Memorable coach, talented painter
Not many people can say they have had a direct influence on Ripon, Calif. history. When it comes to the story of former Ripon High School football coach Manuel Abeyta, though, one dedicated man has left a permanent mark on the hearts of his former athletes and on the walls of the school he spent thirty years of his life impacting.
Growing up in Colorado and Utah, young Abeyta always dreamt of one day becoming a professional football player or a police officer. As he went on to enter high school and college, he followed his passion for football, refusing to let his smaller stature get in the way of chasing his dream.
"Football was always my love," Abeyta recalls.
Meanwhile, on the world stage, World War II set the scene for Abeyta's high school years. Moving to Dragerton not long before high school in the midst of World War II, many juniors and seniors at the school went into the service. As a result, Abyeta caught a break, getting moved up to the varsity football team while he was still a freshman. At Carbon High he was a halfback and pulling guard on the varsity team.
The wide-eyed, talented young athlete went on to enroll at Carbon College continuing his football career there as well.
Then the Korean War began. The year was 1950. Abeyta, who was drafted into the United States Navy, reported for duty at a base in San Diego. Not one to give up on his vision, the young naval officer joined the training center's football team for a single season.
The following year, Abeyta boarded the USS Orleck, a destroyer bound for Korea. He served his country in the war until 1952. The next few years found Abeyta traveling around to places such as the eastern United States, Canada, and Europe before officially completing his naval service and finishing his degree.
It was after all of these adventures that one day Abeyta received a letter from a school in a small California town, asking him to interview for a football coaching position. The year was 1961. The school was Ripon High School.
After the interview, Abeyta was actually far from sold on taking the job. He had pictured himself coaching at a larger high school and decided to look for a different opportunity. When he found none, Abeyta headed back to Ripon and signed on to be the school's head coach.
"I thought I'd only be here one year," Abetya says.
That one year changed everything, though. Under Abeyta's coaching, the football team won the Southern League Championship. Needless to say, Abeyta stayed at the school for more than just one year. He actually stayed for just over three decades, serving in the roles of head football coach, head track and field coach, golf coach, physical education teacher, and athletic director before retiring in 1992.
Wherever Abeyta coached, success seemed to follow. The track and field team won all four of their championships. The golf team won 12 championships. The football team won or was the runner-up of the championship title numerous times. It is no wonder that the school decided that their Abeyta-Horton gym should bear the successful coach's name.
Looking back, Abeyta shares, "I really enjoyed Ripon High School. We did have some fabulous years."
All throughout his service at the local school, Abeyta had been keeping himself busy with one of his favorite hobbies: painting. Coming home in the evenings to the Ripon house he built and shared with his wife and two daughters, he would sketch images of players who had done something spectacular during practice.
He would later turn these sketches into paintings that he would give to the players who were the subject of his artwork. This generous deed was appreciated by many parents. Today, several of Abeyta's paintings are housed at the Clarence Smit Museum in Ripon. Another one of his pieces, one that portrays three of the school's former basketball players, hangs in the high school's new gymnasium.
These days, the former coach still resides in the same house he and his wife built all those years ago when his journey in Ripon began. He spends his days once again taking up painting. He remembers his years of football and his time at Ripon High School fondly, believing the key to his success was simply being able to relate well to the kids.
The original article about Manuel Abeyta ran in the Ripon Record on Oct. 26, 2011. Information about specifically about his Carbon County connection was added by Sun Advocate staff.
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