Former teacher, coach
and athletic director
With coach Ed Vegely stepping away from the gridiron, six-year assistant coach Dan Church took the reins of the Grizzly football program.
Coach Church was the perfect successor to Coach Vegely. Enthusiastic and energetic, Church looked like he could suit up and step on the football field, not missing a beat.
A standout high school football player at Glendora High in Southern California, Church played at Citrus Junior College before transferring to California State Northridge where he intercepted a pass from opposing quarterback Jim Zorn, who went on to star for the Seattle Seahawks.
Coach Church also played against Fresno State where he came up with another interception. Church was the head coach at MCHS for six years (1982-87). His 1984 team had a perfect 6-0 league record and went 7-3 overall. His overall record at MCHS was 22 wins and 33 losses.
His Southern League record was 18-15. Coach Church left Mariposa after the 1987/88 school year and took a job at Merced High School. As the defensive coordinator, Merced went 41-1 in his first three years and won the state championship in 1990. He was inducted into the Grizzly Hall of Fame in 2009.
Once again, MCHS stayed in-house when it hired long-time teacher and Grizzly Coach Greg Milne.
Coach Milne took over the varsity program with a reputation as one of the best “X and O” coaches the high school has ever had. Unfortunately for coach Milne, Mariposa was in the beginning of a downturn in Grizzly football, something that occurs in all public school athletic programs.
Despite the down period, in Coach Milne’s third season his 1990 team tied for the league championship going 4-1.
He coached the Grizzly varsity for seven seasons, and his 1993 team was part of the biggest comebacks in MCHS history. Trailing 33-7 to Orestimba, Milne’s Grizzlies stormed back to win the game, 41-39.
Coach Milne was a positive influence during a tough time enveloping MCHS football. His teams finished with an overall mark of 17 wins, 48 loses and three ties. His overall 20-year commitment to Grizzly football resulted in his induction into the Grizzly Hall of Fame in 2009.
With coach Milne laying down his whistle as head coach after the 1994 season, Grizzly football came full circle as Ed Vegely’s son Bruce took over the head coaching position. Bruce Vegely’s 1995 team is one that started slow, losing four games early in the season, including a 33-10 loss to arch-rival Le Grand.
At the halfway mark of the season, the Grizzlies started to click. With a bruising ground game and stingy defense, Mariposa finished at 4-5-1 overall, but finished 4-1 in league play.
That qualified the team for the Sac-Joaquin Section Playoffs. In the first round, Mariposa easily handled Marysville, 39-0, earning a section title rematch with Le Grand.
In one of the most exciting games in MCHS history, the visiting Grizzlies stunned the Bulldogs, 9-7, on a chilling fog-filled evening in front of a sold-out crowd in Le Grand. With that victory, Mariposa captured its first ever section championship in football.
In 1996, Coach Vegely’s team again qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Playoffs, defeating Dixon, 19-0, in the first round. The Grizzlies lost to Ripon in the section championship played at the Gold Bowl at the Mariposa County Fairgrounds.
Vegely’s teams would make two additional playoff appearances, but didn’ advance. He stepped down as head coach in 2000.
In Bruce’s six seasons he finished with an overall record of 36 wins, 24 losses and two ties. His teams qualified for four section playoff contests, winning three games and earning two trips to the section finals, and the only section title to that point in MCHS football history . Coach Bruce Vegely was inducted into the Grizzly Hall of Fame in 2006.
With Vegely leaving the football program to concentrate on varsity baseball, former Grizzly standout and long-time Mariposa County High School junior varsity and assistant coach J.C. McNally took over the varsity program. He became the 17th varsity football coach.
In coach McNally’s seven seasons as head coach his teams won seven or more games four times. His teams made the playoffs four times, and his 2005 team set an MCHS record by winning an impressive 10 games that season.
No other Mariposa football team, past or present, has won more than nine games. The only losses in that amazing season were to the same team, Modesto Christian. MCHS lost once in league play, and once in the semi-finals of the section playoffs.
Coach McNally’s 2006 squad won nine games while losing only three. Only Ed Vegely’s 1965 and 1966 teams (17-1) had a better two- year run than coach McNally’s 19-5.
In his final season the Grizzlies were 7-3. Over J.C.’s seven year varsity career his teams were 47-28-1. Coach McNally’s league record was an impressive 32-14, with three playoff victories. Coach McNally was inducted into the Grizzly Hall of Fame as a player in 2005 and as a coach in 2016.
With the departure of Coach McNally, Bob Kelly became the new varsity football coach.
Under Kelly the Grizzlies continued their winning ways as they went 9-2 overall and won the league championship with a perfect 5-0 mark.
That was Mariposa’s first league championship in 13 seasons. Mariposa’s second loss of the season was to Lindhurst in the first round of the section playoffs. Coach Kelly’s second season saw the Grizzlies go 6-6 and 4-1 in league play.
The only league loss coming to league champion and section finalist Le Grand. The Grizzlies tasted a bit of revenge by beating Lindhurst in the first round of the section playoffs, before losing to section champion Capital Christian in the semi-finals.
In coach Kelly’s third and final season Mariposa was 6-5 overall and 5-2 in league play. MCHS lost to Golden Sierra in the playoffs ending what was a exceptional three-year run.
Unfortunately, some teaching positions were eliminated due to funding shortages the following season and MCHS lost an outstanding football coach. Kelly ended with a 21-13 overall record and a spectacular 14-3 league mark. His teams qualified for the section playoffs in all three of the seasons he was at the helm of the Grizzly program.
Long-time Grizzly JV assistant coach Dennis Blessing led Mariposa in the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Blessing was coach Danny Ellis’ assistant junior varsity coach from 2003 through 2009, before becoming the JV head coach in 2010.
Under Blessing, the Grizzlies went 7-5 overall and 5-2 in league. MCHS advanced to the section playoffs in 2011 losing to Highlands High School.
The 2012 season saw the Grizzlies record a 4-6 overall record and a 4-3 finish in league. In his two- year varsity head coaching stint, Coach Blessing finished 11-11, while going 9-5 in Southern League competition. Blessing’s 10 seasons in the Mariposa football program greatly contributed to the Grizzlies’ success during that period.
The 2013 season saw coach Ryan Oliphant become the 20th MCHS football head coach. Like former head coaches Church, Milne, McNally and Blessing before him, Coach Oliphant had spent the previous five seasons as an Grizzly assistant coach.
His first varsity team was 8-3 overall and 5-2 in the Southern League. In one of the most exciting Grizzly playoff games in recent memory, Mariposa lost to Golden Sierra, 35-28, in overtime.
Coach Oliphant’s 2014 squad equaled the previous team’s win total going 8-4 and winning a co-championship with arch-rival Le Grand at 6-1 in league play.
Mariposa defeated Amador, 14-7, in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin playoffs before losing to traditional football powerhouse Colfax, 28-14, in the section semi-finals.
Coach “O” led the Grizzlies for three additional seasons, qualifying for the playoffs in two of those three seasons. In his five seasons in leading Grizzly football, coach O’s teams finished with 30 wins and 25 losses overall, and 22 wins and 13 losses in Southern League play with four section playoff appearances.
Robert Stitt became the 21st Grizzly football head coach in the 2018 season. Coach Stitt, a graduate of MCHS, was a star player on coach Dan Church’s teams in the 80’s and came back home to teach and coach for Mariposa in the 90’s.
Leading up to Coach Stitt taking the varsity reins, he hasd served as a Grizzly football coach over the previous 25 seasons. No coach has been part of Grizzly football longer than Robert “Oscar” Stitt. The 2018 season was a challenging season as Mariposa returned few varsity players.
However, the 2019 squad introduced a historic MCHS season. The Grizzlies lost to defending league section and Division 7 state champion Denair, 14-13. The Grizzlies rallied to finish 5-2 in league play, which qualified them for the section playoffs.
The Grizzlies defeated Vacaville Christian in the first round of the section playoffs, setting up a rematch with Denair for the section crown. In another of the many exciting MCHS playoff games, Mariposa hit an overtime field goal to claim its second- ever Sac-Joaquin Section title, defeating the Coyotes, 17-14.
That section championship earned the Grizzlies their first ever state playoff game.
In this historic contest, MCHS lost to Lincoln High of San Francisco, 21-14 in a hard-fought battle. Lincoln (12-1) completed its season by winning the Division 7 state title the next week.
Coach Stitt remained head coach for two more seasons before retiring from Grizzly football after 29 seasons. His four-year head coaching efforts produced 21 wins and 20 losses overall, and a 12-12 mark in league play. Coach Stitt was part of both section titles. In 1995 he contributed as an assistant and in 2019 was head coach. He was inducted into the Grizzly Hall of Fame in 2013.
Spencer Arebalo became the 22nd varsity football coach for the 2022 season. Arebalo, a 2015 MCHS graduate and had served as an assistant varsity coach during the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
Under Coach Arebalo the Grizzlies rattled off five straight wins before finishing 7-4 overall, and 4-3 in Southern League play. Mariposa lost to Stone Ridge Christian in the first round of the section playoffs. Coach Arebalo stepped down after the season to concentrate on his future plans. He, like so many others was a solid contributor to Grizzly football.
Coach Chase Pombetta became the 23rd varsity football coach in 2023. Pombetta started his initial campaign with a total of only 18 players, half of which were under- classmen (eight sophomores and one freshman).
The Grizzlies did not fare well in the 2023 season. Having stated that, this is a team of which the community can’t help but be proud. Pombetta leads a coaching staff that truly loves and believes in this team.
Coach Pombetta is an amazing motivator and is always upbeat and positive. Despite the adversity that comes with losing, this team played as hard as they could beginning with the first game against Yosemite, and finishing with the last game against Le Grand.
With the experience gained by players at the varsity level under Pombetta’s guidance and a solid group rising from the ranks of a successful JV program, the future is bright for Mariposa County High School football.