Ahwatukee Bowl

Crowds like this one from last year’s Ahwatukee Bowl won’t be present at this year’s annual event.

When the bright lights of Karl Kiefer Stadium flicker on Friday night as Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista football teams take the field for the 24th Ahwatukee Bowl, the atmosphere surrounding one of the state’s best and longest rivalries will be different. 

There will be no band. There will be no student sections shouting across the field. The crowd, limited to a couple hundred spectators per team, will be spaced out with masks on. 

Nobody but the winning team will rush the field when the final horn sounds. 

The usual boisterous chants of “we run ‘Tukee!” will be faded, if present at all. 

Instead of meeting at midfield for the ceremonial handshake, teams will instead only raise a helmet to opponents. Fans will then exit their seats and leave the stadium. There will be only limited time to celebrate. 

“It’s going to be completely different than it has been in the past,” Mountain Pointe Athletic Director Aaron Frana said. 

“I remember coaching in the ‘Tukee Bowl and we would come out during warmups and the stands on both sides would be packed. Now, we will show up and there will be only a couple hundred fans on each side, socially distanced. 

“The atmosphere won’t be the same.”

All of those characteristics of the Ahwatukee Bowl rivalry between Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista will be missed by coaches, players and parents alike. Surely, they will never be taken for granted again when, and most importantly if, the world is able to return to normal. 

But for now, as the coronavirus pandemic rages on and Arizona sees a new surge in cases, the new reality seemingly puts a damper on a great community rivalry. 

Or does it?

“This game is fun, it’s always fun,” Desert Vista Athletic Director Tommy Eubanks said. 

“It’s the team to the north, we want to take them down and they feel the same way about us,” he said. “This is what sports are all about. It’s this competitive, friendly rivalry type of moment where you see who rises to the occasion to get the job done.”

Parents and player will be called on to try to replicate the energy usually present in the community when it’s ‘Tukee Bowl week. 

Tempe Union High School District has placed strict limitations on fan attendance at sporting events in an attempt to keep players and parents safe while on campus. 

Per those guidelines, each player is allotted two tickets for family members. Ticket sales to the general public – a major factor in the size of the crowd in past ‘Tukee Bowl games – are forbidden by the district. 

Additionally, with Tempe Union still in a hybrid learning model with students only on campus two days a week, students are also not allowed to attend games. 

Initially, the district had hoped to allow the student-body to attend athletic events, but that depended on whether the district could move into a full in-person learning environment.

But that never happened as cases surged. 

“It’s really too bad because this game brings out the whole community,” Tempe Union Athletic Director Dave Huffine said. “Even though the teams aren’t doing as well as they traditionally have, it’s still a rivalry that has deep roots and it means a lot to a lot of people. 

“I’m excited for it and glad we still get to experience it in a very turbulent year.”

Regardless of fan attendance, this year’s game has already shaped up to be the first of its kind in the rivalry. 

For the first time ever, both Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista enter the game winless.

 The Pride’s loss to Queen Creek last Friday put their overall record at 0-7 heading into the final week of the pandemic-shortened regular season. 

Desert Vista, which was forced to cancel their Week 6 matchup against powerhouse Chandler due to COVID-related issues, had a scheduled bye last week and are currently 0-5. 

Both teams entered the season young and with several new pieces on both sides of the ball. Desert Vista has just one senior on the offensive line and several sophomores at other key positions, including quarterback with Jackson Akins. 

Mountain Pointe’s hiring of Eric Lauer drew in players from other programs, many of which from Laveen and south Phoenix.

 Both junior quarterback Amier Boyd – who has started the entire season after winning a hardship appeal to become eligible – and sophomore Chris Arviso III transferred from South Mountain after a coaching change. 

Both teams have struggled to find a rhythm and get in the win column. But both have also improved. And as many have said and will continue to say for many years with this rivalry, records don’t matter. 

“I’m excited for our young group,” Eubanks said. “The record may not reflect it, but we’ve competed. And I know they have, too. It’s been a fun year watching these kids grow and get better.”

So, while this year’s Ahwatukee Bowl will surely be different than in year’s past, it continues to carry the same appeal it has since its inception in 1997. 

“It’s still the ‘Tukee Bowl,” Frana said. “These kids all know each other, and nobody wants to lose this game. I just want to see both teams get after it and play their butts off.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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