger, in junior high and grammar school,” said George Roehlk, a star running back on the ’67 team. “We didn’t watch much TV and there were no video games. Pong (an early video game) hadn’t even come out yet.”
Mark Pinheiro, a star lineman on the team, organized the reunion and athletic director Thom Sembritzki agreed to honor the team. About 15 of the players returned and were feted on the field before Friday’s Monache vs. Kingsburg game, won by the Vikings 42-28.
Some of the former players had thinning hair and wore eyeglasses and were maybe a few pounds over their high school playing weight; all looked delighted as they were cheered by the crowd under the Friday night lights once again.
Ironically, the guy who organized the evening – Pinheiro – almost did not complete the 1967 season. While preparing to meet Chowchilla, Pinheiro got into a scuffle with a teammate in practice, much to the ire of coach Dub Doshier.
“Pinheiro hit a guy and knocked him down and Doshier kicked him off the team,” said Bob Kataoka, a receiver on the 1967 team. “He said ‘Mark, go to the showers – you’re done.’ We were all just sort of standing there because he was one of our best players. But then near the end of practice Doshier said ‘Bobby, go get Mark’ and so I ran to the locker room and Mark was standing there with a long face and I told him he could come back out to practice.”
Pinheiro not only played offense against Chowchilla, but defense too. Fifty years later he had the good sense to reunite the guys.
“This was a lot of fun,” former Viking Larry Esajian said. “I haven’t seen some of these guys in 30, 40 or maybe even 50 years. But it was Mark Pinheiro’s idea – he deserves all the kudos.”