by Danny Craig
photography by Jason Cooper
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 their ambition.
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 Ketterling, 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. Ketterling 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,” says Ketterling.
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 Ketterling.
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 Ketterling’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.
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,” says Maloney.
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 a while.”
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.
Bearcats Scratch Saints in 18-16 Win
LA VERNE — Bonita High School football coach Eric Podley told his players, “Play within yourselves,” when they entered the Valle Vista League bout against San Dimas High School for the 28th annual Smudgepot Bowl. For Bearcats kicker Brian Bernal, he did just that with 3:47 left in the game.
Bernal completed a 36-yard field goal to give Bonita the 18-16 final and the Bearcats their fifth consecutive Smudgepot victory. The first half was marred with errors by both sides, including a safety from a loose ball in the San Dimas end zone. After Saints quarterback Ryan Repp recovered the bad snap only to be tackled in the end zone, the Bearcats had a 2-0 lead early in the matchup. Despite the shaky performance from the teams, the ensuing portion of the half would bring each squad a touchdown with an extra point. However, a field goal in the second quarter by San Dimas kicker Scott Ehret was what gave his squad the 10-9 lead at the half.
Before the pivotal kick in the second half, the rushing game brought both squads their next scores. Bearcats running back Chris Riley carried the ball three yards into the end zone at 3:59 remaining in the third quarter for a touchdown. With a failed two-point conversion, the score was 15-10.
The Saints answered in the fourth quarter when running back Curtis Brown ran 33 yards down the middle of the field and across the goal line to make the score 16-15 before the game’s climax. A failed pass on the conversion left room for the Bearcats to strike. With the victory, Bonita took a 1-3 overall, 1-0 Valle Vista record while San Dimas slid to 1-4 overall and 0-1 in league.
The Saints finished the Fall 2000 season with a 3-4 league, 4-6 overall record. They placed fifth in the Valle Vista League. The Bearcats took third place in the Valle Vista with their 5-2 league, 5-5 overall record.
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