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Best Friends--Until Friday : Garfield's Ramirez and Roosevelt's Gallegos Will Play in East L.A. Classic


They've been best friends since the 7th grade. Despite going to separate high schools over the years, their bonds have steadily grown stronger to the point where they're as close as brothers.

Living only three houses away from each other on Siskiyou Street in East Los Angeles, the two friends have hung out together since their days at Stevenson Junior High.

On the football field, however, they are as distant as Cain and Abel.

Ryan Ramirez is a receiver for the Garfield High football team. His compadre Johnny Gallegos is also on the offensive line--for Roosevelt High.

Friday night their communal ties will break for a few hours as the two will be on opposite sides of the field in the East Los Angeles Classic. The friendly football game between the two high schools has mushroomed to near biblical proportions since the rivalry began in 1926.

It's an event where a crowd of more than 25,000 squeezes into Weingart Stadium at East Los Angeles College and 2,000 watch from outside the gates. Close to 600 others--cheerleaders, drill team members, bands and the teams themselves--will muster on the football field, each with the same agenda--to win, no matter who is on the other team, friend or not.

"Neighbors ask us how we even talk to each other when we go to rival schools, especially during the week of the Classic," said Gallegos, 17. "We joke around that we are going to kill each other on the field, but we know we're not serious."

Serious or not, with area junior high schools such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Hellenbeck, Belvedere and Griffith feeding into Garfield and Roosevelt, the rivalry between the two high schools has brought families together on the field and in the stands only to pull them apart at kickoff. Husbands have met their future wives there. Cousin is pitted against cousin. Some parents are forced into shifting alliances, taking half their kids to either side because one went to Roosevelt and the other to Garfield.

"I went to Garfield because all my family went there," said Ramirez, 17, who added that his parents met at his school. Similarly, most of Gallegos' immediate family went to Roosevelt.

Nevertheless, mixed marriages are not uncommon. Mirna Jimenez was wearing a Garfield sweater when she met her husband, Roughrider alum Rodolfo, after the 1970 encounter--two years before it was dubbed the Classic. The high school sweethearts eventually married. Rodolfo's heirs wear his school's colors.

"Since my son and daughter go to Roosevelt, I sit on Roosevelt's side," said Mirna, who jokingly admits to being ostracized around this time of year for being a Bulldog. "This year they are supposed to give me a break and let me sit on the Garfield side."

As far as taunting the other side goes, Mirna's 16-year-old daughter Erika, a cheerleader for Roosevelt, has her hands full. Her cousin Rudy Burruel, 18, is a receiver for the Garfield squad.

"It's exciting when (Rudy) makes a play, but all the same I yell, 'I want you guys to get him hard!"' Erika Jimenez said. If her cousin is nailed in a play, he deserves it, she added. "(His teammates) are mean. They tell me I'm a loser because we lost last year."

Friday night's game is the 59th encounter between the two ballclubs. Roosevelt leads the series 29-23-6. In the Classic, it's another story. Winning in the final seconds of last year's matchup, Garfield is on top 11-10-1, earning the Bulldogs bragging rights for the year.

"I tell her 'Yeah! we'll see when the time comes,"' said Burruel, "I get into it a pumps everybody up. But it hasn't gone as far as telling her to stay away."

Like the USC-UCLA rivalry, it's a game that transcends whatever else happens during the rest of the season: a victory can make a losing season brighter, or taint a winning record. Neither Roosevelt nor Garfield has dominated its conference this season. The Roughriders enter the game with a 3-5 record last Friday after losing to Jefferson while the Bulldogs bettered their record to 5-3 after beating Locke.

Nevertheless, each team's records are inconsequential this Friday night. Brothers are battling each other over school pride.

"I know we grew up really close, but he's on the opposite team, and I'm going out there to win," said Ryan Ramirez.

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