ALAMEDA HISTORY: The Alameda-Encinal Football Series
ALAMEDA HISTORY: The Alameda-Encinal Football Series
In America progress is thought of in two distinct but interrelated ways:
• We think of a golden age somewhere in the past from which we draw lessons.
• We also think of the past as a time of ignorance and the present as the advance of an ever-improving human condition.
We might look at it this way: We draw from the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But, as Joseph Ellis has written, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King belong alongside Washington, Adams and Jefferson as Founders and we continue to expand our democracy.
We think then in terms of both our traditions and of our hopes. This article uses the medium of sport to reflect on our traditions by looking at the football rivalry between the Alameda High School Hornets and the Encinal High School Jets in the 1950s and 1960s.
Alameda High School opened in 1902. For decades, the Alameda athletic rivalry was with the Berkeley High School. Their respective team names – the Hornets and the Yellow Jackets – are an echo of this long-standing competition. The creation of Encinal High School, which opened as a freshman-only school in 1952, began to supplant that rivalry on September 30, 1955, when Alameda and Encinal played their first varsity football game. Alameda won that game at Thompson Field by a score of 19-6 before 3,000 fans (see photograph number 1). The game was the start of what Alameda now calls the “Island Bowl.”
Over the years it became a cross-town football rivalry, much like competitions that have existed for most of the last century in cities and towns across the United States. Fifty-seven years downstream, Alameda leads the series, 30-25. There have been two ties. Encinal has won the last five Island Bowl games, though the last game was close, with a final score of 45-41.
Jim Burress played in the 1955 game and starred in the Island Bowl game that followed a year later (see photograph number 2). Burress lived near the corner of Grand and Encinal and later captained the University of California, Berkeley Golden Bears football team. Future major league baseball players Curt Motton and Tommy Harper played in the series in the 1950s for Encinal, with Harper starring in 1957’s 20-20 tie.
Bob Miranda was a standout on excellent Encinal teams in 1960 and 1961 but could not beat the Hornets, falling 7-6 in 1961 (see photograph number 3). Legendary Alameda coach Forrest Klein noted after Encinal’s extra point attempt was missed that there would never be a closer game. Miranda went on to play football at Santa Clara University. Klein went on to be voted California High School Coach of the Year later in the decade. Encinal was not to win an Island bowl for another 13 years.
Now in his 70s, Burress is retired from a career in commercial real estate. He recalls his career at Alameda High as a time of student government, athletics, movies at the Alameda Theatre, the Neptune Theater (which was at the corner of Webster and Central) and the Alameda Drive-In. The latter was by the Posey Tube, which in those days was a single thoroughfare with one-lane each way. He recalls the events of his athletic past and values the opponents against whom he played.
Encinal 1955 star Sherman Lee was “a hell of a running back” and the Jet quarterback for that game was Sonny Fonoimoana from Hawaii. (That coheres with the Oakland Tribune’s account of the first game, about which the paper reported that Encinal’s points came from “a 62-yard touchdown heave from quarterback Sonny Fonoimoana to Sherman Lee.”) Some 10 years later, Burress coached an Alameda Pop Warner team where he soon learned that if they just handed the ball to a 14-year-old Eric Cross, the team would rack up big yardage. While Cross was at Stanford, Ohio State learned the same lesson in the 1972 Rose Bowl.
Former City Councilman Rich Sherratt played baseball and basketball at Alameda High during the first half of the 1960s. He remembers the Alameda-Encinal football games those years as large community events between two powerful, well-supported teams: the Encinal Blue and White versus the Alameda Gold and White. The stands were usually crowded and elementary school boys gathered behind the goal posts to retrieve points-after-touchdowns. Encinal’s Miranda was paired against Alameda’s halfback John Read, who later played at Stanford. The games were played on Friday afternoons and after the games, carloads of high school students would drive around Alameda cheering a victory and waving pompoms. Each day throughout the football season the Alameda Times Star ran an entry of a few column inches with a picture of a local football player and related information such as the position played, the names of the parents, and year in school. It was called “Meet the Hornets” or Meet the Jets,” depending on the player.
Local sports fans often refer to the 1950s and 1960s as the golden era of high school football here in Alameda. In 1960 Encinal lost only one game, and that was to undefeated Alameda. In 1968 Alameda High was voted the number one team in California.
By that time society was beginning to change. A more anti-establishment ethos, the Vietnam War and attendant protests and the civil rights movement changed the U.S. and Alameda. Also, more sports opportunities became available to students. In this century, students can participate on teams in sports such as badminton, soccer, volleyball, softball and water polo. Far more significantly, in our era girls can participate whereas in the 1950s they were largely excluded from high school sports.
With more choice and more opportunities for students to be involved in athletics, the emphasis on high school football has waned somewhat throughout the country. In Alameda, as elsewhere, attendance at football games is much smaller than in the 1950s and 1960s. Although in our era football is more popular relative to baseball than it was in the 1950s, much of that is due to televised college and professional games and to sports betting and not to any surge of interest in high school football. Indeed, in modern America and Alameda, it is difficult to recall the excitement that high school football once generated.
Coaching itself has changed. Dennis Peterson, a 1960s-era player, reflected on changing mores.
"Coach Klein was a fierce competitor who coached with great passion,” Peterson said. “I believe much of his success was due to the great assistants he had and his ability to oversee their coaching. He was extremely organized during all of his practices with very little wasted time when we were on the field.
“Times have changed and I'm not sure some of his coaching techniques would be acceptable today, but it's very hard to argue with success,” Peterson added. “When I was an underclassman, I remember Coach Klein as a very scary and intimidating man. I later grew to understand his intimidating style and respected it."
That era seems as remote from ours at the age of the Victorians. What can we draw from it? Perhaps very little. As British author L. P. Hartley wrote, "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." In its present, Alameda faces typical modern problems. It worries about teacher negotiations and a pivotal election. On the other hand, its future has great potential symbolized by the western third of the Island, which fronts the San Francisco skyline. How relevant to this is a football game?
But sports bring friendship and memory and the Alameda-Encinal series is a firm part of Alameda history. As such, it is a resource. American author William Faulkner may have been closer to the truth than Hartley when he wrote, "The past is never dead. It is not even past.”
This year the Encinal Jets are 2-2 and the Alameda Hornets are 2-2. They play at Thompson field at 7:00 p.m. Friday in the Island Bowl.
About the Authors
Jim Pruitt lives in Alameda and can be reached at email@example.com. Mr. Pruitt holds a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Master of Labor Relations from Michigan State University. He is the Vice President of Labor Relations for the Permanente Federation of Kaiser Permanente and a substitute teacher in Alameda. He attended Haight School from 1957-64.
Kate DeWein lives in Portland, Oregon and can be reached at Kate.DeWein@gmail.com. Ms. DeWein holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a Master of Education from the University of Oregon. She is a public school teacher.
Photos from Alameda High School and Encinal High School yearbooks.