It’s Saturday morning, August 29. A crowd has gathered at Crawford High School’s football stadium for the San Diego Youth Football League’s season opener. On the field, the Olympian Saints from eastern Chula Vista take on a central San Diego team, the Balboa Raiders.
Even with a lopsided lead in his team’s favor, Balboa Raiders head coach Richard Trisby paces the sideline between every snap. He scans his seven-, eight-, and nine-year-old players, looking to give some direction.
In the bleachers behind Trisby sit parents and spectators, most decked out in Raider silver and black. An announcer delivers play-by-play action over a public-address system, and fans cheer after every play. To the left of the bleachers, a long line forms at a narrow concession-stand window.
Outside the stadium fence, parking is scarce. Vehicles cram the sidewalks. Young players shuffle in full pads down the hills that flank the field. Dozens of parents huddle in the shade provided by a large RV, and several teenaged boys stand outside the gate, indifferent to their surroundings.
For the hundreds of parents, players, and family members at the game, this field is unfamiliar territory. It is the first time in 12 years that a Raiders’ home game has not been played at Hoover High School, on El Cajon Boulevard in Talmadge. It’s the first game since Dr. Chuck Podhorsky, Hoover’s principal, informed the league last February that the 240 kids, aged 5 to 15, were no longer welcome at Hoover, that the Raiders had to find new home turf.
“Crawford welcomed us with open arms, but our home is at Hoover,” Coach Trisby says during a time-out, his voice raspy and weak from yelling.
In head-football-coach form, Trisby barks out why the Raiders prefer Hoover. The field is better; most kids will attend Hoover, not Crawford; it’s more practical — 70 percent of the families live closer to Hoover; and it’s closer to their practice field at Monroe Clark Middle School.
“The school turned their back on us,” adds Trisby. “They didn’t care about the kids. All they care about are the neighbors and the lights.”
In November 2008, at a sparsely attended community meeting, school board officials unveiled plans for a major renovation project at Hoover. In addition to a two-story classroom building and a new “green” woodshop building, the 80-year-old high school’s athletic facilities would get a face-lift: a new softball field, new bleachers, concession stands, press box, locker rooms, and four light towers — 90 and 100 feet tall, bearing a total of sixty 1500-watt metal halide bulbs to shine on Hoover’s football field.
The plan was not well received. Not only did residents take issue with the project’s design, which placed the entrance to the field within 20 feet of homes, they were dead set against night games.
For years, their frustration with the school had been growing. Daytime sporting events at Hoover turned their residential streets into a venue for tailgate parties, where illegal drug use, public intoxication, loud noise, litter, and traffic were rampant. Throw in criticism over inadequate security and cleanup after the events, and tensions between the Talmadge neighborhood and Hoover High School began to increase.
Anxiety spread through the community like the hush of a crowd during a visiting team’s last-minute comeback drive. Residents worried about what would occur in their neighborhood under cover of darkness. And they feared that after the lights were in, nothing would stop the school from renting the field to outside leagues for extra revenue.
Neighbors say teams from outside leagues, such as the Raiders, were the worst guests. On 12 Saturdays a year, Raider families would hang out on residents’ lawns, park in their driveways, barbecue outside their homes, and blast loud music throughout the day.
In their opposition to the lights, some community members used Balboa Raider game days as an example. They put together a website and persuaded the local planning committee to draft letters to state, city, and school board officials. Soon after, all school board and community meetings became an outlet for their grievances.
Their perseverance paid off when Podhorsky agreed in February to eject the Raiders from Hoover’s field. “I made a commitment to not host Pop Warner football leagues,” confirms the fourth-year principal during a recent interview, his cheery, upbeat tone turning remorseful. “I still have restless nights thinking that we eliminated Pop Warner. It’s kind of like eliminating your local baseball field.”
Following Podhorsky’s decision, then–San Diego Unified superintendent Terry Grier, apparently responding to Councilmember Todd Gloria’s concerns, sent a letter to Gloria’s office last April outlining the agreements made between the residents and school district. In the letter, Grier says the field’s entrance will be moved to the front of the school, nighttime events will be limited to 15 per year, increased security will be provided during stadium events, and the field “will not be rented out for non-school uses such as adult soccer leagues.”
The school now appeared willing to work with the neighbors. Communication between Podhorsky and community members improved.
And then came a July 22 soccer game between a Hoover alumni team and a semiprofessional soccer team from Tijuana. The game brought a sold-out crowd to Hoover’s football stadium, as well as loud music, air horns, litter, and public drinking to neighborhood streets. Talmadge residents felt blindsided.
“They started tailgating at about three o’clock in the afternoon, and it lasted until about nine at night,” says a Talmadge resident. “There was no security. They had music blasting, umbrellas, coolers, barbecues. It was like Qualcomm on game day.”
“It was completely out of control. We weren’t given any notice,” adds Tina Indalecio, who lives near the northwest corner of the field. “One of my neighbors came out to find out what was going on, and she came up to a guy standing near the fence, and he was peeing.
“Over here,” Indalecio says, pointing to two parking spots 15 feet from her garage, “a couple of minivans were parked here until about nine at night, having a full-on barbecue. They had a couple of hibachi grills and were grilling out, drinking beer, and listening to music. When they left, empty Tecate cans were everywhere on the street.”