Leaving the field after practice on a gloomy and rainy midweek afternoon in Wilmington, the Banning High football team appeared subdued.
There was no enthusiastic chatter about the approaching City 4-A Division championship game, no spontaneous yells or defiant remarks. The players seemed more concerned about staying dry than playing their opponent.
However, once inside their warm locker room, they let it be known that Saturday's 1 p.m. game at El Camino College is special because it is against Dorsey.
Even though Banning is making its third appearance in a City final in the last four years, the Pilots know that this one is different.
"We've been looking forward to playing them for a long time," Banning running back Shayzar Hawkins said. "What happened before between us is over with, and we're glad that we are finally playing Dorsey."
Last month, these schools gained national attention when Banning refused to play Dorsey at Jackie Robinson Stadium for fear of gang violence. Refusing to bow to pressure by City officials, Banning forfeited the game, which gave Dorsey the inside track to the Pacific League title.
The Pilots still feel strongly about their stand.
"Everyone in Wilmington backed us up 100%," Banning lineman Naeem Mills said. "A lot of (other schools') coaches even sent letters to say that they were behind us too."
Hawkins said: "The only people who (criticized) us were Dorsey and their friends. The bottom line is that we'll play Dorsey anytime and anywhere . . . except at Jackie Robinson Stadium."
At Dorsey, the negative attention Banning created has left the Dons' players and their community feeling like victims.
"We're glad that we get to play against Banning," fullback Brian Benbow said. "We took it personally that they didn't want to come to our house to play us."
Banning made its unprecedented stand after gunfire erupted outside Jackie Robinson Stadium and a student was injured during an early-season game between Dorsey and Crenshaw. It was the second time in three years that violence had occurred during a game between the neighborhood rivals.
What upset Dorsey was the uncompromising position that Banning took. Despite the guarantee of added security, with Los Angeles Police Chief Darryl Gates promising 500 officers at the game, Banning stood firm.
Now, nearly eight weeks later, Banning seems to be still following its own course.
Each year, the City athletic office holds a media dinner for the coaches of the 3-A and 4-A Division finalists. Last year, Banning Coach Joe Dominguez did not attend before playing Carson for the title, but sent an assistant to represent the school.
Monday night, Banning was the only finalist not in attendance.
"Banning knew about this, and we expected them to show," said Hal Harkness, City athletic director.
While Dorsey Coach Paul Knox and five of his assistants were there, the only sign of Banning was a sheet of paper with its season statistics.
Dominguez said he was aware of the dinner but had a previous commitment. He added that it was not out of disrespect that Banning did not show, but that many of his assistants have night jobs and could not attend.
Banning players also had a chance to meet with Dorsey players this week when a luncheon was proposed between the teams. However, the Pilots declined the invitation.
"The football players decided not to go," Banning's Mills said. "We didn't feel that we should sit down with the people who we are going to play before the game. To us, we are trying to treat this as a normal game."
Banning gained an edge when the City had to decide on a site for the game.
City officials gave Dorsey the choice of playing either on the artificial turf at East Los Angeles College or on the grass at El Camino College, which many consider a home away from home for Banning.
Dorsey picked El Camino because of the grass.
"We were worried about the site," Dorsey's Knox said. "We didn't want to play at El Camino, but with the choices we had available, it was the best place."
When Dorsey and Banning last met, in the semifinals of last year's playoffs at Gardena High, a fight was narrowly avoided at the end of the game.
The Dons lost to the Pilots but thought that the game was poorly officiated and, in anger, the team and its supporters walked across the field and confronted the officials.
After several minutes of pushing and shoving, the teams were separated, but the memory remains with Banning.
"We respect Dorsey until they start acting up," Hawkins said. "Last year, we beat them fair and square, but they tried to come at us and the officials after the game. If something goes wrong for them this year, they will probably try to do the same thing."
Said Mills: "Last year, there were some calls made (against Dorsey) that I just laughed at. But hopefully, what happened afterward won't happen this year, and we'll play a good game and then shake hands."
Dorsey Principal Jerelene Wells will be happy once the game is over. "The best thing is that the football season would be over," Wells said. "Then the healing process would begin."
Banning's Dominguez is also optimistic that the soured relationship between the schools will improve. In his fourth season as head coach, Dominguez has seen Dorsey become a formidable opponent, on a level with Banning's archrival, Carson.
"I don't see why Dorsey and Banning can't have a healthy rivalry like us and Carson," Dominguez said. "I think what happened was a minor problem that has been blown out of proportion.
"It's time for both schools to finally play and prove that they can get together without any problems. It would be good for both communities."