By Trine Gallegos
It's pretty tough to upstage a choir of 150 strong and beautiful voices.
Unless, that is, you're a beloved Antioch High School icon.
During the recent Ron Molina tribute event, the revered educator was honored for his tireless devotion to students and staff -- past and present.
Mo -- as he is lovingly called -- retired this fall after some 27 years in Panther Country.
The event took Mo by surprise after realizing it wasn't just any choral event, but a night to honor him.
"I'm so overwhelmed," he said, wiping away tears as he was led to a seat of honor in the front of Beede Auditorium.
Mo has a long history with the school, graduating in 1965 and returning to teach -- make that led -- around 1986.
A renaissance man, the athletic teacher split his time between coaching football and running the music department -- both with winning and long-lasting results.
When former student Jason Mullen heard about Mo's retirement, he instinctively knew a proper send-off was in order.
"Someone who has inspired this many people to do so many great things needs to be honored," said Mullen, Class of 1996. "There are too many people these days in the spotlight because they can throw a ball or eat a bug to win a competition, and not enough of honoring people who really effect change in a positive way.
"Mo has gone so far above the line, he has passed it twice but that still doesn't stop him from going even further. We are all better people for knowing him."
Mullen's passion and devotion to Mo isn't isolated. There are parades of folks telling similar tales, openly sharing their love for the music man and countless others wanting to be in the teacher's presence.
Each week during planning sessions, Mullen said the event grew bigger. The 2 -hour program included some 150 alumni combining with current Music Masters, the legendary choral group. Performers -- aka Mo's Kids -- represented members from the classes of 1988-2013, along with some of Mo's classmates.
"It needed to be larger than life because that is exactly what Mo is," Mullen said.
In addition to an impressive choral show, stories were shared by Principal Louie Rocha, former student David Driskell, former coach Mike Paul and lifelong friend Jerry Norgol, along with a special commendation by Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of education.
Chris Mathews, AHS English teacher, also took to the mike with a humorous-and-touching nod to his mentor and friend.
"Teaching can be a tough racket but when you have a support network and someone to confide in, it makes all the difference," he said that evening.
"Antioch High has always had a unique quality of closeness and family. Heidi Hessler calls us a 'famulty.' The word's etymology can be traced to two people in particular: Jill Joseph and Ron Molina."
Driskell, AHS volleyball coach, said: "Some of my fondest memories are from my time spent in the choir room and on the road with my fellow Music Masters "
The 1997 grad said he was happy with the tribute, but had "no idea how powerful it would be. It is a night that I will never forget. I am honored to have been able to help make it happen for Mo."
Driskell and wife Jamie (a fellow choir member) are expecting their first child in July. "I plan to teach my child all of the same wonderful lessons Mo taught me about music, life and family."
Rocha said, "The tribute was incredible. I can't think of any other event I have participated in that was such a moving experience. The fact that so many people assembled to pay tribute to a pillar of our school community before Mo, his family and friends was magnificent."
While the evening was filled with hit after pitch-perfect hit, the evening ended with a truly noteworthy action as Mo led the group in "The Lord Bless You and Keep You."
"The facial expressions of the alumni as they sang were high in emotion and completely focused on Mo's every movement as he stood before them To see the joy on Mo's face as he led them is a moment (I'll always remember)," Rocha said.
Said Mo: "I was truly blessed with a mission to work with young people. You afforded me that opportunity."
Mullen said the event would not have happened without the help of Driskell, Kelly Davis, Elizabeth Ansari, Sean O'Neil and Mullen's wife Keri.
Monetary donations have sailed in totaling more than $2,800, which will pay for a Hawaii vacation for Mo and wife Darcy. A DVD of the event is in the works, with proceeds benefiting the summer trip. Contributions will be accepted through July. Visit Mo-Tributefirstname.lastname@example.org for the latest details.
When the DVD is done, they are planning a "Hollywood Premiere" night at Beede sometime early next year.
Mullen is happy with the event, noting he could never "repay my debt to Mo. He was more than a teacher to me -- he was my friend, my dad, my cheerleader, my strength, my guiding light and my hero. I am the person I am today because of him."
Reach Trine Gallegos at TrineG@att.net