Joe Garcia Kapp was one of the first Chicano/Latino football players to become a national star. From the 1950s, he excelled in many areas—including academically, in business, and as a coach—and took pride in his identity as a Mexican American at a time when it was difficult and even risky to do so. Kapp never forgot his humble roots and gave back to his community throughout his life. He grew up in East Salinas, California, and was the first in his family to go to college. Kapp attended El Sausal Middle School, and the school’s athletic field will be named in his honor on September 29, 2022. He attended Salinas High School and Hart High School in Newhall, California before matriculating to the University of California, Berkeley. While Kapp got into Cal on a basketball scholarship, he starred as their quarterback from 1956 to 1958, leading them to the Rose Bowl game. He also played professionally in Canada and in the National Football League, bringing the Minnesota Vikings to their first Super Bowl in 1970.
As part of its DEI-related work, SPICE has developed a lesson (available below) that encourages students to analyze Joe Garcia Kapp’s life and legacy as an example of a Chicano/Latino leader who gave back to his community. In the lesson, students also investigate who their communities have commemorated through monuments and namings, and profile a local community leader.
The lesson was developed by Greg Francis in consultation with Dr. Ignacio Ornelas, a historian and Salinas native who also attended El Sausal Middle School. Ornelas took the initiative to advocate for the Salinas Union High School District to name El Sausal’s athletic field after Kapp when he learned that Kapp was a fellow alumnus. Ornelas noted, “Joe Garcia Kapp characterizes the hardworking values and history of Salinas. It was his Mexican mother’s work ethic, Salinas educators and the agricultural workforce that taught Joe about grit, perseverance, and ganas, a Spanish term for ‘effort.’ Joe Kapp’s time in East Salinas is where he learned to prioritize his education, and where he developed his leadership skills. These core values ultimately propelled Joe to academic, entrepreneurial, and coaching success.”
With this in mind, Francis decided upon the following objectives for the lesson. He hopes that through the lesson, students will:
- gain an understanding of the accomplishments of Joe Garcia Kapp and their importance for the Chicano/Latino community;
- analyze Joe Garcia Kapp’s life and leadership philosophy and write about his achievements and legacy;
- understand the role of monuments and names in reflecting a community’s values and history; and
- identify and recognize people who lived in their local area who have contributed positively to the community.
J.J. Kapp, the son of Kapp, noted that his father “was nicknamed ‘The Toughest Chicano’ by Sports Illustrated magazine after he quarterbacked the Minnesota Vikings to their first Super Bowl in 1970. The nickname was given and has stuck because of his ferocious style of play, competitive spirit, unmatched leadership, and enthusiastic pride in his Latino heritage… Throughout his life Joe has always been devoted to community service and has never stopped giving and raising money for Latino causes. Most importantly, he is a lifelong family man and raised his kids with the core values he learned from his mother and unprivileged upbringing.”
Ornelas and Francis encourage teachers to use this lesson as a tool to address key themes like identity, history and movement, systems of power, and social movements and equity in the California Department of Education’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum. Ornelas hopes that this lesson and Joe Kapp’s life will “inspire students to always think as leaders and to never give up on their academic pursuits and career aspirations. Moreover, it is a lesson that will teach each student to be proud of their community no matter how humble one’s origins.”
To access the lesson and its accompanying visuals, download the two PDFs below.