For 22 years, Ahwatukee has come together for one night a year, albeit on opposite sides of a stadium, for what has become one of the best high school football rivalries in Arizona.
The annual battle between Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista, separated by just four miles, creates a friendly rivalry in the community, as well, in the game that has become known as the Ahwatukee Bowl.
“Anytime you have two schools right down the street from each other it adds to the intrigue of the game,” said David Hines, executive director of the Arizona Interscholastic Association, the governing body of Arizona high school sports. “Especially in this day in age, this is one of the rivalries that is a very great game to be able to go see.”
The 22nd installment of the Ahwatukee Bowl between the Pride and Thunder is Friday, Oct. 5, at 7 p.m. at Mountain Pointe’s Karl Kiefer Stadium. The game will be telecast live by YurView Arizona on Cox channels 4 and 1004, and then replayed immediately following the live telecast.
The Ahwatukee Bowl dates to 1997, the first year Desert Vista fielded a varsity football team.
Having already established a tradition under legendary coach Karl Kiefer, Mountain Pointe was victorious in the first-ever meeting.
But Desert Vista, led by yet another legendary prep football coach, Jim Rattay, quickly found success of its own.
As of late, it’s been Mountain Pointe that has dominated the series. The Pride have defeated the Thunder in six straight games and eight of the past nine to regain the series lead, 11-10.
“People in the community will talk across the nail salon or when they enter restaurants and see the schools’ colors,” said Dr. Anna Battle, the chief leadership development officer at ASU Prep. “But ultimately, it reminds them why there was a purpose to live in the community in which they live. It has created a new energy within Ahwatukee. People get really excited about it.”
Before joining the staff at ASU Prep, Battle was an integral part of the rivalry. She was assistant principal and athletic director at Desert Vista for five years and then, after a four-year stint at Tempe High, she returned to DV as principal until 2014.
Battle has seen the rivalry grow to heights she couldn’t imagine back in 1997, especially given the success both programs have had since.
Desert Vista won its first state championship in 1998, just two years after the school opened. In 2011, under current coach Dan Hinds, the Thunder again won the state title.
Two years later, it was Mountain Pointe at the top of prep football in Arizona, as then-coach Norris Vaughan led the Pride to a perfect 14-0 record, the state title and No. 5 national ranking.
The successes of the programs fueled the quest for Ahwatukee bragging rights.
“It’s like two brothers going at it,” said Bruce Kipper, athletic director of the Tempe Union High School District. “It’s about school pride and not letting your brother get the best of you, so to speak.”
Having spent 20 years at Mountain Pointe in various positions, including the last 10 as principal before joining the district staff this year, Kipper often compares the Ahwatukee Bowl to one in his home town in northern Idaho. Kipper spent his high school career playing against a rival just across a river, drawing large crowds similar to the Ahwatukee Bowl.
“You have two large schools in a small community,” Kipper said. “This game draws out people in the community that don’t normally come to the games. They aren’t loyal to either school, but it’s the community aspect that interests them.”
Despite the dominance of Desert Vista in the early years and Mountain Pointe’s dominance in recent years, the intensity and interest in the game remains high across the state, perhaps even more so this season given what has transpired since the two schools last met.
For the first time since 2009, Mountain Pointe has a new coach. Rich Wellbrock was hired to take over for Vaughan in January. The transition for Pride players to the new staff and system has had its challenges, especially given a tough schedule to start the season.
The Pride enter Friday’s contest with Desert Vista at 3-3, but are coming off a dominating performance over previously unbeaten Highland.
Desert Vista is 5-1, its only loss coming against Highland two weeks ago. The Thunder have benefited from a lighter schedule to start the season, but have key victories over Carlsbad (Calif.) and Desert Ridge.
“Desert Vista has some dudes and Mountain Pointe has some dudes,” Kipper said. “I think this has potential to be one of the best games we have ever had in this rivalry.”
If there is one thing that has remained consistent throughout the rivalry, it’s that all expectations go out the window.
“Both programs during the rivalry at times have been very strong,” Battle said. “But with this game, it doesn’t matter what the record of each team is. They are coming to play.”