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Hughson Block Party celebrates community, football
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Members of the Hughson High School Class of 1990 pause for a picture during the Hughson Block Party on Saturday night (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

Hundreds of people packed into a downtown block of Hughson on Saturday night for an evening filled with booming music, ice cold drinks and a community atmosphere that can only be found in the small farming town — and it was all for a good cause.

Known as Hughson’s “biggest party of the year” by residents and out-of-town visitors alike, the Hughson Block Party is a new tradition that aims to raise funds for the Hughson High School football team. After a block party held just under a decade ago celebrating the high school’s centennial was a smashing success, HHS football decided in 2017 to host one of its own to benefit the school’s team.

After a brief break last year, the block party returned this weekend larger than ever, welcoming between 800 and 1,000 guests at a bash that many in attendance described as a “high school reunion.”

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Hughson natives Flying Blind performs for the crowd during the Hughson Block Party (FRANKIE TOVAR/The Journal).

“It’s huge. These are the same people who go to our games every Friday night,” HHS head football coach Shaun King said. “I came from coaching at Johansen (High School) for a lot of years, and we could never pull something like this off in Modesto. You don’t get this support at the bigger schools.”

From the HHS Class of 2016, who gathered at the event to celebrate the fact that they were finally 21, to members from the Class of 1990 who were there to reminisce on their high school days, the Hughson Block Party welcomed alumni from all walks of life, as well as attendees who didn’t go to HHS but were in search of a good time.

A majority of guests at the block party were there to see Flying Blind, the Hughson-native rock band which rose to prominence in the tail end of the ‘90s and early 2000s. Members Scott Beck (drums), Keith Cole (guitar), Andrew Franca (keyboards, bass), Jeff Green (guitar) and Matt Brown (vocals) all attended HHS together and even found success as teammates on the football field.

Then and now, football remains an integral part of the Hughson community, Brown said.

“In most small towns, but especially in small, farming communities like Hughson and the other towns that we play against, the football program creates an identity for our kids. It’s such an important thing, and it’s something that people of all ages can connect with,” Brown said. “So many people in the audience tonight have played football for Hughson High School, and it still matters.”

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County Supervisor Vito Chiesa and Jamie Filice pose for a selfie with Flying Blind during the Hughson Block Party on Saturday (FRANKIE TOVAR/The Journal).

The small town-energy was palpable Saturday night, with community members like Pizza Factory owner Derek Ross hopping on stage with Flying Blind to sing an AC/DC song or two, and Hughson-native County Supervisor Vito Chiesa singing along to the band in the front row.

“Even though we recognize Hughson is a very small place in the universe, to be a part of this community when you’re 17, 18 years old is just a really special thing,” Brown said. “I hope it’s something that the kids today can grasp as well.”

Former legendary HHS football coach Reyn Franca, whose son is in the band, even hopped on stage to perform with Flying Blind. He led the team to a State Championship in 1997, and countless other league and section titles.

“The memories are invaluable. Coach Franca was such a great coach and mentor…and he’s connected to (this band) so tightly it draws us back to the program,” Brown said.

King expects a lot of heart from the HHS Huskies on the gridiron this year, he said, noting that the team is a “tight-knit group” that treats each other like family. Seeing the community they come from, it’s no surprise, he said.

“I love small town football,” King said. “When the football team’s doing good, the town’s doing good.”