Why All-Star Football Games Matter

Two of the players for the North team in Saturday's Lions All-Star Football Game -- Hunter Johnson (left) of Manteca Sierra and Kahale Warring of Sonora -- both were recognized last week on the annual Cal-Hi Sports all-state grid-hoop teams. Photo: Mark Tennis.

Two of the players for the North team in Saturday’s Lions All-Star Football Game — Hunter Johnson (left) of Manteca Sierra and Kahale Warring of Sonora — both were recognized last week on the annual Cal-Hi Sports all-state grid-hoop teams. Photo: Mark Tennis.

It has the sense of being part of an earlier era before smart phones, before live streaming and before you could watch dozens of sporting events at the same time at home, but there are many reasons why the high school football all-star game not only deserves to continue but deserves to have more fans show their support.

Note: Kickoff for Saturday’s Lions All-Star Game will be at 7 p.m. at Wayne Schneider Stadium in Tracy. Look for the local game in your area and check it out.

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It may be a surprise to some, but the most people to ever witness a California high school sporting event was the 85,000 who jammed the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in the summer of 1957 for the North-South Shrine Game.

This was a year in which the South was led by Southern California standouts Randy Meadows (Downey) and Mickey Flynn (Anaheim), who drew 41,000 when their teams played for the CIF Southern Section Major Division title the previous December. In that North-South Shrine Game, however, the North won 32-0 behind Herm Urenda from Liberty of Brentwood, who rushed for two TDs and 101 yards.

Keep in mind that the year in which 85,000 showed up for a high school football all-star game was 1957. This was one year before the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and the New York Giants moved to San Francisco. This was when pro football wasn’t nearly as popular as college football. It was when color TV was still in its infancy.

Today, high school football all-star games still exist at the local level. They are important to some players and coaches, but not to as many as even 10 years ago, and today it’s getting harder and harder for summer games to be able to attract fans with Division I-bound college players. Those players head for their new homes these days as quickly as possible, an increasing number as mid-term senior graduates.
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A great example of the local all-star game continuing to survive is the Central California Lions All-Star Classic, which will be played on Saturday at Wayne Schneider Stadium in Tracy. It’s important to us at Cal-Hi Sports compared to some of the others around the state just because it’s the game for the Stockton community that we live in. But we suspect the challenges that the Lions All-Star Game is facing in our community are the same everywhere.

A high school all-star game isn’t going to have a TV tie-in anymore, it’s not going to be able to attract large crowds or even the same crowds it did just a few years ago and it’s going to face more competition than ever from modern media and more things for people to do – especially in the summer when school is out.

The high school all-star game also is being hurt by an increasing number of players who get chosen to the game, but then drop once it’s time to actually start practicing. And it’s not quite like previous years when there were more practices. There are less practices but more players who drop, a few for legitimate reasons but others just because their idea of a commitment isn’t what it is for most people.

Despite all that, the high school football all-star game still matters and deserves as much local media attention as reasonably possible and deserves to have more than just an intimate gathering of family and friends to watch.

Top Reasons Why High School All-Star Games Matter

1. It’s for charity. All of the games we know are for a good cause and are put on by people who are volunteering their time. They are community events celebrating the best of a community who are in the midst of going from high school to college.
2. Someone will step up. At every all-star game we’ve seen, at least one player or perhaps two or three will rise to the increased level of competition over a regular high school game. It’s not always a player you think it will be, either. Sure, the D1-bound kids aren’t involved, but we all know that signing on letter of intent day guarantees nothing. There will be late-bloomers who can and do start to emerge in an all-star game.

3. It’s supporting a great educational experience for the players. All throughout the careers of the players, they’ve been battling opponents from the same league. Once they get to the all-star game, however, the previous opponents are now on the same team. An all-star roster also can bring together kids from different backgrounds – in our case with the Lions game we have some players from small mountain towns mixing with players from the more rough-and-tumble schools of Stockton – and shows that despite differences they can unite for a common goal. What a microcosm of any future job in any career.

4. The games are usually competitive and come down to the wire. In the Lions game, last year’s matchup was a tie between the North and the South. It’s the same for most of the other all-star games around the state.

5. It’s a celebration of coaching. The all-star players are coached by those who’ve been recognized usually by a committee of having had an outstanding season the previous fall. At the Lions game, that’s certainly the case with North coach John Ward of Stockton Chavez and South coach Jeremy Plaa from Modesto Downey.

6. Some of the rivalries work very well. A North-South format in Orange County, an Alameda vs. Contra Costa County format in the East Bay and the North-South for the Lions game basically matching San Joaquin County vs. Stanislaus County are all great examples.

The good news is that it won’t take much to keep these games going. It sure would be nice, though, if high school football fans everywhere just got in their cars and went to the all-star game in their area to show support and have a good time.


It will be with heavy hearts for some when this year’s Lions All-Star Game on Saturday is played because one of the game’s committee members, Louis H. “Louie” Villalovoz, will not be present.

Villalovoz died last April 29 in Tracy at age 79. As a member of the Lions All-Star Game Committee, Louie was invaluable for fund-raising and ticket selling. In addition to his many years helping with the Lions game, Louie was a community leader in Tracy for 50 years.

We are proud at Cal-Hi Sports also to have known Louie both because of the all-star game and whenever we covered a game in Tracy. He often gave us a sandwich as he was working at the Tracy Breakfast Lions’ snack bar/barbeque.

At halftime of this year’s game, a dedication will be given to Louie’s wife of 59 years, Sally, plus other family and friends.

Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at markjtennis@gmail.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports

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  1. Mike Johnston
    Posted May 21, 2019 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    Just curious. Any history or records from north-south shrine games played in the 1960’s. Thank you.

    • Mark Tennis
      Posted May 22, 2019 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      I have a lot of the game programs and we wrote up a history of the game for a couple of the record books we’ve done. Nothing on the site, though.
      If you have a specific question, feel free to ask.

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