Editor’s note: This story originally published in October 2014.
When Todd Simis took over at Capital High in 2004, administrators were clear about one thing: Do not mess with the Gurkha tradition.
While it seemed counterintuitive to carry on the tradition of singling out individual defensive players in a sport that requires a team effort, Simis agreed to keep the Gurkha honor in place.
Now he understands how deeply rooted the Gurkhas are in Capital’s longterm success.
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“When you get here, you realize you want all the guys on defense to be playing at that level and the tradition behind it and the story behind it, “ Simis said.
Here is a look at how black helmets came to be synonymous with Capital football:
What is a gurkha?
Gurkha is a name given to select warriors from Nepal who are known for their bravery, courage, loyalty and strength.
In battle, Gurkhas carry an 18-inch curved sword known as a Kukuri.
The Gurkhas were first recruited by the British Army in 1815 and are known for their motto: “Better to die than be a coward.”
If a Gurkha went to battle and did not draw blood from his enemy, he would cut himself with his Kukuri before it could be put back into its sheath.
A tradition is born
Former Capital coach Tom Swindell (1968-85) was looking to ignite the program in its formative years and came across the legend of the Gurkha warriors.
In 1966, Swindell (an assistant coach at the time) sent a letter to the captain of the Gurkha soldiers in London telling them he would like to pass on their message of bravery and fierceness to his team.
According to Capital lore, the general of the Gurkha army sent a letter in response, asking Swindell and his players to take an oath and sign a document to be returned to England.
The oath read: “As we face our enemy, in this hour and all eternity, we shall stand together as one, to fight till death, till my last breath, and that I will never admit defeat, and so my sword will never be sheathed unless bloodied with my enemy’s blood and victory has been met, and to have the privilege to do it all among comrades.”
The general also sent a Kukuri sword.
And so, the Gurkha tradition began at Capital.
“It’s really neat to hear all that and to understand that 50 years later, this Gurkha thing is still going strong, “ Simis said. “They care about upholding the traditions and they understand that there’s a standard here that we have to keep to pass on to the kids that are coming.”
Who becomes a Gurkha??
The is no specific standard used to determine which of Capital’s defensive players will be honored as a Gurkha and given a distinctive black helmet to separate them from their teammates in gold helmets.
Each coach developed his own system over the years.
For Simis, he doesn’t begin considering players for Gurkha status until the team has played at least two games. Even if a player has become a Gurkha in past seasons, the process begins all over at the start of each season.
“It’s a, ‘You-know-it-when you-see-it’ type effort, “Simis said. “They made plays in the game. They were mistake-free or close to mistake-free.
“The Gurkha is known for being small in stature and just this unbelievable fighting spirit who would rather die in battle than not be successful, so you’re looking for that kind of effort.”
Tradition never graduates
In 50 seasons, the Eagles have had six losing records. The program boasts a winning percentage of 72 percent and a proud group of alumni that includes former NFL quarterback Jake Plummer and current Boise State coach Bryan Harsin.
The traditions passed down year-after-year have helped maintain a connection between current and former players.
“You see traditions come and go, but the Gurkha has been here for I don’t even know how long — 48 or 49 years,” Capital quarterback Conner Poulson said. “It’s still here. That’s pretty awesome.”
That sense of history keeps the Capital football family close, Simis said.
“When you play football at Capital, you’re playing for (the coaches), obviously, and your family and you’re representing the school, but you’re also representing this unbelievable collection of football players before you who have built this and have been successful and we certainly don’t want to be the team or the years in the program that don’t hold that standard,” Simis said.
Rachel Roberts: 377-6422, Twitter: @IDS_Varsity