If one were to venture through Tehachapi on a weekday evening, especially on Friday nights in the fall, it wouldn’t quite be a ghost town, but it wouldn’t be a busy scene either. Most of the Tehachapi community won’t be at work, out and about, or even at home.
Where they will be is at Tehachapi High School, supporting generations of students who have had the honor to don the green, black, and white and call themselves a Warrior.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily overly fanatical, but it’s definitely an exciting time for the community, a one high school town,” said Doug DeGeer, the head coach of the Tehachapi High football team and a Tehachapi native. "There’s usually a lot of connections there with the kids that are playing on Friday nights. For everyone else it’s something to do for everyone to come together.”
A big reason why the Tehachapi community supports Warrior athletics as much as they do is because it is a one-public high school town. A lot of alumni, like DeGeer, now work at the school and within the town.
One of DeGeer’s former coaches is Mike Heckahorn, who is now retired but still coaches the Warriors’ track team. Heckahorn previously coached the cross country team for 23 years and also coached middle school basketball, soccer, softball and junior varsity baseball along with AYSO and Little League teams for 32 years.
“Strong, strong community when it comes to athletic support. Very strong athletic town. We all know each other, we all support each other,” Heckahorn said. “One of the things you tend to find is that not only athletically, but a lot of us coaches go to the fine arts productions. You go to the plays, you hear the band play, you go to the concerts because some of the athletes do that too, so you find yourself well-rounded that way.”
Heckahorn isn’t originally from Tehachapi, but after a brief stay during his senior year in high school, ended up returning with his wife, who’s lived in Tehachapi her entire life.
“I ended up coming back to Tehachapi because it’s a great town to live in and raise children in. It’s a small community feeling,” Heckahorn said. “I was just amazed with the school spirit they had and emotion and commitment and passion they brought. It just stunned me, I was awestruck.”
DeGeer agrees with this sentiment and feels that the homegrown feeling of the community helps with the continuous support the Warriors receive throughout the year.
“There’s definitely a pride factor there. There’s a lot of alumni that work at the school and are still in our community so it’s a way to rekindle that youthful spirit,” DeGeer said. “We try to be ambassadors to our town and we help our kids become leaders in the community and they recognize the role our kids and teams play in the community and how important they are from the youth sports to our high school sports.”
While DeGeer and his football team garner the loudest support from the community, there is just as much support for the other teams, including growing support for the girls' teams.
“One of the biggest things I’ve noticed in my tenure has been the girls side and how strong it has gotten with parental support and following the teams and letting people know who they are,” Heckahorn said.
It also helps that the Warriors' athletic teams are successful on the field and court. Tehachapi took home four South Yosemite League titles in 2017 (football, volleyball, baseball, softball) and have plenty of league and section championships on their mantle, including 30 league titles and 11 section titles from the football team alone, many of which came under the watch of former coach Steve Denman, who retired in 2016 with 301 wins over his 35-year career.
"At the same time as football season we have volleyball going on and they have been top-notch, they’ve had so much success,” DeGeer said. “They get a lot of support throughout the season. We have other sports that do well as well. I know our baseball program is very popular and we have a lot of people come out to their games. We pack the stands for the basketball games as well. There’s a lot of the same mentality for all the sports as there is for football.”
The cycle will continue up on the mountain as this generation of coaches and instructors will teach Warrior Pride to the current students, who will pass it on to the next generations.
“It’s something that we emphasize. Our big thing is that we want our kids to be proud of where they come from and the town and having school pride. We tell them they are representing our town and that’s something to be proud of within itself and the fact that we get so much support from the community is great,” DeGeer said. “We want our kids to be the ambassadors and role models to the kids growing up in town and represent the community in a positive way.”