It has been nine months since Saddleback and Santa Ana high schools each won Southern Section football championships.
The school assemblies honoring the teams and the speeches by the mayor are now fond memories for the players and coaches. The red carpets have been rolled up and put back in storage. The victory parties are over.
But the euphoria lingers.
The Roadrunners won the Central Conference title and the Saints won the Southern Conference title in December, 1985, but both Santa Ana Unified District schools are still feeling the effects of their championship seasons.
Both teams have experienced an increase in participation this year. Administrators at the schools say that staff and student enthusiasm toward football have improved. Support from the community and parents has never been better.
It will be success story vs. success story tonight when city rivals Santa Ana and Saddleback meet in a nonleague game at 7:30 in Santa Ana Stadium.
"We're as proud as we can be of both schools," said Dr. Edward Krass, school district superintendent. "Tonight's game should be a battle of the giants."
The giants are only getting bigger. At Santa Ana, the Saints have 180 players on four levels of their football program, an increase of 50 from last year. Saddleback has increased to 170 players this season from 150.
A welcome addition to the Saints this season was junior Darrell Bailey, who played football as a freshman but sat out his sophomore year to concentrate on basketball.
After getting caught up in the excitement of last year's 31-21 championship victory over Mission Viejo, Bailey decided to return to the football team. He is a starting receiver and part-time defensive back.
"I regretted not playing last year," Bailey said. "All my friends were on the team and watching them win it felt real good. I thought that I could have been out there, too."
The largest surge has been on the lower levels, where the Saints' freshman team has gone from 50 to 75 players and the Roadrunners' sophomore team from 30 to 50.
"Kids want to be part of something successful," Santa Ana Coach Dick Hill said.
So do teachers and other students who don't play football.
"We had a pep assembly last week and it was one of the better pep rallies we've had in a while," said Gary Wheaton, Santa Ana's activities director. "The kids just seem to have the spirit and excitement. We've also added about 25 kids to the band."
At Saddleback, secretarial and custodial staff members have been wearing V-neck sweaters in the school colors (green and gold) on "spirit" days.
"And I noticed at last week's game (against Santa Ana Valley) that several retired faculty members were there," said Nancy O'Connor, Saddleback's principal. "It's not just the kids who were excited about the championship, but the faculty and staff as well."
Not to mention members of the community who support the teams. At Santa Ana, for instance, the booster club has been able to sell enough ads this year to produce a 36-page game program. Last year, the program had eight pages.
Saddleback's game program increased by only four pages this year, but Coach Jerry Witte said the Roadrunners have lured several new sponsors who hadn't supported the team in the past.
"The doors open a little easier when you're the champions," Wheaton said. "We'll have a real nice program, paid for by advertising for the first time in modern history."
Few thought Santa Ana and Saddleback would even reach Southern Section championship games last year. The Saints finished third in the Century League but upset El Modena, 14-13, in the Southern Conference semifinals. The Vanguards had easily defeated the Saints during the regular season.
Saddleback shared the Sea View League title with Newport Harbor, but most followers of the Central Conference figured that the Sailors and Valencia would be battling for the championship. Instead, it was Saddleback defeating La Quinta, 34-28, for the title.
This year, both teams are expected to win it all.
"Now, whatever team plays us plays the defending champions," Witte said. "That puts pressure on us to perform, but sometimes that can be a good thing, too. That's the fun of athletics--to play well when it counts the most."
Hill has noticed a change in the entire school attitude at Santa Ana since the Saints won their title.
"They want, and expect, more than mediocrity," he said. "This is built in in some areas, but it's not always built in for the kids who haven't had success and don't really know what it feels like.
"Parents, kids, everyone is expecting success, and that's good, even though it's hard on the coaches. But I want people to expect more than just getting along. It makes it more fun to work at this level."
THE BIG GAME
Santa Ana vs. Saddleback
The records--Santa Ana (1-0), Saddleback (1-0).
The site--Santa Ana Stadium