Kirkham, 1982 football team to be honored at Mesa

Bob Cortese can’t wait to see the changes to campus and to reconnect with several former players.

Steve Kirkham can’t wait to swap tales with his coaching mentors, Cortese, Doug Schakel and Rusty Crick.

Both former coaches, who built successful programs at what is now Colorado Mesa University, will be front and center next month during the Hall of Honor festivities.

They will be inducted Sept. 30 at a banquet at the University Center Ballroom as part of homecoming weekend.

Cortese, already a member of the Hall of Honor, will represent the 1982 football team that will become the first team to be inducted.

“That’s amazing. I have not heard of a team going in (the Hall of Honor),” Cortese said. “There were a lot of good players who built a good foundation. It was an exciting time.”

Cortese sent a letter through the alumni association to players on that team and expects a good turnout.

“I told them I hoped a lot of those guys could come back and reunite,” Cortese said. “It’s a great honor for the whole team to be accepted into the Hall of Fame, not just one player or coach, the whole group.

“I’m not sure we can ever get 100 percent, but I think we’ll have more than half of those guys. I’m excited to see the changes. People tell me they’re tremendous, they’ve gone from below par to as good as there is.”

The 1982 Mavs were the first team in school history to win an RMAC championship, qualify for the NAIA playoffs, win a playoff game and play for an NAIA national title.

It was also the first team from the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference to play for the national football championship.

The crowd of more than 5,500 at Stocker Stadium in a 43-20 first-round win over Moorhead State (Minn.) helped Mesa land a second home playoff game, the national semifinals against Hillsdale (Mich.).

In front of an overflow crowd, the Mavericks won 18-9 to reach the title game against Central Oklahoma in Oklahoma City. Mesa lost 14-11.

Cortese recently published a book, “Beyond the Xs and Os,” a collection of stories about his coaching career, including his days at Mesa.

Kirkham, now the athletic director at CU-Colorado Springs, said the highlight of the weekend will be joining Cortese, Doug Schakel and Rusty Crick in the Hall of Honor.

“To be in the same building with those coaches, it doesn’t happen very often,” he said. “Now that I’m an administrator, I think, ‘How do I build a staff like that one we had at Mesa?’ It was a really unique situation.”

In 16 seasons, Kirkham’s teams went 299-157, won four RMAC championships, seven consecutive RMAC West Division titles and one RMAC tournament title. The 2002 team was the first RMAC women’s team to host an NCAA Division II regional tournament. He’s the winningest women’s basketball coach in Mesa and RMAC history.

Every senior who played for Kirkham graduated.

“We did demand it and we tried to recruit kids who would understand those expectations and succeed in that environment,” he said. “The thing I like is after I left, the kids I recruited who played as seniors all graduated, too.”

He recalled one game against Fort Lewis his first season,  1988-89, like it was yesterday.

“We had some big shots. Jill Teeters’ (Derrieux) 3 at Fort Lewis,” he said. “They were the preseason favorite to win the conference. With eight or nine seconds left, they made sure Leah Clifford (Gonyeau) and Mary Marcantonio were covered, they weren’t going to get to shoot.

“The goofy freshman takes a skip pass and buries it at the buzzer to beat them.”

Banquet tickets go on sale Sept. 1 and can be purchased online at or by calling the alumni office at 248-1871.


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