Although they competed at the junior varsity level in their opening sports seasons last year, 340 athletes at Rancho Mirage High School have something special to commemorate their performance.
A letterman’s jacket patch was awarded at the conclusion of the first year of the newest school in the desert.
Now, with close to 1,300 students among the freshman, sophomore and junior classes, Rancho Mirage will be a full-fledged member of the De Anza League and will compete at the varsity level for the first time.
Vice principal and athletic director Chris Calderwood said the Rattlers are ready to earn their first varsity letter after starting from scratch.
“We’ve been talking a lot here about a lot of firsts — being the first to graduate, the first win, the first whatever and we wanted to do something,” he said. “We’re building on nothing. There’s no prior history.”
And that was one of the challenges Calderwood faced in year one.
He was challenged. He was excited. However, this was something he embraced after two decades as a coach, athletic director and vice principal at Palm Springs.
“The whole idea of opening a new school makes you feel like a rookie,” he said. “You have to look at every little thing you do. Everything from ordering uniforms and equipment, to hiring and training of coaches and seeing that philosophy of caring for kids.
“We hired the kind of people who have used their experience to make it the way they always wanted it. The challenge is to challenge the norm, and that will be an ongoing challenge.”
One of those coaches is football coach L.D. Matthews, who moved over from Desert Hot Springs to Rancho Mirage to build a program while staying in the same district and in the same league.
“It all started with the foundations of our leaders Dr. Wagner (principal) and Mr. Calderwood,” said Matthews, who will lead his Rattlers into their first varsity game at home Aug. 29 against Coachella Valley. “At any school that’s established, there’s a foundation and the planning here started there. It was a big eye-opener for me.”
Matthews said from purchasing helmets and belts to weight room equipment and blocking sleds to ordering enough footballs, it all needed to be done from Day. 1. Then, Matthews set out to teach his players, including some from scratch, about the game and his game plan.
“This year’s spring practice looks a lot different than last year’s,” said Matthews. “We’re building a base and now we’re no longer from Palm Springs or Cathedral City or DHS. We are all Rattlers.”
Rancho Mirage is the fourth high school to open in the past decade following Desert Mirage (2003), Xavier Prep (2006) and Shadow Hills (2009).
The 1,300-strong will compete with just freshmen, sophomores and juniors, and Calderwood expects about half the student body to compete in some level of athletics.
Teressa Mann remembers the anxious experiences walking into a new school at Cathedral City when it opened in 1991, then being overwhelmed when she did the same when her son Rue was a freshman at Cathedral City in 2012. When Rancho Mirage opened last year, she didn’t hesitate to extend the chance to Rue to go to the new high school. He’s now a junior and member of the football team.
“I was discouraged by the classroom size, just walking through the halls, it’s intimidating,” she said of Cathedral City High. “You couldn’t walk five feet without bumping into someone. It was overwhelming. I can’t imagine La Quinta (the largest school in the valley with 3,000 students).
“This gives kids a chance with the opening of all those new schools. It gives more opportunity in the classroom and on the field. I think it’s great. It’s very exciting. He’s played football for 10 or 11 years already, and now this is the moment we’ve been waiting for — a new school and the first (varsity) game.”
Junior Tyrell Robinson, another Cathedral City transfer who will play football, basketball and run track for the Rattlers, said his fellow teammates are ready to begin a new era.
“We’re all excited,” he said. “We’re in our first year and we have the chance to prove to a lot of people that we can win. A lot of people think we won’t. Even with mostly sophomores and juniors, we think we can.”