La Verne Magazine
Smudgepot 2000: Fielding Community Traditions
by Danny Craig
photography by Jason Cooper
For the fifth straight year, the Bonita Bearcats raised the Smudgepot over
their heads. Since the rivalry began in 1972, Bonita has had the right to
claim it as their own 12 times.
There is an intense silence in the Bonita High School locker room as
the minutes fleet before kick off. A swirl of green jerseys, jittering knees
and bowed heads sits on benches that line the perimeter of the 20-foot by
30-foot room. A giant white paw is painted in the room's center; green lockers
hold the smell of three defeats. The aura is only broken by the occasional,
"Let's do this guys," from random players trying to bravely display
And then it is time.
Bearcats head coach Eric Podley enters the room and walks to the center
of the paw and addresses his soldiers. "Well this is it," he says.
"Last year, seniors this is what it's all about."
Even though it was Podley's first year at Bonita, it was obvious that
this was not just any game to his players or the community around him. He
had dealt with the team's shortcomings and asked them to look past their
current 0-3 record and to play hard. It was the only chance that they would
have to beat their cross-town foes San Dimas High School.
Saints head coach Ted Clarke was undergoing the same preparation with
his squad not more than 50 yards away. San Dimas, at 1-2, was favored to
win this night. However, Bonita had held the trophy for four years.
So Podley kept his message short before taking to the field with the
Bearcats. "Seniors, you've kept this tradition alive. I know you want
this for the next 35 to 40 years. Play within yourselves," he told
them. The teams took to the field to play each other as they have for the
past 28 years in a rivalry that started two years after the inception of
San Dimas High School.
This was the Sept. 29, 2000, Smudge Pot Bowl, and, for the ensuing two
hours, little else would matter to two teams, two coaching staffs and a
full crowd from the two cities that filled Glenn Davis Stadium.
It is a tradition that started in 1972 when the mayors of San Dimas
and La Verne agreed to exchange a polished smudge pot, a symbol of the then
existent local citrus industry, as a trophy to the victor of the high school
football game. The trophy itself has an uncanny resemblance to the National
Hockey League's Stanley Cup, with its thick barrel-like base and tall slender
neck, all coated with a heavily polished chrome exterior. Upon its side
is a small plaque telling the history and significance of the contest. The
opening line dubs it as "the heritage of La Verne and San Dimas."
Bonita principal Bob Ketterline, with a three-year tenure at the school,
was well aware of that heritage, as he watched Podley's squad take to the
field in front of what he accurately said would be a sell-out crowd. Ketterline
said that as a resident of the community, he was familiar with the game."We've
got kids who will be playing now whose dad can tell them about what happened
when they played in the Smudgepot game. It's definitely a community event,"
He has watched the rivalry and promptly noticed its value in the season
schedule."There were a lot of lean years at Bonita and San Dimas for
football when the Smudge Pot was the only single thing that was going to
come out of a season," says Ketterline.
The principal says that many students from San Dimas and Bonita have
grown up playing together in little league and various recreational sports,
making the rivalry friendly yet not without intensity. "It's that playing
the game for your school and for your town the emotional level is such
that it can either help you or hurt you," he notes.
Going into the matchup, Podley could relate to Ketterline's thesis.
"They feel the pressure," says Podley of his players who began
warming up. "On Monday morning, I got 14 sets of plays I ought to be
running to win this game. Obviously, to the faculty, it's an important game,"
he says. Despite the configurations written on napkins that were left on
his desk, or the "encouraging" calls from the football boosters,
Podley says that his mindset was not altered. "I think that's why we're
in coaching. It's not the money; it's the pressure and excitement like this
that make it fun. It would be more fun if every game had this kind of importance
to it," says Podley.
The importance also weighed heavy on Coach Clarke, whose Saints began
warming up in the east-end of the stadium. Clarke's squad had undergone
every bit of preparation for the matchup. Their school was covered with
"Beat the Bearcats" banners, and their daily practice concluded
with a huddled, "1-2-3 beat Bonita!"
"In the four years that I've been here (San Dimas High School),
we have not won it once, so I couldn't even tell you what it looks like,"
says Clarke of the trophy.
For Clarke, the game required a standard approach. He says that in years'
past, bringing back alumni to talk to the squad to try and stress the importance
of the game brought little success. Despite his winless 0-4 record against
Bonita, Clarke also knew what the game meant to the school. "I was
told when I got hired here that if you win one game a year, make sure it's
the Bonita game, and you'll be just fine. Thank God I've won a couple of
other games. I'd be unemployed," says Clarke with a chuckle. Clarke
had learned to appreciate the rivalry even without its results being in
his favor. The head coach said he recalls an instance after last year's
loss to Bonita when he and his wife went to Warehouse Pizza, located less
than half a mile from his rival's campus. "There's some goofball from
Bonita sitting there, and right as we were getting in the car this kid yells
out, 'Smudgepot!' See, now that's the kind of thing that a rivalry should
be It's two teams who are trying to right the ship," he says.
After the kickoff, the ship did not sail for Clarke in the first half,
as he returned to the visitor's locker room at halftime with Bonita holding
a 10-9 lead. From the press box, announcer Bob Turner's voice could be heard
throughout the stadium with the sobering score for San Dimas. Turner had
seen more Smudgepot games than he could count, having been a member of the
Bonita faculty since 1979 and a game announcer since 1983. "I've been
to every away game I might have missed one. I've seen all the Smudgepots,
though," says Turner. Although Turner's tie with Bearcat athletics
is with the track and cross-country teams as their head coach, he says he
has always enjoyed his role in the announcer's booth. He says his favorite
aspect of the Smudgepot is watching the effect that the game has on the
school and the community. Watching tailgate parties in the parking lots
and rallies leading to the competition, Turner says he sees a community
that brings a college town appeal for that game night. "It's certainly
a La Verne thing to hearken to those collegiate standards," says Turner
of the tradition. "People are trained to it." The Smudgepot veteran
says he has watched the emotion of the rivalry unravel onto the field for
numerous years. "Whether you're the good or the weaker school, that
game is up for grabs," he says of the game's intensity. "You see
it in the first quarter mistakes of angst that you're going to lose. Players
jumping offsides or forgetting to run out for kickoff."
Clarke tried to shake that angst off the backs of the Saints before
the second half. He led his squad into their locker room where the scene
was remnant of the New York Stock exchange. The team was separated into
smaller groups and then addressed by individual coaches in the shower stalls,
on the benches, in the offices and anywhere space was available. Rantings
of encouragement, advice and critique echoed off the cement walls for the
duration of the 15-minute intermission.
Their revived energy could be seen not only by Clarke and his players
but also by principal Kristine Kulow as she awaited the Saints arrival on
the sidelines. For Kulow, it was her third football game as a Saints spectator
and her sixth week working at San Dimas. Although brand new to the campus,
Kulow said that it took little time to realize the importance of the Smudgepot
tradition, after seeing cheerleaders selling Smudgepot ribbons and t-shirts
for sale in the front office.
It began with a coin toss. Bonita and San Dimas High School captains
prepare as referee Bob Gordon calls the toss in favor of the Bearcats to
foreshadow a win.
Having experienced rivalries at many high schools, including her last
stay at Nogales High School, Kulow said she has learned to appreciate these
traditions brought out in games like the Smudgepot. "There's a deep-seeded
need in every human being to have some kind of 'us' and 'them.' It gives
schools a chance to get their unifying identities," she says.
At 3:47 in the fourth quarter, Kulow and the Saints felt the separation
between "us" and "them" as the game's final score was
created. Bearcats kicker Brian Bernal completed a 36-yard field goal from
the right hash mark to give Bonita an 18-16 lead over San Dimas. Bonita
senior co-captain Allen Dade was blocking for Bernal, hoping that the kicker
would complete the feat. "At first I was thinking about my blocking
assignment, and then I was worrying we better make it," reveals Dade.
The captain says that Bernal went through rigorous training to kick accurately
under pressure. "Podley would have the entire team stand around [Bernal]
in practice and have them scream and have him try to kick," says Dade.
Unable to launch any serious last minute effort after Bernal's boot,
Clarke had to accept another defeat to Bonita. He told his players, "You
keep your head up." It was time to shake hands with the team that was
already running all over the field with the trophy. In talking to reporters
after the game, Clarke did not blame the loss on foul play or poor officiating
but rather spoke of his players and, "what we did to ourselves."
For Turner and his 21 years at Bonita, this year was his favorite matchup
with San Dimas. "There was a campus-wide feeling that there was a chance
we were going to lose. It's very typical of a Smudgepot. We came in as the
underdogs," says Turner.
A love for the game was even held that night by individuals who were
not in attendance. Dr. Bill Brinegar, director of human resources for the
school district where he has worked for 20 years, has been on the faculty
at both San Dimas and Bonita. "I'd love to see both teams win, but
that's not possible. It was easier for me to be somewhere else,"says
Dr. Brinegar. He says that he has watched coaches and players come and go.
With time spent at both schools dealing with the students and families,
Dr. Brinegar reveals an emotional tie for both institutions. "You watch
these freshmen come in, and they're tripping over their own feet watching
them grow on the field and in the classroom, it's great."
One individual who forever holds his development at Bonita in high regard
is Mark Maloney. Maloney, a 1976 alumnus of the Bearcats football program,
was given first team honors in All-California Intercollegiate Federation
(CIF), All-Hacienda League and All-San Bernardino while playing center for
two years on the varsity squad. Maloney, the now Colorado resident, vividly
remembers the intensity of the Smudgepot.
The trophy did not even exist until he was in eighth grade when the
first Smudgepot Bowl was played and won by San Dimas 33-0. Dennis Franks,
an active member of the football boosters and father of Jim Franks, a future
teammate of Maloney's, had decided to design and make the trophy to celebrate
the new rivalry that had arisen between the schools. Maloney recalls playing
for the prize made by the father of his schoolmate.
"You're reputation is on the line and you want to win it every
year, and you're not going to win it every year," recollects Maloney.
Then, Maloney and other members of the '76 squad played under the coaching
of Bonita Spanish teacher Pete Lopez. Lopez led Maloney and teammates to
win the trophy his junior year in a 14-7 victory but returned his senior
year to suffer a 26-7 defeat from San Dimas. Through defeat or victory in
the Smudgepot, Maloney fondly remembers Lopez. "He knew how to treat
people and how to get the best out of players."
Even with Lopez leading the Bearcats, Maloney says he remembers facing
what was often a dominant San Dimas squad led by coach Bob Biaz. "They
had more of the good players. We were supposed to cream them, and we didn't,"
Wins, losses, ties, penalties and touchdowns all remain in the memory
of Maloney as he now attends to his duties as the father of two daughters.
Even 21 years later, Maloney says returning to an occasional Smudgepot game
is like a class reunion when "you see the people you haven't seen in
Dr. Brinegar has seen many athletes from both schools like Maloney who
have lasting impressions of the Smudgepot. With a passion for the athletic
competition from both schools, Dr. Brinegar finds peace in being a neutral
spectator rather than a fan. He has seen and felt the emotions of the coaches,
players and principals from both sides of the community. Having seen the
Smudgepot for nearly the entirety of its existence, Dr. Brinegar has appreciated
the game for its collegiate atmosphere, its emotional level, its communal
impact and its place in his life. "When you're going to talk about
memories in football, you're talking about the Smudgepot. I loved being
there," says Dr. Brinegar.
For the players like starting linebacker and tight end Dade, who still
run out under the lights once a year for a chance to be the Smudgepot victor,
the game's esteem is simply stated. "No one has a rivalry like we do
with San Dimas," exclaims Dade.
The locker room was tense at halftime. San Dimas Head Coach Ted Clarke told
his players what they needed to do to build on their lead: "Hit somebody!"
Smudgepot Bowl Annual Results
1972 - San Dimas 33, Bonita 0
1973 - San Dimas 13, Bonita 7
1974 - San Dimas 14, Bonita 0
1975 - Bonita 14, San Dimas 7
1976 - San Dimas 26, Bonita 7
1977 - San Dimas 13, Bonita 0
1978 - San Dimas 24, Bonita 14
1979 - Bonita 10, San Dimas 7
1980 - Bonita 23, San Dimas 0
1981 - San Dimas 13, Bonita 2
1982 - Bonita 14, San Dimas 0
1983 - San Dimas 20, Bonita 14
1984 - San Dimas 46, Bonita 0
1985 - San Dimas 23, Bonita 0
1986 - San Dimas 13, Bonita 6
1987 - San Dimas 14, Bonita 14
1988 - Bonita 31, San Dimas 21
1989 - San Dimas 28, Bonita 21
1990 - San Dimas 34, Bonita 8
1991 - San Dimas 13, Bonita 3
1992 - San Dimas 28, Bonita 3
1993 - San Dimas 19, Bonita 0
1994 - Bonita 31, San Dimas 6
1995 - San Dimas 28, Bonita 12
1996 - Bonita 19, San Dimas 7
1997 - Bonita 14, San Dimas 3
1998 - Bonita 27, San Dimas 0
1999 - Bonita 31, San Dimas 0
2000 - Bonita 18, San Dimas 16