Tukee Talk Jason P. Skoda

It’s about that time of the year when some Valley football programs get out of the area for a spell before it starts to get real serious.

Some head to California with time on the beach mixed in with the team bonding and conditioning, but most head up north to places like Eagar or Snowflake.

Desert Vista heads to Eagar on Sunday and late word from Mountain Pointe coach Norris Vaughan is the Pride might be making last minute plans to head north as well after another team canceled, opening up a spot for the Pride.

The tradition is believed to have been started by coaching legend Jesse Parker, who won more than 300 games at schools like Camelback, Mesa Mountain View and Gilbert.

The first time he took the boys up north was 1982 and soon thereafter teams began following suit.

I once had an assignment with my previous employer to spend a couple of days with Parker and Gilbert back in 2006 while he put the team through the rigors of preseason camp.

It was a tremendous experience and still one of my all-time favorite gigs.

For those who don’t know about Parker and his ways, he is the epitome of old school coaching and if he had his way football would be spelled D-I-S-C-I-P-L-I-N-E-D.

So while I never had the chance to take such a trip with my teammates as Desert Vista will do on Sunday through July 27, I did get a feel for what it’s like.

Now, every coach has his own style and different ideas on how to get their goals accomplished while away from home so I am guessing Dan Hinds and his staff are not as relentless as Parker was in my two-day visit to the Round Valley Dome, but there is more than one way to crack a nut.

For Parker it was definitely done with force.

“There is something to those old-school guys,” Hinds said. “Look how many state titles Parker (5) and (former McClintock and Mountain Pointe coach Karl) Kiefer (3) had. I probably fall somewhere between because this is no summer camp for these guys.

“I think the bonding really occurs when you push them to their limit and the only person they can turn to is a teammate because mom and dad aren’t there.”

One sign of dogging it during any of the three non-contact practice sessions each day and Parker, then 66, reverted to yesteryear when kids feared their mentors instead of overage charges on their cell phone minutes.

Other coaches may have followed suit in heading up north, but his temperament couldn’t be copied.

“It’s about team bonding and working hard, but mostly working hard,” Parker said at the time. “I bet there isn’t a team that works harder than us during this week. We don’t go to beaches (as some schools go to California) for the camaraderie crap.”

Although the week’s stay in the Round Valley Dome, where the players sleep, practice, eat and shower, was based on team bonding and conditioning, the Tigers knew that the disciplinarian in their head coach was one lagging sprint away from resurfacing.

Parker’s go-to move for motivation was threatening a trip to ‘The Hill.’

When I first of heard it, I instantly thought of the way former NFL greats Walter Payton and Jerry Rice trained in the offseason. While this particular hill wasn’t as rigorous, it was still difficult for a bunch of teenagers of various sizes and shapes.

It was probably less than a half-mile, but don’t tell that to those who had to attack it. It was a dirt road that eroded into gravel, which doesn’t provide much traction.

Of course, the uphill slant made it harder and made their legs burn like a bagel stuck in a toaster.

More than anything, it served a purpose — a threat hanging over the player’s head that could be used as punishment anytime the short-wicked Parker felt the need.

Hinds and the Thunder are heading up there next week with hopes of getting similar results as last season when they returned from the White Mountains a stronger team.

For the first time last year, the Thunder included a big-brother program in which seniors adopted freshmen, who were included for the first time.

“It will be interesting to see how that develops that class,” Hinds said. “We won’t know for a couple of years, but I think it was really important. I never had a program like that in place before and it sort of happened naturally.”

The good came from the fact that they implemented the big-brother program to help the newbies get acclimated to the system and make them feel comfortable in their first real team outing.

“It was great watching that develop throughout the week,” Hinds said at the time. “It just makes sense to do something like this to foster a good feeling for everyone involved.”

It’s a nice idea and looks even better after the team won the state title, giving those freshmen, now sophomores, a taste of what it took to be champions.

But for some reason, I can’t see Parker instituting a buddy system.

Unless it had something to do with taking turns at picking up the carnage left behind on The Hill.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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