Roosevelt High has been closed this week by order of the Los Angeles Unified School District after asbestos was detected in several campus buildings.
Students will not return to campus for classes until Friday, but that has not stopped Roosevelt's football team from preparing for Friday night's game against rival Garfield in the 64th edition of the East Los Angeles Classic.
A crowd of more than 20,000 is expected to fill Weingart Stadium at East Los Angeles College for the 8 p.m. kickoff.
"We were lucky that the gym was one of the first buildings cleared so we were able to get our equipment out," Roosevelt Coach Jose Casagran said. "And with school out for much of the week, it's eliminated many of the distractions that are normally a part of this game.
"So, from a football standpoint, it went from a very stressful situation to a very positive one."
Roosevelt leads the series, 32-24-7.
The Roughriders (7-2, 4-0 in the Eastern League) have only three starters back from last year's team that beat Garfield, 44-15, to end a seven-game losing streak in the Classic, but Roosevelt has clinched at least a tie with Bell for the league championship and can claim the title outright with a victory Friday.
Roosevelt, which last week overcame a 12-point deficit in the final three minutes to beat Jordan, 40-39, is led by junior running back Manuel Esparza, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards. The Roughriders also feature senior wingback/free safety Marcos Castellon, junior quarterback Danny Ramirez, junior receiver/inside linebacker Jose Hernandez and senior nose guard Frank Ibarra.
"The toughest thing about the Garfield-Roosevelt game is keeping your team up for its next game after it's over," Casagran said. "I'm telling my guys, 'This is the first game of the playoffs,' so we can keep the intensity."
Until a few weeks ago, the Classic looked like it also might serve as the Eastern League championship game.
But Garfield's season began to unravel when senior quarterback Peter Mora, a transfer from Montebello Schurr, was held out of a victory over Huntington Park as the school investigated residence issues.
Mora, who had passed for 1,211 yards and 13 touchdowns, was ruled ineligible Nov. 4 by City Section Commissioner Barbara Fiege, and Garfield was forced to forfeit all games in which he participated. So, instead of being possibly 7-2 and 3-1 in league play entering the Classic, the Bulldogs are 1-8, 1-3.
Garfield still has enough talent to upset Roosevelt, especially with the emotion heightened by the atmosphere in the stadium.
Senior Erik Nava, one of the top receivers in the City, has been moved to quarterback for the Bulldogs. Senior running back Henry Polanco, who also transferred from Schurr, has rushed for 1,041 yards and also is a standout safety.
"I've played in the Classic and coached in it so I know that anything can happen in this game," Garfield Coach Ray Galarze said. "We had some setbacks, but we're back in tune."