A salute to Sonora High School heroes

By Union Democrat staff February 10, 2009 11:04 am

Anyone bemoaning the supposed lack of heroes need look no further than Sonora High School, which lately has had more than its share.

Consider what has happened in the space of just a week on the Shaws Flat Road campus:

• Dr. James Comazzi and his wife, Bonnie, rescued the struggling fund-raising campaign for a new track and lights at Sonora High’s Dunlavy Field by buying $30,000 in raffle tickets for a $17,000 car.

• Rick Francis, coach of the Sonora High School boys’ basketball team for 33 years, on Jan. 30 won his landmark 600th game with a 45-26 win over East Union of Manteca.

• Sonora High graduate Todd Schroeder on Feb. 2 returned to the school auditorium with a group of talented friends to play the 15th and final in a series of annual concerts which have raised thousands of dollars for scholarships and for campus performing arts programs.

A look at these community heroes:

Jim and Bonnie Comazzi, Sonora residents for more than 25 years, have given generously to numerous causes during their tenure here. Through the Sonora Area Foundation, the couple in 2005 helped provide a $250,000 local match for the FieldTurf football and soccer field installed at Dunlavy by the “Three Wishes” TV show. Protecting that investment from dirt and crushed rock which was migrating from the track to turf was part of the Comazzis’ inspiration.

“Kids who get involved in track, football and other sports are the kids who stay out of trouble,” said Jim, a cardiologist. “Anything we can do help them is worth it.”

The couple’s gift has turned the Sonora High School Foundation’s campaign around, spurring a surge in tickets and helping assure that lights will be installed at Dunlavy this summer.

Rick Francis, who graduated from Sonora High in 1966 and played Wildcat basketball himself, returned to teach and coach in 1971. He took over the varsity reins in 1976, beginning a spectacular run. Francis logged 27 winning seasons, 10 Valley Oak League championships, one section championship and 25 playoff berths.

But more important are the lessons in perseverance and character he taught to hundreds of Wildcat players during his decades-long, generation-spanning, still-continuing tenure.

His answer to an obvious question — Why doesn’t he move on to the next level? — says much about this coach’s commitment to the community and its young people: “It’s because I want to be here,” he said. “This is my alma mater. I don’t know a better place to be.”

Todd Schroeder, a talented Sonora High musician who began playing the piano at age 4, graduated in 1984 and soon hit the big time. But fame as a composer, producer, musical director and performer didn’t spoil this local boy. Beginning in 1995, he began returning to Sonora for annual concerts to raise money for scholarships and for the school’s performing arts programs.

Over the years Schroeder played before more than 25,000 students and adults, funded more than 30 scholarships and raised more than $75,000 for a variety of projects, including now ongoing restoration of the high school’s Steinway grand piano. In the process he has brought along many talented friends — including Rita Coolidge, Sam Harris and Jason Alexander.

Just as important, said Student Activities Director Steve Southard, Schroeder’s shows have inspired students to pursue their own dreams and know “that there is life outside Tuolumne County.”

So, yes, reports our heroes have disappeared are exaggerated. We are blessed with some of the best.