Even after having been a part of the rivalry since its inception in 1997, the annual Ahwatukee Bowl between Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe still holds a special place in the heart of Dan Hinds.
The Thunder head coach was an assistant under legendary coach Jim Rattay when the rivalry was created between Desert Vista and a Karl Kiefer-lead Mountain Pointe team. For years the rivalry was dominated by the Thunder under Rattay and Hinds when he took over the program in 2002.
But the Pride eventually gained a foothold, making the annual meeting one of the best Arizona has to offer.
“Karl Kiefer was the king of creating rivalries,” Hinds said. “He created the Tempe-McClintock rivalry and he created this one. It changed when I took over for Rattay and coached against Kiefer.
“But no matter the coach or the situation, this rivalry has always been here and always will.”
For years, Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista traded two-to-three-year streaks in the rivalry. In 2012, three years after Norris Vaughan took over, the Pride went on a hot streak that didn’t end until the 2018 season, when Hinds and the Thunder reclaimed the trophy.
Hinds coached the Thunder to a back-to-back ‘Tukee Bowl win last season, and now aims to claim the trophy for a third consecutive year – a feat that hasn’t been done since 2006, 2007 and 2008.
But this year presents the renewal of a rivalry intertwined within the big game. Hinds will coach against Eric Lauer, a former top assistant under Vaughan and the first-year head coach of the Pride.
“Eric and I have known each other for a long time,” Hinds said. “He was at Mountain Pointe for a long time and I respect him. I think since I took over, we’ve made it a healthy rivalry and Eric and I will continue that.”
Lauer was hired to take over the team he once helped become one of the most dominant programs in the state. Under Vaughan and Lauer, the Pride captured the 2013 Division I championship and finished as a top-10 team in the country.
When Vaughan retired in 2018 and Rich Wellbrock was hired as his successor, Lauer became the head coach at nearby Marcos de Niza, where he developed the Padres into a playoff team. When Wellbrock stepped down as head coach after the 2019 season, Lauer took the opportunity to return to Mountain Pointe and will now lead the Pride into arguably the game every player looks forward to the most each season.
“The worst thing you ever want to do is get into it with your neighbor,” Lauer said. “But if you get into it and you lose, you still have to live there. So, for the next year you have to live with that. The wife looks at you funny.
“This game is against your neighbor. There is a level of heightened pressure with this game because of that.”
Like it does for Hinds, the ‘Tukee Bowl holds a special place in Lauer’s heart.
As much as he would like to take the approach of it being just another game for his program, he knows that is far from reality. The ‘Tukee Bowl, in a non-pandemic year, brings together the entire community. Families who may not have a preference for the winner would often attend the game.
In its glory years, when both programs were vying for a state title, as many as 15,000 fans would pack in each stadium and create a standing room only environment. Even as the size of the crowds has tapered in recent years, the game still holds the same value in the hearts of all those involved with either program.
“I remember walking out to 15,000 and the kids feeling like rock stars. It’s a big deal, it’s the battle of Ahwatukee,” Lauer said. “As coaches we try to keep things even keel. But we know how important this game is to the kids. It’s always been exciting, and we want to keep it going.”
Both Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe enter the game winless for the first time in history. But many would argue that brings a new level of intensity to the game – especially taking place at the end of the season.
The winner will not only receive the coveted Ahwatukee Bowl trophy but bragging rights for the next year. Perhaps most importantly, the winner will receive a boost of momentum heading into an important offseason for both teams.
“As this comes down to be our last game, you want to finish off strong and roll into the offseason with a rivalry-game win if at all possible,” Lauer said. “It’s a big deal. It helps set the tone as we head into the offseason.”
Sure, maybe this year’s ‘Tukee Bowl may not get as much attention around the state as it has in the past. But as it has for several years, it still means everything to Hinds, Lauer and their players.
“People may think it sounds funny, but this could be one of the most important Ahwatukee Bowls played in a long time,” Hinds said. “Things have been so crazy this season with COVID.
“Both teams are looking for that win, and both have a chance.”