By football rivalry standards the Ahwatukee Bowl featuring neighbors Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe is only entering adolescence.
But in the 12 years since the game began in 1997 there has always been a link between the two schools.
And it isn’t because most of the players shared the same playground when they were younger.
When Pride coach Karl Kiefer went up against Desert Vista’s Jim Rattay the first time in 1997, the two already had a history going back to when Kiefer was at Tempe McClintock and Rattay coached at Mesa High.
After Rattay was fired from the Desert Vista job in January of 2002, Dan Hinds moved up from the junior varsity to take over the program.
Hinds had been a tight end on Kiefer’s teams at McClintock.
Then, Kiefer retired and Phil Abbadessa took over the top spot for the Pride.
Hinds and Abbadessa, who also played for Kiefer at McClintock, grew up in the same Tempe neighborhood.
And now, this year, with newcomer Norris Vaughan taking the Pride job after Abbadessa resigned, there is still a historic thread between the programs.
Jeff Decker was on Rattay’s coaching staff in 1998 when the Thunder won the state championship.
Now he is Vaughan’s defensive coordinator.
He was also on Kiefer’s staff in 2005 the last time the Pride beat the Thunder in the Ahwatukee Bowl, but since then he had been Mountain Pointe’s drop-out prevention officer.
He continued his coaching career, but as an assistant far from Ahwatukee at Phoenix North Canyon.
This year’s Pride seniors weren’t even freshmen the last time Decker was on the Mountain Pointe sidelines.
“These guys hadn’t seen me as a coach,” Decker said going into this season’s Ahwatukee Bowl.
“Until this year, to them I was always Mr. Decker, a quasi administrator who dealt with them in an administrative way talking about attendance. So it was surprise a for a lot of them when they saw me on the football field this year instead of sitting behind a desk.”
Joey Leal is a senior linebacker and fullback who had never seen Decker without a necktie until practice last spring.
“I never knew who he was and I never knew he was a coach,” Leal said. “Until coach Vaughan introduced him I never knew he had won a state championship. It was amazing.”
Senior lineman Alex Lewis was another starter who never made the connection even though he saw Decker in the halls at Mountain Pointe for the past three years.
“I had seen him around, but I had no idea he was a football coach,” Lewis said.
Decker can be intense and vocal as a Marine drill instructor on the football field.
So another senior, defensive back Israel Marshall also did a double take the first few days.
“Izzy told me, ‘I didn’t know you were like this. I never saw this side of you. You were always so mellow,’” Decker recalled with a grin.
And he still is off the field.
“I guess when you put on your football hat it’s a little different from being in drop-out prevention,” Decker added.
But as intense as he is on the field, Decker is still mellow off and said he has seen the Ahwatukee Bowl rivalry going that direction over the past few years too.
“I haven’t been in the mix for the last few years, but (the rivalry) seems more civil lately,” Decker said. “It’s still an important game for the kids and we want to beat them because they’re our neighbors. But I don’t think there is the hate there like it used to be.”