Every football season, the Roosevelt campus becomes engulfed in school pride along with building anticipation of the first game of the season. Just a week after the new school year begins, a line starts to form on the 4th street gate; students and families line up early to get their tickets and secure their seats for the first of many Friday night games to come.
The kick-off is the countdown of the EAST L.A. Classic that every year is accompanied by pep rallies, senior nights, and a media day where the two communities of Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles meet.
The East L.A. Classic is the long-awaited homecoming game between Eastside schools Theodore Roosevelt High School and James A. Garfield High School. A game that began with a rivalry that dates back to the establishment of Garfield in 1925, just three years shy of Roosevelt’s establishment. It’s a game that gathers and has filled the East Los Angeles College Weingart Stadium every year in late October. On Friday, Roosevelt takes on Garfield at 7 p.m. at Weingart Stadium at East Los Angeles College for the 84th annual game.
This year, the Roughriders are led by new head coach Aldo Parral, a social studies teacher and alumni from Roosevelt class of 1988. When it was announced in March that coach Parral would take over as head coach, many were surprised and not aware that he was not a part of the list of individuals who were being considered.
Parral says it’s an opportunity he couldn’t pass up and that he understands the important role that football plays at Roosevelt.
“I think that the football team embodies what the community is. And by that I mean that the community represents hard work, the community represents tradition, values, family,” he says.
Long before he took his position as head coach, Parral was coaching many of his current players for the local Pop Warner football team in the neighborhood, known as The Boyle Heights Wolfpack.
“I was very lucky because a lot of the kids on the squad I’ve known since they were little.
I coached them when they were in Wolfpack or I knew them through Evergreen. In that sense, I feel fortunate to have been blessed with a group of kids that are respectful and also willing to do what we as a staff have asked of them,” he says.
Preparations for the Classic began weeks ago, as the whole campus gets ready for the matchup. The leadership class plans the pep rally, which happens the day of the game on a special extended lunch. Students paint 6-foot high posters that are put up at the stadium and stand out as they have the words “CAN’T HIDE OUR RIDER PRIDE” in bold red paint.
Drum major Víctor Hernández says the activities bring the students together.
“Football has a major impact on school culture and spirit because it’s one of the major staples of our school,” Hernández says. “It’s the football games, it’s the classic, the lunchtime rallies. It’s all that and it brings us together because of the spirit.”
As the day of the Classic gets closer, pressure mounts and football players intensify their routine and extend their practices to nearly 5-hours. The cheer, drill, and color guard teams try to perfect their infamous halftime performances, getting to campus the minute it opens and replay their routine until it is closed. The band becomes an alarm clock for the neighboring homes as they begin practice two hours before the school day begins.
During the week of the game, the school becomes a sea of participating students for spirit week. The home team hosts a Homecoming banquet, and both schools get a visit from media stations which calls for an almost 5 AM call time on the football field.
This year, Roosevelt and Garfield are tied with 41 wins each for the annual game. Garfield has a 7-year winning streak in the Classic. Who will win this Friday is still up for debate as the Garfield team has gone undefeated with a 5-0 record in the league and Roosevelt with a 3-2 record. But Roosevelt hopes to get the trophy back since it’s last stay in 2009.
“Our football team may lose like most of the time but we put spirit above all else. Win or lose, you know, we come together as a community and that’s what it’s all about, “ says Hernández.