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School Cashes In Chips--With Cows' Aid

July 21, 1996|NICK GREEN

At Oxnard's Santa Clara High School on Saturday they talked about tradition. Enthusiasm. And pride.

But they weren't talking about baseball. Or even the Olympics. Instead, the subject was cow-chip bingo.

The bovine bingo worked like this:

Rope off the football field with barbed wire and yellow tape appropriately emblazoned with the word "caution."

Divide into yard-square portions and sell for $5 apiece. Release five cows and wait for nature to take its course. Award three prizes totaling $2,000 to the holders of the soiled squares and pocket the difference for the football program.

"We fed them good," said Jim Lapointe, president of the recently formed football booster club. "We've got to make sure they come out of that trailer and do their thing quickly. We don't want to sit around here until seven or eight o'clock waiting for them to poop."

The bingo was an effort to revive the fortunes of the former football powerhouse. The program has declined along with enrollment at the private Catholic school, which at 450 students is less than half what it was a decade ago.

"Santa Clara has got a lot of tradition," Lapointe said. "Santa Clara has been here since 1904. We're like a little Notre Dame. People love to play us and they hate to lose to us."

But the school's 1-9 record last season meant little self-hatred among opposing teams. And with fewer players turning out, school alumni knew something had to be done to revitalize the program.

After a paper recycling drive failed, booster club members turned to a carnival featuring cow chip bingo to raise money for new equipment and uniforms.

At 3:25 p.m., 2,000-pound Debbie--as the grandson of one of the bingo organizers had temporarily named her--led her calf, Jeremy, and three other future steak dinners out of a trailer and onto the field.

Debbie emitted a low moo and immediately headed for the end zone.

"Give 'em a football, let's see how well they do," said junior varsity running back Ritchie Polido, 14, obviously looking for any help the team can get next season.

Unfortunately, Debbie and Jeremy crashed through the end zone without, shall we say, scoring, leaving the school's aging alumni to herd the uncooperative beasts back on the field.

No sooner was that done, than the cattle scored three touchdowns almost simultaneously a mere seven minutes after they were turned loose. It took longer for several burly volunteers to persuade the cows to return to their trailer.

Still, organizers say they hope to make the cow-chip bingo an annual event.

"It sounded crazy," said Steve Navarro, a 1972 Santa Clara High graduate and member of the school's football booster club. "But if it takes something crazy to turn things around, then I'm all for it."

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