Passing of legendary high school football coach stirs memories
Name of rival team’s coach winds up in legacy award for GPS coach
ighland Junior High School Physical Education Teacher Russ Kilpatrick.

By Eduardo Barraza
August 18, 2017

(Gilbert, AZ) -- For Highland Junior High School Physical Education teacher Russ Kilpatrick, the name of Coach Jesse Parker has a special connotation.

As a high school student, Kilpatrick never played under the legendary football coach. Rather, in 1988, his Dobson High School team played against Mountain View High’s team, at the time being coached by Parker. At stake was the state championship.

Nearly three decades later, the name of Coach Parker took a personal meaning for Kilpatrick, when in 2016 he became the recipient of the Coach Jesse Parker Legacy Foundation Award.

The award recognizes educators and coaches whose work reflects Parker’s legacy of dedication and perseverance in encouraging students and athletes to excel.

Parker, who also coached football at Gilbert High School, passed away in July. He was 77.

“I always admired him as a competitor, and I admired him even more after I graduated and I heard the stories on what kind of man he was, and the ideas he taught; he pushed players hard but loved them,” said Kilpatrick.

The Foundation recognized Kilpatrick for his work at Highland Junior, which involves working with students in the Unified Physical Education class who have intellectual or developmental disabilities.

For over two decades, Coach Kilpatrick has been teaching junior high and high school physical education for Gilbert Public Schools. Currently he teaches 7th and 8th grade P.E, Unified P.E. and Sports Training, in addition to coaching Wrestling.

Kilpatrick said that over the years the thing that struck him the most about Parker was meeting a lot of his former players in college and the workplace, and learning they have the highest respect for him.

“These guys, grown men, still remember the lessons he taught them in high school. That shows the great deal about a man, how his students perceive him 20, 30 years after he taught them.”

Desert Ridge High School's Assistant Principal Lance Smith, who from 1986 to 1988 played under Coach Parker, said he was honored to play for him while he coached at Mountain View High.

“Coach Parker taught me about mental toughness. I was able to learn that I had more in me than I thought possible,” said Smith. “There were times that I said to myself that if I took another step, I would die. Well, I took another step and I did not die. I am grateful for the life lessons that he taught me, for football truly was life.”

Coach Parker did not only leave a lasting impression on people who played for him or met him in person, but also in men like Mike Davis, Principal at Gilbert’s Pioneer Elementary, who was never taught or coached by him.

Davis, who played football while in high school in Minnesota, said he was drawn to the legend of Coach Parker.

“If it wasn't a former player, it was a fan of Arizona football who would speak of his teams and his legend,” said Davis. “I wish I could have played for, or had been able to meet him.”

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