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Prosser has Mustang pride (w/gallery)

PROSSER -- Stroll through downtown Prosser any Friday night this fall and you'll see most storefronts displaying a "Closed" sign.

But just a few blocks to the southeast, you'll see a big glow lighting up the sky and hear the roar of a crowd coming from the high school's Art Fiker Stadium.

This Lower Yakima Valley town of 5,000 isn't dead after all.

What you're seeing and hearing is Mustang mania, all caused by the success of Prosser's Class 2A high school football team, which has claimed four state championships since 1992, most recently last year.

To put it another way, Prosser residents get a big kick out of their Mustangs.

And this fierce dedication to Prosser High's football team caught the attention of Gary Hansen, owner of Pixelsoft Films in Kennewick. His crews have been in Prosser since August shooting a documentary they're calling Hometown Legacy: Mustang Pride.

The film, which will be shown on area TV stations in November, will follow the Mustangs through this year's season and highlight the community members who avidly rally behind their team.

There are countless dedicated Prosser residents who are committed to the high school and its football team. For instance, Rhonda Edwards, president of the high school's booster club, can be found at every football game sitting with a group of four energetic friends.

"We're here to support everybody," Edwards said. "Prosser just loves football."

That's no exaggeration.

Prosser residents don't just fill the stadium at home games, where the crowd usually runs about 3,000. Many workers often abandon their offices early Friday afternoons and drive en masse to distant football fields for road games.

An energetic crowd of red and white is a common sight on the visitors side when Prosser football is playing on the road.

"Our (football) program is a direct reflection of our community," said Casey Gant, the school's athletic director. "Our community is very close-knit. They are very supportive and I think they expect the best."

Prosser's identity is closely tied to its high school mascot, a charging red mustang. Lawns adorned with bold horse silhouettes on a stick are a common sight, as are cars with a bright red Prosser Mustangs sticker.

Go to Shy's Pizza on Meade Avenue and you'll find one of the best-selling pies is the Mustang Special, loaded with pepperoni, Canadian bacon and sausage. Ask owner Sheryl Roberts why that particular combination represents the school, and she'll tell you: "It's meaty," just like the brawn of her favorite team.

Head football coach Tom Moore wouldn't have it any other way.

"We're a one-high school town and that's a huge advantage," he said earlier this month as he watched students in one of his P.E. classes run laps around the football field where he rules Friday nights.

"Everyone just rallies around one thing," he said. "It's the best kind of town to be a coach in."

Prosser offered Moore his first head coaching job in 1986, when he came to the small western Benton County town from the Chicago area.

It's been a comfortable fit for the Moore family, so he's stayed -- his wife also works for the school district and their two sons have served as the team's leaders. Youngest Kirby Moore is one of this year's four team captains, and oldest Kellen Moore is now the starting quarterback for Boise State University as a red-shirt freshman.

The ever-humble Kirby, one of three players being featured in Hometown Legacy, said he and his teammates are keeping all the attention in perspective. He said the film makes the team want to do well to also honor past players.

"It really makes you want to finish the year strong," he said. "Having the movie made, we get to pick how it's going to finish."

Prosser pride starts early, with children as young as 8 participating in Prosser Youth Football. The Grid Kids program has a fall schedule that's almost as strenuous as the high school team's. Kids between 8 and 13 practice four nights a week and play games each Saturday, and many of the high school team's players get their start there.

Avid Mustang fan Mel Walker helped create the youth program some 25 years ago. Walker, 84, remembers loving the Mustang football team as a kid and wanted to give young athletes an earlier chance to feel the game's glory.

"I always admired them," he said of the high school players of his childhood. "They were big, and that uniform fascinated me. They were God as far as I was concerned."

Walker, whose family lived on a farm in the Whitstran area, used to intentionally miss his rural school bus ride home so he could catch the Mustangs in action. He later played on the team in high school and went on to play with the semi-pro Yakima Valley All Stars team for about three years.

While Walker is best known for being Prosser's police chief for 27 years until he retired in 1989, his passion is clearly Prosser High sports. He regularly attends school sporting events from volleyball to track. A couple of years ago, he and his wife, Mary Jane, were named No. 1 spectators by the girls' basketball team.

But football is Walker's favorite. His back fence faces the team's practice field, and he frequently watches the players go through their paces in what he calls his "backyard."

Walker shows up for Prosser football games two hours early so he can claim his regular seat -- in the top row, far right, center section. And he says he's never missed one of Coach Moore's games, including a distant match that happened in the middle of a blizzard.

His fanaticism keeps growing with each of the team's wins, he said, repeating several times, "I'm a poor loser."

Such intensity is common among Prosser supporters.

Dave Keller talked about each player's commitment during a game-night gathering with friends a few weeks ago on his front lawn, which is conveniently located directly across from the football stadium.

"It's year-round football, and if you're not willing to play by those rules you don't play," Keller said. "It's obsessive. But the athletes that are in Mustang football, they accept it."

Cody Bruns, the star wide receiver on last year's team who is now playing for the University of Washington, said he accepted the pressure because he was playing for Prosser and the people he grew up with.

"You grow that bond with your teammates, and you work a little harder because it's for them," Bruns said.

Both on and off the field, community members were very supportive of him, Bruns said. Even now, people often call his parents to see how he's doing in college.

Pixelsoft Films owner Hansen said he grew up in a town very similar to Prosser. He attended high school in Brewster, a city of about 2,000 in Okanogan County, where high school sports also reign supreme. When he was growing up, Brewster's basketball team almost always won its division championships and frequently went to state.

Hansen said his personal appreciation for small-town athletics inspired him to share Prosser's story with big-city viewers in a documentary. Local businesses bought advertising to support the project. The five-part series will air in 30-minute segments on area ABC TV affiliates KVEW and KAPP. The first episode will be broadcast immediately after college football Nov. 1.

Prosser residents are tickled about the film. The talk for weeks in almost every coffee shop in town has been about the upcoming documentary.

Some were surprised to hear their town will be featured on television, but others believe Prosser is finally receiving some well-deserved attention.

"It should've happened a long time before," said Walker, who, by the way, was sporting a bright red baseball cap with "Mustangs" boldly embroidered across the brow.