From the docks of Wilmington to the streets of Carson, The Game was all they talked about this week.
The Game means Banning vs. Carson, the classic high school football rivalry that comes to a head Friday when the two teams meet, as they often do, for the City football championship. It is a battle for bragging rights that runs deep in the adjacent communities. More important, it represents an escape for the working-class people in these lower-to-middle-class areas, supporters of both schools said.
Wilmington, a predominantly blue-collar and Latino harbor community that relies heavily on its port industry, has rallied behind Banning High School for many years. Businesses donate everything from pizzas to cable TV advertising to support the team, which has won 8 of the last 10 City football titles and 5 of the 6 championship games played against Carson.
Businesses in Carson regularly donate to that school's booster club, which helps support Carson's team, five-time City champs.
Source of City Pride
"Football gives Carson a sense of pride. It kind of pulls our community together," said Paul Schneider, executive vice president of the Carson Chamber of Commerce. "You hear about the negative things; we like to dwell on the positive, like football achievements."
For Wilmington's longshoremen and other blue-collar workers, Banning's football season, too, represents a unique pride and a shot at escapism, supporters said.
"It is a very important time each year for the people. It's a time where they can go and watch Banning football and forget about things," said John Mendez, a Wilmington businessman who announces the Pilots' home games and donates other time to the school through booster clubs and cable television programs. "Life isn't perfect. It's a struggle. To me it (football season) is the best part of the year. Around July I'm already getting itchy."
The teams already met Nov. 15 to determine the Pacific League title. Even when Banning coasted to a 37-10 win, both teams knew they would ease through the City playoffs against weaker valley teams to meet again for the City championship. And they did.
But this is not a bitter rivalry. After the game the players, most of whom have competed against each other since they played Pop Warner youth football, are often seen arm-in-arm. Many of them live on the same street in Carson, where school boundaries sometimes send students on one side to Carson and those on the other to Banning.
Football Bragging Rights
"The first time I played against Carson was at East L.A. College (in 1983) and we lost, 14-12. I thought it was the end of the world," said Deryl Henderson, a Banning offensive tackle who graduated in 1984. "I remember looking out the bus that night and seeing my girlfriend and I cried. It was awful.
"It's like bragging rights for the City--who owns the L.A. City for the year . . . If you drive through Wilmington or Carson the day of the game, you look out and there's nobody on the streets. They're all at the game. I think Banning-Carson is the best high school rivalry around."
Dave Delaby, a math instructor and junior varsity basketball coach at Banning, concurred that The Game is simply a good-natured rivalry. "They've been friends all along," Delaby said of players on both sides. "They want to beat each other so bad, but they don't hate each other."
For both Wilmington and Carson communities, football offers a sense of achievement--and a chance to prove something to high schools in wealthier areas. "When you have areas where the socioeconomic level is a little lower, they (football players) are a little hungrier," Delaby said. "That's why I don't think they have the same quality of football on the hill (Palos Verdes Peninsula). You've got to want it."
Lois Denzin, executive director of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, said this pride has carried over into the community, where more than 60 mom-and-pop stores, a staple of Wilmington, donate to the football program. Jack Gambel, owner of Domino's Pizza in Wilmington, donates 55 large pizzas to the team before every game.
"The community just is backing the team in every conceivable way," Denzin said. "Let's face it, there are precious few things for Wilmington to be proud of. Here are young, wonderful role models doing something positive for the community. They're something for the community to get behind."
And the rivalry with Carson, Denzin said, is just natural. "These are kids who have grown up together," she said, "so of course there's a great rivalry."
At Carson, the football program is important in giving the community an identity. "I think (football) is very important," Carson High Athletic Director Jimmy Jinkawa said. "It keeps the community close together and gives them something to talk about."
Town Feeds Both Schools
The Carson community, however, sends students to both schools.
"We've got mixed emotions in a way," said the Chamber of Commerce's Schneider. "I know kids and their parents on both sides of the teams."