Gunn High has turned 50. This celebration begs for something more than just a cake with a bonfire of candles.
Only 49 graduating classes have gone out into the world, however, as the 1964-65 school year featured no seniors. That made it interesting for Gunn's first football team, which had only sophomores and juniors that first season and kicked off the year unlike any team since.
Bob Bow shared the duties of athletic director with Ernie Leydecker that first year and the two decided that an eight-game junior varsity schedule better-suited the program before jumping feet first into the tough South Peninsula Athletic League.
"It was a great experience," said Bow, who came over from Cubberley and brought Leydecker in from Wilbur (now JLS) Middle School. "We won five games in a row -- doing well -- and then all of a sudden we were in trouble. We got a call on Monday morning that three players had been accused of drinking at a Saturday night party."
Bow and Leydecker sat down with Gunn principal Robert McLean and assistant principal Jerry Hathaway to decide how best to handle the situation.
"We decided, unfortunately for the kids, that they were finished for that year," the 88-year-old Bow recalled this week. "They missed the last three games and we lost all three."
It was an inauspicious start for Gunn football, to say the least.
That bumpy road continued into the school's first varsity season in 1965, where the Titans started 0-8 before winning its first-ever varsity game against Carlmont.
Perhaps coincidentally, Gunn will help celebrate its 50 years of existence this weekend with a football home game on Friday against -- you guessed it -- Carlmont. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.
The game is a centerpiece around a weekend of activities. There will be a barbecue on Friday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m at Bol Park to kick off the weekend off, followed by a special football halftime show, dubbed "Parade of Decades."
It hasn't quite been five decades since Gunn football emerged from its JV beginnings.
"We didn't really blossom until 1969," Bow said off the 8-2 finish that year.
The Gunn frosh-soph team went 10-0 that season before players moved on to the varsity in '70. The Titans finished 5-5 at the varsity level as coaches spent much of the year trying to find a quarterback.
Don Briggs finished his junior season as the starter before leading Gunn to its finest season ever in 1971, a 10-0 campaign.
Unfortunately for that senior class, the Central Coast Section playoffs began in 1972. Gunn finally made the section playoffs for the first time in 1999, 35 years after the Titans put on their helmets for the first time.
It was a stark beginning for the school in 1964.
"The first half of the year, we were outside in the parking lot," Bow said of holding gym classes. "The gym wasn't ready yet. We had a locker room, but no weight room. We put up some volleyball nets (outside). We had a pretty good boys volleyball team."
Of course, there was no varsity sport of volleyball in those days, nor were there any organized teams for girls. They finally were recognized in 1967.
Gunn, however, was very forward-thinking with its physical education program with the men and women coaches working together. Bow said there were still schools, many in the valley, where the male coaches wouldn't even talk to the female coaches in those days.
Bow takes pride in how the school took shape that first year and where the journey has taken the Titans in 50 years. Gunn now has a second gym, a new pool, new baseball and softball fields and tennis courts plus a first-class track and field facility -- all making for a sports complex that rivals any in Northern California.
Truly, the Titans have come of age over the past 50 years on all fronts.
"It's weathered well," Bow said of the school. "It's better now than it has ever been."
Bow, who will take part in many of the celebration activities this weekend, also has weathered well.
"I don't feel that much older," he said.
He'll rub shoulders with former Gunn teachers, coaches and students this weekend and talk, of course, of the good old days. And they were.
Gunn joined Palo Alto and Cubberley as the third high school in town, establishing a new rivalry with each school. The Titans had to work hard to gain respect in athletics, but finally did so with the first of its 35 Central Coast Section titles (over 10 sports) being earned in 1972 by the boys tennis team.
Now, however, is a time for celebration. Fifty years is a long time to stay in business at any level. Younger elementary schools in Palo Alto since have been plowed under for housing and middle schools have been closed, re-opened and renamed, but Gunn remains. That alone is worth a party.
-- Keith Peters is a 1969 Gunn High grad