MESA – For generations, Mesa High School’s motto “Carry on” has been embedded in the school’s traditions and the surrounding community. It is a rallying cry to persevere in difficult times and to help others in the community.
In 1932, Mesa High student Zedo Ishikawa died following an accident on his family’s farm. In honor of his memory, Mesa adopted his final words, “Carry on” as its slogan. It is the title of the school’s fight song, and the essence of the school’s culture.
It is also why, on a recent Saturday, members of the football team could be found cleaning up the grounds of a historic cemetery near HoHoKam Stadium in central Mesa.
Fifteen years ago, the football coaches at Mesa wanted their players to get more involved in community service. Inspired by Ishikawa and the “Carry on” slogan, they decided to have the players travel to the nearly 140-year-old City of Mesa Cemetery where Ishikawa and Mesa’s founding fathers are buried. It’s also where country musician Waylon Jennings and boxer Zora Folley were laid to rest.
“A lot of coaches sacrifice for these guys, and these guys sacrifice for the community,” Mesa coach Chad DeGrenier said. “That’s what makes the world go ‘round. At the end of the day, it’s not just about football. It’s about teaching life skills. We’re just blessed to coach these guys then play football on Fridays.”
The event was so popular with the football team, athletes in Mesa’s other fall sports wanted to join in. Now, the school sends all fall sports athletes and club members to the cemetery for one Saturday in August each year to clean the grounds and tombstones as a way to give back to the community.
Athletic Director Preston Peterson believes the tradition is unlike any other at schools that he has worked for during his career.
“This is one thing that Mesa High has over just about every other campus out there,” Peterson said. “I’ve had teachers that are new to the campus tell me, ‘I don’t understand all of this tradition stuff.’ But then after about six months they circle back around and say, ‘I get it now. I understand how important this is.’”
Ishikawa’s nephews often speak to students and are active members of the Mesa community.
“I just love the ‘Carry on’ tradition,” said Mesa’s senior quarterback Manny Pino. “(I love) hearing the Ishikawa brothers talk to us about Zedo and their family, how the football team was. We hear it every year, but it’s such a great learning experience.”
Most high schools have traditions. Maybe it’s a fight song or a pregame ritual. But few, if any, have a tradition built around serving its community like Mesa High. The tradition isn’t just about the school, it’s about the entire community. It’s what makes Peterson and other faculty members so proud to represent the school and why it is important to continue the tradition.
The event grows every year. In August, the school sent 12 buses loaded with 300 students to the cemetery.
“It’s an opportunity for them to serve the community and give back,” Peterson said. “They enjoy the camaraderie, being out there with each other and doing service together. It’s always more fun to do service when you’re doing it with friends and people on your team or in your club.”
The students all rave about it. For them, it’s not an obligation, but a fun community service that they look forward to all year.
“I just like helping out the community,” senior lineman Troy Reynolds said. “I get a warm feeling inside every time I do it.”
Senior wide receiver Tre Brown added: “It’s a fun experience to go out there and laugh, talk, bond with the teammates in other sports and other clubs out there. It’s a great tradition.”
And for those who have seen family members take part in the project, it is something to look forward to for multiple years. It’s a tradition that they hope will “Carry on.”
“Everyone is having fun, picking up trash, cleaning up the cemetery,” McKy Peters said. “I’m a third generation at Mesa. My brother just turned 31, and he did it when he was at Mesa. So it has been around for a long time.”