History of Tempe High Schools Football

:By:  Tempe Historical Museum

Tempe High School  The Buffaloes

Buffalos 1925

Soon after Tempe High School was formed in 1908, its athletic program included baseball, basketball, and other sports. But the students’ unofficial football team was not recognized or supported by the school board. At the time, there were only a few schools in Arizona that could field teams, so Tempe High played a short schedule each fall with games against Phoenix Indian School, Tempe Normal School, the University of Arizona, and Phoenix Union High School. In 1924 the district finally approved football as an authorized school sport, and the first regular varsity team was formed. That year the Buffaloes had a 3-4 season under coach Lewis S. Neeb.

Tempe High had no field of its own. The team played its home games at Arizona State College’s stadium. Even after a new Tempe High School campus was built at Mill and Broadway in 1953, the Buffaloes continued to play at ASU’s Goodwin Stadium. Home games were not actually played at the high school until 1969, when lights were added to the field.

The Buffaloes have won three state championship titles since Tempe varsity football began in 1924. The first came in 1956, when Tempe High went undefeated with a 10-0 record under coach John Zucco. Although there was no playoff system then, the team was declared the state champion in Class B by Phoenix sportswriters. Between 1954 and 1957, Coach Zucco led the Buffaloes to a 32-6-1 record that included an 18-game winning streak. The Buffaloes’ second championship came in 1989, when they shared the 4A title with Agua Fria. In the final playoff game in Sun Devil Stadium, which was attended by more than 11,000 fans, the Buffaloes and the Owls fought to a 10-10 draw. The tie game capped a 13-1-1 season under second-year coach Jim Murphy. The Buffaloes also won the 4A state championship in 1996, beating Glendale Ironwood 20-17 in an overtime thriller, won by a touchdown pass from Todd Mortensen to Justin Taplin. This victory capped a perfect 14-0 season, led by Tim McBurney.

McClintock High School

The Chargers

McClintock High School opened its doors in early 1965 and began playing varsity football that fall. They fielded a winning team in their first season. Their 7-2 record that year earned them an “independent” state championship title, since the school had not yet been assigned to a state division. McClintock also did not have its own stadium at first. Like Tempe High, the team played its home games at Goodwin Stadium until its own lighted stadium was completed.

Coach Karl Kiefer guided the Chargers from their first year in 1965 through the 1989 season. Under his leadership, McClintock became known as a football powerhouse. Year after year, the Chargers proved to be one of the best high school teams in Arizona, with only one losing season and three state championships. For the students and fans, the most important game was always the annual match between McClintock and Tempe High. Later, the Chargers’ main rivals became Mountain View and Westwood high schools in Mesa.

The Chargers’ first state title came in 1977, when the team went undefeated and captured the championship with a 14-9 playoff victory over Phoenix’s Washington High. Three years later, the Chargers posted a 12-2 record and won their second title by defeating Phoenix’s Trevor Browne High School in the 1980 championship game. Their third state title in 1989 capped a 13-2 season that ended with a 42-14 playoff victory over Mesa’s Westwood High.

In recent years, 13 Chargers have gone on to play professional football. Under current Coach Mike Gibbons, a McClintock grad himself, the Chargers qualified for the state playoffs from 2003 to 2008.

Marcos de Niza High School

The Padres

Tempe’s third high school, Marcos de Niza, opened in the fall of 1971 and began playing varsity football in 1972. The Padres played their home games on the Tempe and McClintock fields until their own stadium was finished in the middle of the 1973 season. In just their second year, coach Ron Cosner led the Padres to the Skyline Division championship and a second-place rating in the Arizona Republic’s end-of-season poll. The Padres’ only loss that year was when they were defeated by Camelback in the state playoff semifinals.

The Padres made it to the regional championships in 1997 and 2003 and were the Pima Region champs in the 2007 and 2008 seasons under Head Coach Roy Lopez.

Corona del Sol High School

The Aztecs

Corona del Sol High School opened in 1977, and played its first varsity season in the fall of 1978. In 1980, under coach Larry Hughes, the Aztecs compiled a 12-1 record and won the AA state championship. Since then, the Aztecs have reached the state semifinals twice – in 1989 and 1991 – under coach Gary Venturo.

Mountain Pointe High School

The Pride

In 1992, Mountain Pointe High School opened and began playing varsity football. Coach Karl Kiefer left McClintock, where he had an established athletic program with a history of winning teams, to be the first coach at the new school. After just a few seasons, the Mountain Pointe Pride has already proven to be one of the strongest teams in the state. The Mountain Pointe Pride was a state semi-finalist in 1995 and was regional champion in the 1992, 1994, 1995 and 2000 seasons. The Pride is currently under the leadership of Head Coach Phil Abbadessa.

Desert Vista High School

The Thunder

The sixth high school in the district, Desert Vista, opened in the fall of 1996. For the first year, only freshman and sophomores were enrolled. The school’s first varsity football team formed in 1997, and for the first year was made up of juniors and sophomores. Desert Vista was the Class 5A state championship the very next year under Coach Jim Rattay. Under Head Coach Dan Hinds, the Thunder have won 3 regional championships in 2001, 2003 and 2006. The team was the state runner-up in the 2007 season.

Tempe School Rivalries

Until 1965, there was only one high school in Tempe. Up to that time, the Buffaloes had the undivided loyalty of the town’s residents. Tempe High’s games were big social events for the whole community. This changed when McClintock began playing varsity football. The two schools became bitter rivals as each tried to prove that they had the best team in Tempe. In their first contest, in 1966, the Chargers defeated the Buffaloes by a score of 3-2. From that point on, McClintock held the upper hand, winning 21 of the 28 games they played through 1993. These games were often played in ASU’s Sun Devil Stadium, and drew huge crowds. In 1971, 15,000 fans saw the Buffaloes defeat the Chargers 19-14. In 1972, more than 10,000 people saw Tempe win a 21-3 victory. The 1989 game, which Tempe narrowly won, 25-24, is considered by some local sportswriters to have been the best high school game of the 1980s. That year the two teams went on to win the 4A and 5A state titles. The two teams no longer play each other, since they now play in different divisions.Mayor Dale Shumway wanted to recognize the winner of the annual Tempe-McClintock game as the city “champion.” The City Trophy was first awarded in 1971. In 1974, the championship became a three-way contest between Tempe, McClintock, and Marcos de Niza. The opening of the new Corona del Sol High School added yet another team to the competition. It was no longer a simple match between two schools. The teams played in different divisions against different schools. It soon became more difficult to pick a city-wide winner, so 1983 was the last year that the trophy was awarded.

During the years that the trophy was awarded, Tempe won it once, Marcos de Niza won it twice, and McClintock won it ten times. The trophy used to travel to the winning school each year. Now it is displayed at McClintock High School.

As more people have moved to Tempe and surrounding communities, the Tempe Union High School District has continued to open new schools. And the presence of more local teams in the city has diluted the rivalries that once characterized Tempe football.

The Changing World of High School Football

For many years, the Tempe Buffaloes’ Friday night games were big events for everybody in Tempe. Today, with five high schools in the district, a team’s fans are more likely to be parents, friends, alumni, and people who live in the neighborhood of the school. But football continues to be an important part of student life, as it always has been.There have been some important changes in high school athletics in recent years. Now many of the best athletes tend to specialize in one sport rather than playing a different sport for every season. Football training is now more of a year-round activity, with weight training, summer camps, clinics, and off-season tournaments. Also, coaching at the high school level has become more professionalized, and players receive much better training advice and care. With professional trainers on staff and state-of-the-art facilities, the field of sports medicine has improved the treatment of athletic injuries. The result: high school athletes, especially football players, are now bigger, stronger, and faster than they once were.

Tempe Buffalos 1925