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Friendly but Fierce: Saints and Dons Play for 23rd Time Tonight

September 30, 1988|JIM LINDGREN

SAN DIEGO — On a cool autumn night 22 years ago, before 10,000 fans in Balboa Stadium, St. Augustine High and University of San Diego High met on the football field for the first time.

Tonight at 8 at Southwestern College, USDHS and St. Augustine play for the 23rd consecutive year and in the 15th annual Charity Bowl.

Since Sept. 24, 1966, "Saints" and "Uni" have developed one of the fiercest, friendliest, most-intense, good-natured and competitive rivalries in the county. It is a rivalry of contradictions.

But a natural? These schools belong on the same field the way USC and UCLA, Stanford and Cal, Harvard and Yale do.

In the mid-1960s, St. Augustine (founded in 1922) was a small, all-boys Catholic high school in North Park. Despite its size, it was a football power, playing the big schools in the City Eastern League. Under Joe DiTomaso, the Saints were 12-0 while winning the San Diego CIF championship in 1970, after losing finals in 1967 and '69.

USDHS--also a small all-boys Catholic high school, across the street from the University of San Diego--had an up-and-coming team that participated in 1-A against North County schools. In 1964, under Robert (Bull) Trometter, the Dons shut out Carlsbad, 40-0, to win the championship.

As the county's two major Catholic high schools, USDHS and St. Augustine competed for students from parochial grade schools. Friends, relatives and neighbors thus attended different high schools.

The connections added to the rivalry, to territorial claims and to the bragging. The boys at both schools also were competing for loyalty--not to mention attention--from the girls' schools: Our Lady of Peace, Rosary, Sacred Heart and Cathedral.

USDHS had been trying to get St. Augustine on the field for a couple of years, but the Saints said their program was too advanced for the 1-A Dons. St. Augustine agreed to the game in 1966. Said one newspaper account: "It turned out to be a case of dreadfully poor timing for the Nutmeg Street clan."

On opening night, the Dons celebrated the school's 10th anniversary by stunning highly favored St. Augustine, 30-7. Quarterback Steve Dunning led the Dons to two touchdowns in the first six minutes, and the defense allowed St. Augustine only two first downs for the game. USDHS finished 8-1, the Saints 4-4-1.

St. Augustine gained revenge the following year, 19-13. The Dons won, 13-7, in 1968. St. Augustine then won the next five meetings by an aggregate score of 89-12, including two shutouts and a 32-3 rout during their championship season.

In the meantime, Joe Galindo had taken over as coach of the Dons, and USDHS became a co-ed school after merging with Cathedral in 1971. St. Augustine was now coached by Larry Shepard.

In 1974, the rivalry took on a new wrinkle. Thanks to the work of furniture businessman Allen Kent, the game would be played in San Diego Stadium and be billed as the first Charity Bowl, the grandest attraction in the history of San Diego high school athletics.

How grand? Well, Bob "for Catholic education" Hope performed at halftime for more than 18,000 in attendance.

Quarterback Mike Kennedy and receiver Tim Smith led the Saints to a 20-0 victory. The most valuable player was Smith, a two-time all-county receiver who went on to play with the University of Nebraska and the Houston Oilers.

"The whole week the press came and were interviewing us," Smith said. "You don't normally get that hype in a high school football game. There was pressure but it really added to the game. On every level, there's that rivalry. Uni was definitely our biggest rival."

The Charity Bowl was introduced to make up for attendance and revenue lost when the city schools went to day games. With yearly attendance figures of 8,000 or more, it remains the cornerstone for the schools' athletic budgets, earning a total of about $30,000 last season for USDHS and St. Augustine its sister school, Our Lady of Peace.

While St. Augustine enjoyed early success in the series, the Dons have dominated since the first Charity Bowl. University has won 12 of the past 13 games, including 7 by shutout.

Exemplifying the turnaround in the schools' programs are Steve and Scott Garrison. Steve, a 1974 St. Augustine graduate, played defensive back and tight end for the dominant "Purple Gang." Brother Scott, class of '83, played offensive and defensive line for USDHS.

Said Steve, "Back then we were more dominant, nowadays they are. Most of the great athletes that came out of the parochial schools went to Saints. We always got the thoroughbreds."

But now, he added, "The kids started realizing that the sports at Uni were getting better."

He says of his alma mater, "You can't stand on tradition if you can't get the bodies."

Where the games were close for 10 years, the last three have been USDHS blowouts. Coincidentally, Ron Hamamoto took over as the Dons' coach three years ago.

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