‘Balers Sad to see Acorns Go

Despite Live Oak’s latest victory in football this week, many
San Benito High coaches will miss the competition between the two
teams when the Acorns leave the league at the end of the year and
head to the Blossom Valley League.
Despite Live Oak’s latest victory in football this week, many San Benito High coaches will miss the competition between the two teams when the Acorns leave the league at the end of the year and head to the Blossom Valley League.

Although the rivalry between Live Oak and San Benito is not as intense as that of Live Oak and Gilroy or San Benito and Gilroy, the desire to win is still high among both teams.

“We’ll miss the rivalry,” said San Benito athletic director Tod Thatcher. “I’m not sure if the competition will be as good with the other teams.”

One of the programs that will be affected is the wrestling team. “It’s going to hurt the competition,” said San Benito coach Matt Olejnik. “Live Oak usually can field a full team. So that leaves only us, Gilroy and Palma as the only ones with full teams.”

When San Benito and Live Oak, less than 30 miles apart, are thrown into the same league together, players begin to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses – making for even better competition.

The boys polo teams are the perfect example. Live Oak coach Mack Haines has always generously allowed San Benito players to compete in the summer league together. They train together, and know each other. Sometimes they will take a trip to Hawaii together.

With the exception of this year, San Benito has dominated the recent football rivalry. Live Oak hadn’t won since 1998 when the Acorns won four in row prior. But before then a San Benito win was rare.

“We will miss them,” said San Benito coach Chris Cameron, who is 6-6 against Live Oak. “We like the guys coaching over there. They are really good people. They revitalized the program last year and are still revitalizing it now.”

Under Live Oak coach Norm Dow, Live Oak was one of the premiere teams in the area.

“The district is a little different now,” Cameron said. “They don’t have the same makeup. But they always used to have really good football players. They were the team to beat. They did a good job exploiting our weaknesses back then. When Norm was coaching, Palma wasn’t in the league then. The road to the championship was through Live Oak.”

During one of the games about 10 years ago, a strong San Benito team that finished with a 7-3 record was shutout by Live Oak.

“They had outstanding linebackers that year,” Cameron said. “They kicked our butts.”

One of those players was Jeff Ulbrich, who is playing for the San Francisco 49ers.

In addition to Ulbrich, Live Oak has had other athletes recently who have enjoyed success in the pros such as Ryan Neufeld, who played football, and Brandon Villafuerte, who was with the San Francisco Giants Triple-A team in Fresno and who played with the San Diego Padres.

Former San Benito basketball coach David Kaplansky experienced the rivalry both as an athlete at San Benito High and as a coach.

“It’s always been a great rivalry when you play a team twice a year and then play them in the Bob Hagen tournament,” Kaplansky said. “Both coaches prepare their teams well. It makes for a great matchup. Hollister, Gilroy and Live Oak always go together. We always play each other at the end of the schedule.”

He remembers the great matchups the two teams had in the recent years.

“The buzzer beater we had against them in 2002-03 was the most memorable of games I’ve ever been in,” Kaplansky said.

As an athlete, Kaplansky remembers playing against Live Oak in three sports.

“Baseball was the biggest rivalry,” Kaplansky said. “We tied them in ’92 and ’93 for the league championship. Live Oak and Hollister always went down to last game.”

The soccer rivalry has also been a big rivalry recently.

“It is definitely an interesting dynasty,” said girls’ soccer coach Michael Schurig. “I think they have won league every year we’ve played them. They are the team we positioned ourselves to beat. The play really solid soccer. If do we won against them, we could do well against anyone else. It’s not so much we don’t like them, but knowing they are so good, we want to beat them.”

One of the most exciting moments for Schurig and the Balers was tying Live Oak last year and then scoring the first goal in the game against Live Oak a couple years ago.

“It was our first night game, and we had a JV crowd for it,” Schurig said. “The crowd went wild when we scored the first goal.”

But even without the Acorns in the league, Schurig said he doesn’t expect to see any slackening in the play.

“Not having them weakens the league, but that doesn’t mean you are week,” Schurig said. “We are always trying to make sure we play someone strong in league. I still want to make sure Live Oak stays on schedule for the preseason.”

Having Live Oak out of the league could be an advantage or disadvantage, Schurig said.

“It does give you a better chance to win league, but we don’t want to win league that way,” Schurig said. “We want to win or tie Live Oak, then we could feel we are ready for CCS. I feel strongly with the team we have and if we keep improving that if Live Oak was in our league in 2006-07, we would win the league. We’ve been improving so much and have been coming together.”

When its all said and done the Haybalers may move on, but a small aspect of the rivalry will be gone.

“I going to miss playing them,” Schurig said. “But I’m never afraid of changes like going from the MBL to TCAL. You just make adjustments accordingly.”

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