OAKDALE -- One community. One school. One football team. One loyal following.
It's a difficult combination to beat, says Dale Clipper -- whose name has long been associated with Oakdale football. He quarterbacked the Mustangs in 1950, then returned a few years later to begin his long career as the football and track coach.
"A lot of people stay here after high school, or they move for a while but will then come back," says Clipper, who retired from teaching in 1990. "The relationships they develop as kids, many will continue throughout their lives for folks living here in Oakdale."
Many of those folks will be on hand Aug. 29 when the Oakdale Quarterback Club recognizes Clipper and longtime coach Jack Walker during its annual kickoff celebration at the Oakdale FES Hall.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Merced Sun-Star
"A community with just the one high school benefits from an all-for-one attitude," says Clipper, head football coach from 1959-79 and co-coach in track from 1957-87. "When folks move in, they see the success that Oakdale has had in football and many naturally want to be a part of that."
An Oakdale grad has been the football coach for a half-century: Clipper, then Jim Gilbert, Mike Riley, Marc Malone and Trent Merzon.
Clipper expects a cadre of former players to attend. He hopes that includes former NFL quarterback Eddie LeBaron, one of seven players from the 1944 team who went on to play in college.
"Eddie was here a few years ago to talk to the team," says Clipper. "You want to keep contact with your legacy, new kids seeing players who came before them and the old guys seeing how the kids are continuing their success."
Oakdale won a Sac-Joaquin Section title in 2007 and was named Division III State Team of the Year by CalHiSports.com. It coincided with a million-dollar makeover of the stadium: artificial turf, an all-weather track, new bleachers on both sides of the field and a bronze statue of a Mustang that towers over players as they take the field.
"The people of our community, farmers, cannery workers, dairymen and small businessmen, know what it's like to physically work each day," says former coach John Quaccia, who helped organize the celebration. "Oakdale folks display the same tough work ethic that the football teams display. Football parallels life for a lot of people. When you get knocked down, you need to get up and go again."
Clipper realized that even before he first put on a Mustang jersey two years after the end of World War II. As a 160-pound junior in the single-wing, he broke his collarbone the second game of the season -- but he was back taking snaps the following fall.
"We had the T-formation in 1950, and that was a big move. Oakdale had run the single-wing since its first season," says Clipper, noting the 1921 season was one game. "They lost to Hughson, but at that time, both of us had 200 kids."
While Clipper gained his fame primarily as a football coach, Walker remains one of the Stanislaus District's most successful track coaches. He posted a 276-15 record in dual meets in 34 years, and his Mustangs lost just six league dual meets during a 31-year stretch.
"Jack coached football in the 1950s, but he was also athletic director and track coach, and just had too much to do," Clipper says. "This school certainly got its money's worth from Jack Walker, no doubt about that."
Tickets are $20. Those who attend must be 21 or older. Proceeds go to the Oakdale Quarterback Club. Call 847-3524.