Annual face-off between Mustangs and Haybalers in its 98th
– and the rivalry is as strong as ever
By Danielle Smith staff Writer
Hollister – The Rose Bowl and the Super Bowl may not be until next year, but local residents can look forward to their annual fix of bitter football rivalry carried on through generations at this year’s Prune Bowl, the yearly face-off between the Gilroy Mustangs and Hollister Haybalers.
“Both sides of the stands are going to be packed,” said ‘Baler coach Chris Cameron.
Although Gilroy and San Benito High schools have been competing against each other since the early part of the century, it was only in the mid-1940s that the Veterans of Foreign Wars Halls from the two communities decided to go in on a trophy to award the winner of the big game.
It was named the Prune Bowl after the plum orchards which used to line Highway 25.
Hollister dominated the rivalry for over 30 years until Gilroy won for the first time in 1954.
“It was a real memorable moment when the streak came to an end,” said Bobby Garcia, who played in ’58 and ’59. Garcia, a former football coach at Gavilan College and the father of Detroit Lions quarterback Jeff Garcia, was in eighth grade at the time, watching from the stands.
“Back in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, it was a tradition that the home team would arrange for the visitors’ bus to get pelted with vegetables,” said Darren Yafai, Gilroy’s head coach. “But the kids are pretty responsible now, at least they have been as long as I’ve been coaching.”
According to Randy Logue, ‘Baler freshman football coach, the coveted trophy was known to go missing for extended periods of time in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and was often found on the SBHS campus in odd places, like a storage room near the pool.
“There should be more old-fashioned rivalries like this one,” Logue said. “You have better sportsmanship than if you try to legislate perfect behavior. A lot of these players are related, they know that they’re some of the best players in the league, and they respect each other.”
Bobby Garcia echoed Logue, saying that the pranks pulled back in the day were done more out of tradition than spite.
“The big thing was to burn G’s in the field,” Bobby Garcia said. “It wasn’t to go down there and be destructive. And (Hollister) did the same thing. They painted some H’s.”
As of late, the pranks have died down. But Steven Lo, who played for Gilroy in 2001 on the last Mustangs squad to win, said some shenanigans do still go on.
“(Hollister) vandalized our stadium,” said Lo, now a Gilroy varsity assistant. “That’s still sitting in the back of our minds.”
This year’s 98th Prune Bowl – the game switches location each year – will take place tonight at 7:30pm at San Benito’s Andy Hardin stadium. San Benito has won the trophy for the past three years and the pressure is on not to lose this year.
“It’s true what they say about rivalries like this,” said Dave Teri, coach and sports medicine teacher at San Benito. “You can take records and just throw them out the window when it comes right down to it. Teams step up last minute, it happens all the time.”
Although San Benito’s team has been off to a rough start this year, coaches from both teams are quick to point to last Friday’s ‘Baler victory over San Luis Obispo, reputedly one of the better teams in that area’s league.
“That’s the great thing about this game now,” said Yafai. “We play in the same league now, so what happens at this game actually affects team standings, and it wasn’t always that way. A lot more is on the line, so the game is a lot more exciting.”
Although league standings are now a part of the game, pride has been more than enough to keep Mustangs and ‘Balers alike motivated through the years.
For Teri, who has been involved with the Prune Bowl for nine years, his stake in the game is intensely personal. Gilroy’s trainer, Jennifer Spinetti, is a former student of Teri’s – and he doesn’t intend to let an old student best him.
“My wife graduated from Gilroy, but I’m from Hollister,” he said. “So there’s always that little extra pressure at home, too.”
Despite an influx in recent years of kids who’ve moved from the Bay Area and whose families have no stake in the Prune Bowl, both coaches say it has done nothing to dampen enthusiasm for the game.
“I think everyone in athletics has a craving for rivalry and competition,” said Yafai. “It’s something that all the kids get into, whether they’re from here or not. And there’s definitely enough old blood in both communities to make sure that this is going to continue for a long time.”
Whether they hail from Hollister, Gilroy or Timbuktu, players, coaches and spectators alike enjoy the feeling of being a part of something greater than themselves. Take Luis Espinoza, who played for the ‘Balers from ’89 to ’93 and now coaches frosh and JV defense.
“It was always one of my goals to come back,” he said. “I love being part of this tradition. Coach Johnson was a coach when I played here. Being a young Latino in Hollister was tough, because you were stereotyped, but being able to play football was a blessing. And being able to coach these kids, who play against the same team I played against, that’s a blessing, too.”
While not all former ‘Balers return to coach, many do make a point of attending the game year after year, like Kip Ward, varsity quarterback for the from ’84 to ’86.
“I remember in ’86, I was a senior and Jeff Garcia was a junior,” he said. “We had them 14-0 with two minutes left in the game and they stormed back and tied the game. With 20 seconds left, they went for the game-winning field goal. Stories like that get brought back this time of year and it brings the community together, and it brings out the best in the kids.”
That game ended in a 14-14 tie, Bobby Garcia recalls. It was the only tie in Prune Bowl history.
“That was a heck of a ballgame,” Bobby Garcia said. “(Gilroy) couldn’t do anything in the first half. Then in the fourth quarter, they decided to quit fooling around and throw the ball.”
The rivalry is not just for old-timers, however. The high school kids are still the ones playing the game, and the excitement and significance is not lost on the players.
“It’s something you can really get into,” said SBHS senior Joseph Sanchez, who plays on the ‘Baler varsity squad. “I used to live in Gilroy, so my friends kind of joke about it, but our coaches really push us. I’m proud to be a part of this.”
Staff writer Ana Patejdl contributed to this article.