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Updated Apr 30, 2015 - 2:13 pm

Jim Rattay, Larry Fetkenhier approach 300 football wins in Arizona high school football

Photo courtesy of Elyria Chronicle-Telegram

Cesar Chavez High coach Jim Rattay, right, has himself on the cusp of career victory No. 300.

Jim Rattay has enough life experiences for 22 men.

The 64-year-old was placed in an orphanage twice, had his mother die when he was 6 years-old and he ran away from his foster home at age 17.

Through it all he had sports, mainly football. He made it through all of the early setbacks and has thrived as a long-time head coach and has tried to develop high school student athletes into men for more than 40 years.

“It’s the greatest profession in the world,” said Rattay, who leads Cesar Chavez (Laveen). “You can have a great impact on these young men and set them off on a great path. Very few things can do that for kids today. It used to be the military, and I don’t know if that even is the case anymore.

“Football calls you to be courageous.”

Rattay has been at it for a long time, getting his first head coaching job at Elyria Catholic (Ohio) in 1976, and is on the verge of 300 career wins. The Cesar Chavez coach officially has 299 wins, although seven were vacated from the 2009 season after having to forfeit because of the use an ineligible player for the Champions.

No matter how he has gotten to this point, it is a big number. While Rattay wasn’t focused on or willing to talk about the possibility of No. 300 as Cesar Chavez (3-6) hosts Millennium (5-4) on Friday, he clearly remembers win No. 1.

He took over the Elyria Catholic program just before the 1976 season started when Mike Noonan abruptly resigned. Rattay, 26 at the time, was hired away from Mentor Lake Catholic, where he was an assistant.

“It was against (Lorain) Clearview and they were driving just before half, but we stopped them to lead 7-0 at the half,” he said. “We added a couple more scores in the second half and got the win.”

Rattay won a state title that initial year and bookended it with a state title in 1983, compiling a 79-7-3 record before heading to take over the Euclid program where he won seven games in two years.

That’s when he found himself on his way to Arizona, partially in order to help with asthma, where he has won 220 games and five more state titles as he helped turn around Mesa after being hired in 1986. He started the Desert Vista program in 1997 and also took tiny Phoenix Christian to two titles.

Rattay developed a sinus infection that spread into his right eye, and that eye was removed during Mesa’s playoff run in 1992. He came to Arizona with a reputation as a disciplinarian who was a good motivator with an innovative offensive mind.

He instantly caught the ears of little Jackrabbits.

“We had a group of sophomores that really bought into what he was saying and by the time we were seniors we did really well, going to the semifinals,” said Mountain Pointe defensive coach Jeff Decker, who played for Rattay and coached with him at Desert Vista. “He’s a great coach and I respect him a lot.”

Rattay, whose son Tim played in the NFL at quarterback and other son John set passing records at Desert Vista, is one of the more controversial coaches in Arizona history and his time at each Arizona program has come with some negative accusations and possibly regrets – but there is no denying the results.

He never made it about himself, though.

“This is all about the kids, and we have a chance to end the year with four straight wins (after an 0-6 start),” Rattay said. “That’s what we are focused on and nothing else.”

Photo by Steve Paynter

Cesar Chavez High coach Jim Rattay, right, has himself on the cusp of career victory No. 300.

Should Rattay reach the milestone, Arizona could very well see a second 300-game winner in the weeks to come.

Cactus (Glendale) coach Larry Fetkenhier has 298 career wins and would become just the fourth coach in Arizona history to get all 300 games in the Grand Canyon State.

The Cobras are on the bubble for the postseason, sitting at No. 14 in Division III entering Friday’s rivalry game against No. 5 Peoria. But should they win this week and in the first round of the 16-team playoffs, then Fetkenhier will reach the milestone.

He, like Rattay, couldn’t care less right now.

The cool thing about Fetkenhier, who won state titles in 2005 and 2009 and finished runner-up in 2004, 2003 and 1987, is that once he achieves 300 wins, they will all be at the same school.

“We still have kids that will work hard and are blue-collar,” Fetkenhier said to the West Valley Preps before the season. “Probably the biggest reason I’ve stayed here is the quality of kids we have.”

Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Ahwatukee Foothills News staff writer, is a 19-year sports writing veteran. Follow on Twitter @JSkodaAFN and contact him at

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