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PHOTOS: LA High school football fans prepare for the East LA Classic

Students at Garfield High School practice their defensive strategy for the East LA Classic against Roosevelt High School.
Students at Garfield High School practice their defensive strategy for the East LA Classic against Roosevelt High School.
Mae Ryan/KPCC

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High school football stadiums will be packed with big crowds tonight. It's the final game of the season for many schools. What happens this evening will determine which teams go on to the playoffs.

And then there's the Garfield—Roosevelt game — The East L.A. Classic — the biggest and best-known football game in Los Angeles. KPCC's Vanessa Romo reports on the rivalry that's become an L.A. institution.

Pretty much every open space on Roosevelt High School’s Boyle Heights campus is a makeshift dance studio on this day. A group of lanky boys and girls is in near hysterics practicing their faux horse-ridings moves set to Gangnam-style.
All 35 girls are trying to nail perfectly synchronizing their head turns with their red and gold pom-poms shaking, and 10 yards away, you have the cheerleaders practicing what they call a Miami Flip. It’s a pyramid that involves throwing three girls up in the air — each one holding a leg up high when they’re at the top. Coach Robert steps back as they go through it for the umpteenth time.
It’s loud and chaotic - and emotions run high as more than a hundred students get ready for the biggest half-time show of the year. Still, the drill team, the cheerleaders, and the marching band are just one part of the huge spectacle that’ll be the 78th annual East L.A. Classic. It’s a game so big and so old it’s got its own name.

Organizers say the Classic is the biggest game west of the Mississippi River. More than 20-thousand fans show up to watch the Roosevelt Roughriders and Garfield Bulldogs go at it on the field. I’m told anyone with a ticket should guard it closely.

"You better protect that somebody might take it from you. That’s a hot ticket in town right now. It really is," said Javier Cid, Roosevelt's head coach. Cid is in his seventh year of coaching. He grew up in Boyle Heights and graduated from Roosevelt class of ‘84.
He’s in a hot, cramped office, surrounded by his musky smelling offensive line. "Right now we are doing some mental preparation. A lot of this, this time of year, it’s all mental," said Cid.

The team is on an 8-game winning streak, but for the last two years, the Rough Riders have lost to the Bulldogs. One was a heartbreaker.
"We had one yard to go to score and that score, with the extra point would have put us in a tie. But they stopped us and they did a good job," said Cid.

If you’re keeping score — and who isn’t? — Roosevelt has taken the trophy 39 times to Garfield’s 31. There have been six ties. But today, the boys are pumped about the game, especially the 2nd generation players like Arturo Nunez, number 68. His dad was a Rough Rider, too, and he remembers running through the tunnel and onto the field at Weingart Stadium at East L.A. College. The only place big enough to hold such a big die-hard crowd.
"He’s really putting a good amount of pressure cause he grew up in a family of 6 or 7 and they all went to Roosevelt. So I’m the only one that was a boy and the second generation to come back to Roosevelt and to play football," said Nunez. "I’m also wearing his number so that makes it even more intense for me I guess"

Nunez says about 25 relatives will watch the game. It’s the same on the Garfield side.
"I had a lady that came in today, which I’ve known for a number of years and she bought 11 adult tickets and seven student tickets and that’s just for her family alone.," said Ruby Solares, who's been at every Classic since she was a Garfield sophomore in 1963. Her commitment to the school runs so deep that she’s been working there for almost 30 years, selling tickets to the game. Her boys were in the marching band, and when her husband, a college counselor went to work for Roosevelt, he wasn’t allowed to sit next to her during the game.
"On that day everybody sits on their opposite side, which is really funny," said Solares.

She says back in the day the neighborhood had Russians, Armenians, black and Mexicans. The neighborhood she describes sounds like a Technicolor montage of scenes from “American Graffiti” and “Grease.” But maybe you don’t picture them in East L.A. starring a bunch of kids named Armendariz, Rodriguez or Pena.
"We used to go down Whittier Boulevard onboard cars and throw eggs at each other, and there was a restaurant where we would get a root beer float for a nickel," said Solares.

Billy Gutierrez, class of ‘68, says he’s a “Bulldog aaaalll night long”
But when Ruby asks Billy if the “Bulldog aaaalll night long” ever dated a Roosevelt Rough Rider girl back in the ‘60s...
"I ain’t going to lie, I probably did. I probably did. And I would tell them sometimes, where do you live? They would live on Indiana sometimes, somewhere in Boyle Heights, don’t tell me what school you went to cause you’re going to blow it right here," said Gutierrez. "Don’t tell me. I didn’t want to know cause I wouldn’t date them. I don’t care how pretty they are. I’m diehard 'Garfillian.'"

It’s obvious that this exchange is the equivalent of verbal tailgating before the game. An integral part of the East L.A. Classic tradition and what the old timers enjoy most about coming back year after year.
"It’s something like when you have a family outing. Like Christmas? And you get together? I guess you can say this is like Christmas for all the students. From the beginning ‘til now," said Gutierrez.

Christmas comes but once a year. And it kicks off at 7:30 tonight at East L.A. College ... if you’ve got a ticket.