Arcata High and McKinelyville High alumni square off during the yearly Alumni Game at McKinleyville High. (Contributed). This year’s game is set for March 30.

In a couple weeks Shawn Johnston will travel from his home in Missouri to his alma mater, McKinleyville High, for the school’s yearly Alumni Game on Mach 30 at 1 p.m.

Johnston, who graduated from McKinelvyille in 2006 before going to play football at College of the Redwoods and Tabor College (Kansas), will join forces with two dozen or so of his former teammates and generations of past Panthers to, as he says, “relive the glory days,” and take on the Arcata High alumni team.

“I dearly love McKinleyville High and the game,” Johnston said about what will be his fifth time taking part in the event. “To be able to be on the field with guys that I played with and guys I looked up to and to contribute to a great cause means the world to me. Football isn’t a sport that gives you too many opportunities to play it once you get older. Getting to embrace that physicality with my brothers one more time is amazing.”

The game, an athletic fundraiser for McKinleyville High, is an opportunity for alumni of both schools to tighten their chin straps and raise funds for future Panthers. The event has raised nearly $7,000 over the last two years.

Keoki Burbank, head coach of McKinleyville’s football team and the event’s organizer, said the event is an opportunity for him to connect with the community and “relive the rivalry” with Arcata High.

“It’s such a fun event for me personally; everyone really enjoys the game and it’s great to be able to meet members of the community and come together,” Burbank said.

Other than doing away with special teams, the game will be as close to a real game of football as can be reached.

David Seda, an Arcata alumnus who graduated in 2005 and has played in the event several times and will once again do so in a couple weeks, said as much.

“For the first two drives everybody’s adrenaline is pumping and you feel like you never stop playing,” he said. “And then, around the same time, everyone crashes back down to earth and realizes that we are not young men anymore. But, the opportunity to find 22 guys who are willing to put on a helmet and shoulder pads is pretty rare.”

For Johnston the bumps and bruises are not just worth it, they are a big reason why the former Panther returns year after year.

“It took me two days after last year’s game to basically move again, and I’m a fitness manager, so my whole life is about being physically prepared but you can’t prepare your body for the contact the comes with football. But I embrace it; it gives me and the other guys a chance to relive a lifelong passion — it’s a special opportunity,” he said.

Arcata’s team will be coached by alumni Curran Sanchez and Fel Barlow while McKinleyville will be coached by alumni Isaac Cash and Dale Cash. Dale Cash, a 30-plus year coaching veteran, is currently the Single-A coach for McKinelvyille’s youth team.

As of this publication, each team has about 16 players signed up and it’s not too late to sign up for the event.

For more information on the Alumni Game or to purchase a roster spot, visit the event’s Facebook page, “McKinelyville VS Arcata Alumni Football Game,” or call Burbank at 707-497-9861.


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