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Player conduct is as important as how they play

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POSTED November 29, 2009 2:00 a.m.
Sierra High plays Del Oro High on Friday in the Sac-Joaquin Section football playoffs.

It goes without saying I’m pulling for Sierra for obvious – and some unobvious – reasons.

Del Oro High of Loomis and Lincoln High of Lincoln (both are in Placer County) used to be major rivals. I’m a 1974 graduate of Lincoln High. That, though, didn’t prevent me from wearing a Buffalo green sweatshirt and sitting next to my sister Mary who is the Lincoln High activities director on the visitors’ side when Manteca hosted them a few years back in a football playoff game. Manteca essentially leveled Lincoln that year. Unfortunately, Lincoln, which was 11-0, lost Friday to Sonora in this year’s playoffs.

And for the record, I pulled for Manteca the year they beat Del Oro in the section championship at the University of Pacific even though my cousin Larry Wyatt was the head Del Oro High football coach at the time.

For 15 years, Del Oro was part of the coverage area for the Press-Tribune where I worked for 18 years including a three-year stint as sports editor. Del Oro was a true class act by then. It had high standards and impressed in academics, music, and athletics.

It wasn’t always that way.

Back in the 1960s when Del Oro started it had a strong infusion of upper middle class families from custom neighborhoods near Folsom Lake that dominated the campus that also drew from families in the then largely agricultural Loomis Basin. Many of them were Japanese American families that had been interned during World War II along with dozens of Japanese American families in the Lincoln area.

Lincoln was a true blue collar town with a lot of immigrants from Portugal and Mexico.

The people with money set the tone for Del Oro High in the 1960s. It was a school that was able to get then Gov. Ronald Reagan to speak at their senior awards night. To say that some who had children attending Del Oro High during that time period were a bit full of themselves is a major understatement.

When Lincoln – whose football history dates back in the early 1930s – finally had its first winning season ever in 1965 that included the Zebras tying Del Oro 6-6, Del Oro hired away the Lincoln head football coach openly stating anyone who could teach kids in Lincoln to play football obviously was a great football coach.

The pinnacle of Del Oro rubbing it into working class Lincoln was in 1969 when the Zebras beat Del Oro for the first time ever in basketball and had the audacity to do it on the Golden Eagles’ home court. The picture on the front page of The Press-Tribune the next day was of three Del Oro High cheerleaders crying at the game’s end with one being quoted as saying they were in tears because “we were beaten by lowly Lincoln.”

It struck me even as a 13-year-old as not simply mean-spirited but arrogance bred by those who somehow believed that a higher economic status somehow made you better. Lincoln, for the record, went on to beat Del Oro two more times that year and win the Pioneer League championship.

In defense of Del Oro, they never got as down and dirty as some schools did in openly taunting Lincoln players as “welfare recipients” and “spick lovers” such as was done at several games at Colfax and Oak Ridge high schools. Oak Ridge’s football players – who made those taunts at halftime as both teams were heading into adjoining locker rooms – ended up regretting their remarks that included suggesting the team go back to Lincoln and “collect their welfare checks.” Lincoln was trailing 20-0 going into the half. They ended up beating Oak Ridge 34-28.

Del Oro no longer takes such a view of other schools although my sister assures me there are now others that treat Lincoln students as low-class because the town isn’t covered with executive housing, and basically has a 133-year-old clay products plant that manufacturers primarily sewer plant dominating its skyline.

How Manteca educators deal with high school rivalries have always impressed me.

They have made it a top priority to keep everything on even keel intra-district which helps explain why it is the norm that athletes as well as other students at one school have friends at others especially when it involves the three in-town campuses of Manteca, East Union, and Sierra.

The high school administrators and coaches have strived for the same approach for other schools that Manteca Unified prep teams play.

Having said that, I’ve been impressed for a long time with how Sierra players conduct themselves whatever the sport as well as those at East Union and Manteca. True class is a learned trait that one needs to place a high priority to work on.

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