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A Classic Debate

Garfield-Roosevelt Football Clash Provokes Some by Moving From East L.A. to the Coliseum

November 02, 2000|GARY KLEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Location. Location. Location.

That real-estate mantra, delivered to clients seeking high value and return on their investment, has served the East Los Angeles Classic well.

The annual football game between Garfield and Roosevelt high schools grew into one of the best-attended prep athletic events in the nation without straying from the Eastside neighborhoods that made it so prosperous.

The series began in 1926. And since 1951, all but one game between the schools has been played at East Los Angeles College.

Dubbed the East Los Angeles Classic in 1972, the event serves as homecoming for both schools, annually draws turn-away crowds of 22,000 or more to ELAC's Weingart Stadium and generates enough revenue to finance the entire athletic program at both schools.

But Friday night, the East L.A. Classic is moving west to the cavernous Coliseum, a change that has stirred emotions among players, coaches, administrators and alumni.

Can the East L.A. Classic remain an Eastside community event if it is played in South Central Los Angeles?

Norma Danyo, Garfield's principal, is confident it will.

"Just like anything in life, you get those that are cautious and conservative," Danyo said. "I, myself, have no problem creating new opportunities and experiences. This is how we all grow. This is a tremendous learning opportunity for the whole community.

"If it's great for kids, that's all that matters."

Others are not as certain.

"I'd say the response has been 50-50," Roosevelt Coach Jose Casagran said. "For as many people who are saying that it's great the game is growing, there are others who say you're abandoning the community."

The big winners, proponents and opponents of the move agree, are the players who will compete for bragging rights Friday night in one of the world's most famous stadiums.

"To come out on the field at East L.A. College is a great honor, but to come out of the tunnel at the Coliseum gives these kids an opportunity to dream bigger and better things," said Paul Gonzalez, a Roosevelt alumnus who won an Olympic gold medal in boxing at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. "It gives them an opportunity to believe they can do much more than others think they can."

The chance to play in a stadium that has hosted two Olympic Games, two Super Bowls and hundreds of USC, UCLA, Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Raiders games won overwhelming support from both schools' athletes.

"To be on the field that Marcus Allen and all the other great pro and college players played on is great," Garfield quarterback Anthony Federico said.

But at least one Roosevelt player said his excitement is tempered.

"When I first heard it was going to be at the Coliseum, I was angry," Roosevelt linebacker Ruben Burgueno said. "I wanted it to be at ELAC because that's the community that always fills the stadium and you can feel the excitement from everybody once you walk in.

"I'm hoping I'm still going to feel that excitement, but it saddens me a little bit that it's not at ELAC."

Moving the Classic from East L.A. College--which was annexed by the city of Monterey Park in the mid-1970s--is not a new concept for Garfield and Roosevelt, which are located three miles apart and alternate game management each year.

In 1995, amid much debate, organizers were ready to move the game to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. However, the schools were unable to obtain corporate sponsorship to meet the stadium's rental fee and the game returned to ELAC.

This year's game might have been played at ELAC if not for Veterans Day, being observed by the Los Angeles Unified School District on Nov. 10.

The district prohibits member schools from competing in athletic events on holidays, so Fred Gribshaw, Garfield's athletic director, said he called ELAC to inquire about the stadium's availability for Nov. 9, the final day of the City Section's regular season.

Gribshaw said he was told that the college could not handle parking for the more than 20,000 spectators on a Thursday night because of evening classes at the college.

ELAC offered Nov. 4, but Gribshaw said he declined the date because event personnel must be paid double time on the weekend. ELAC had a women's soccer game scheduled at the stadium Nov. 3, and Gribshaw said he was told the college would try to switch the site, which it eventually did.

In the interim, however, Danyo encouraged Gribshaw to contact other venues.

Gribshaw said the Coliseum offered use of its scoreboard, instant replay system, press box and advertising on its message board near the Harbor Freeway among other amenities.

"The Coliseum was accommodating and the costs were about the same as what we were paying at ELAC," Gribshaw said. "With everything else being equal, we compared the services the Coliseum was able to offer for the same money and we were able to come to a consensus among the administrators and others involved with the Classic that we should try this."

It's a new chapter for a series that Roosevelt leads, 33-24-7.

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