2013-11-15 / Sports
High School FOOTBALL special report Camarillo & Rio Mesa
Rivalry in focus
After all, it was Thompson, a longtime Scorpion football coach who died of leukemia in February, and then-Rio Mesa coach John Reardon, who got the battle for the Black and Blue Trophy going in 1975 during one of their many coaches’ morning coffee-klatches.
On this night, Camarillo, as expected by anyone not wearing red and black, dominated Rio Mesa 43-7 in the schools’ 39th meeting on Nov. 8. The margin of victory was the second largest in series’ history. Camarillo beat Rio Mesa 54-14 in 2000. Rio Mesa went 1-9 overall, 1-4 in the Pacific View League.
Though few who hold memories of a game that has long decided league championships and playoff berths want to admit, it may also have been the beginning of the end for the rivalry.
Camarillo (9-1 overall, 5-0 in league) expects to depart the Pacific View for the Marmonte League next season, meaning the teams won’t be playing in the last game of the season, as they have since 1999. Little more than bragging rights will be on the line the next time the schools meet on the field.
“I think the rivalry will be around,” said Brian FitzGerald, Rio Mesa’s athletic director and track and field coach. “As long as we have Cam kids going to Rio, there’ll be a rivalry.”
The schools have agreed to play the next two years, so the rivalry will live on for at least that long. It appears it’s a matter of time before the rivalry will lose its most important ingredient— enough kids from Camarillo attending Rio Mesa.
That’s because Rancho Campana is scheduled to open in 2015 with freshmen and sophomores. From then on, it’s expected that nearly all Camarillo students will attend either Camarillo or Rancho Campana. Rancho Campana will not have athletics, so its students would compete for Camarillo.
Until then, the rivalry will remain, and although the focus is what happens on the field, that is just part of the equation. What goes on before, after and in between the opening kickoff and the final gun tells a more complete story of what the rivalry means to the community—the good, the bad, the humorous and the tragic.
Thirty minutes before kickoff, FitzGerald stood on the sideline waiting for the Spartans to take the field. FitzGerald grew up in Camarillo, but he’s a Spartan through and through.
He’s been at Rio Mesa for
27 years. Before that, he suited up for the Spartans football team as a senior in 1974, when Rio Mesa went undefeated in the regular season, still the only time that’s been accomplished.
FitzGerald never got to play in the big game because the rivalry started after his 1975 graduation. He’s been a part of plenty of these big games from the sidelines, and he has garnered many memorable moments.
It was 2003, and the game would determine the league championship. FitzGerald says he tried to get out of the way of the streaker, but the loon kept coming at the Spartan. FitzGerald did what people expect to see at a football game—he tackled the streaker.
“He was naked except for his shoes, and he was all oiled up,” FitzGerald said. “He got up and ran, and I went after him and caught him by the leg at the fence. The sheriffs were there waiting for him.
As athletic director, he’s also had to deal with overly enthusiastic expressions of school loyalty.
“From an administrative end, sometimes it’s tough, especially with acts of vandalism,” FitzGerald said, citing instances when kerosene was poured on Rio’s field and paint dumped on Cam’s bleachers.
“I think it’s been a great thing,” he says.
The Camarillo and Rio Mesa marching bands joined each other on the field to play the national anthem together.
The opening kickoff sailed toward Camarillo’s end on the newly minted Carl Thompson Field. Less than two minutes later, Rory MacNeill snagged a dump pass over the middle, slipped a tackle and headed up the right sideline for a touchdown.
Camarillo led 27-0 before the end of the first quarter. After each score, Camarillo’s student section erupted in jubilation, while Rio Mesa’s section on the opposite side of the field attempted to drown the Scorpions out with a cheer.
Camarillo surged ahead 36-0 at halftime. The lone highlight for Rio Mesa was a blocked extrapoint attempt in the first quarter.
Marshall Thompson watched the game from the sideline where he played and his father coached. He held the framed dedication given to him at the pre-game ceremony. He sported his father’s light-blue Camarillo letterman’s jacket because “it seemed appropriate.”
Marshall recalled the mornings his dad and Reardon met to talk football.
“Coach Reardon liked Mc- Donalds (the one off Arneill Road),” Thompson recalls. “I think Dad was doughnuts.”
Reardon lived in Camarillo while coaching Rio Mesa, which in the early 1970s was newer and much smaller than Camarillo. It wasn’t until 1975 that he thought his Spartans would be able to compete against the bigger school.
A poignant moment occurred amid the din of the 2013 halftime hullabaloo.
Two lines of women, one from each sideline, walked toward each other and met at midfield. They carried banners and roses to remember Breanna Jones.
Jones was a cheerleader at Rio Mesa for three years before transferring to Camarillo for her senior year in 2010-11. She died unexpectedly Aug. 25 in New Mexico, where she was a student at the University of New Mexico.
Amid hugs and tears, the friends and former cheerleaders walked to Breanna’s mother, Trish Wolfgang. Wolfgang stood in front of a large banner adorned with personal notes on heart-shaped paper.
The Rio Mesa graduates handed Wolfgang red roses. The Camarillo women, who wore red ribbons in their hair, offered blue roses.
Sandy Kling, whose daughter Rachel cheered and was friends with Breanna, was the Camarillo cheer squad’s team mom.
“I think the game and halftime event showed what a small town Camarillo can be,” Kling says. “The Cam and Rio kids grew up together going to elementary and junior high and playing sports together. Even our two school bands played the national anthem together. I think that’s really cool.
“The tragedy of losing a young lady brings us all back to center and reminds as that it’s important to show love and support to one another.”
Breanna Jones’ friends plan to meet Nov. 30 at Yolanda’s Mexican Cafe in Camarillo for a memorial. They are also raising money for the family to help offset unexpected medical bills and funeral expenses. People can donate to the Breanna Jones Memorial Fund at www.gofundme.com/47ejxk.
The second half was largely uneventful.
Rio Mesa finally got on the scoreboard with less than six minutes remaining in the game.
Brad Borodaty, a Camarillo resident, hauled in a pass at the Scorpion 2-yard line. Borodaty’s reception set up a touchdown run by teammate Justin Vela.
Rio Mesa’s fans rejoiced as if the Spartans had tied the game.
Players formed long lines to offer fist-bumps and congratulations after the game.
After the coaches’ postgame speeches, a Spartan and a Scorpion— both wearing No. 2—met on the field for a man-hug.
The Rio player was Borodaty and the Cam player was Tyler Waid. They are among a handful of players who began playing tackle football together with the Roadrunners in third grade.
“We love coming over here to play some football and bang heads with them,” Borodaty said with a smile. “Can’t get any better than that.”
Waid said former Roadrunner players and their families remain close, and it doesn’t matter if they’re Scorpions or Spartans now.
“Playing together on Roadrunners, we got really, really close,” Waid says. “We went to Monte Vista together and to different schools afterward, but we never drifted apart.”
A group of players, wearing Camarillo and Rio Mesa jerseys covered in mud and sweat, stood on the field shoulder-to-shoulder for pictures.
The players included Scorpions James Bain, Ben Kling, Blake Brockett, Jonathan Goldstein and Waid, along with Spartans Jacob Litten and Borodaty.
“Awww, they were just little guys,” one mom said as she snapped a shot with her phone.
“They’re bigger now,” another mom offered.
Dean Litten knows all too well how those 8-year-old boys turned into young men. Litten, the defensive line coach for Rio Mesa, coached them with the Roadrunners.
It’s a bittersweet night for Litten. He got to see his young players blossom on the field, but he also felt the pain of the kids on the losing end of the big game.
“It’s fun, it’s a great thing,” Litten said. “You want them to do good.”
He paused for a beat and then laughed.
“Maybe not on the scoreboard.”
Hey, it’s still a rivalry.
This article was edited Nov. 22, 2013.