With a Thanksgiving Day matchup that continued as a tradition all the way to this season, the No. 1 spot in a list of the state’s most unique/best rivalry trophies has to go to the Big Bone for Lincoln of San Jose vs. San Jose High. Some of the others include a cowhide, a stagecoach wheel, a piece of art and a hat.
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Whether it’s between two schools that have been the only two schools in a community for many years or schools representing neighboring communities, rivalry games are an important part of every California high school football season.
This isn’t a look at which of those are the longest-running or which of those could be considered the best, this is about some of the various trophies that are kept by the winning school each year, the stories that are behind them and the uniqueness of the items being fought for by these rival schools.
There are a lot of rivalries in which the winning school gets to keep a bell until the following year. The Bell Game for Edison of Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley, for example, once drew crowds of nearly 20,000 when it was played for some years at Anaheim Stadium, but there are too many bell games around the state to count so none of those are on this list. We also wanted to differentiate from an actual item that goes back-and-forth from school to school compared to a trophy (no matter how nice that trophy might be). The River Bowl trophy for Shasta of Redding and Enterprise of Redding would be one of those.
1. Big Bone
(Lincoln of San Jose vs. San Jose)
Until this Labor Day for this season, the Big Bone Game had been played for 77 years on Thanksgiving Day. Playing on Thanksgiving Day was so important to the two schools that it didn’t matter that by playing it on Thanksgiving that neither school would be able to participate in the CIF Central Coast Section playoffs. That changed this year, but the Labor Day matchup won by Lincoln, 56-12, still generated a lot of the same emotion from longtime fans of the two schools. And the Big Bone was once again celebrated by Lincoln’s players. A big bone being handed back and forth on Thanksgiving made this rivalry totally unique in the state for a long time with the players and coaches then going home and creating their own bones from a turkey meal. May the Big Bone last forever.
2. Stagecoach Wheel
(Banning vs. Beaumont)
The city of Banning, located in Riverside County and not to be confused with Banning High of Wilmington (near the L.A. Harbor), is well-known for its Stagecoach Days. It’s an annual event with a parade and carnival that celebrates a stop near the town on a stagecoach route from 1862 to 1876. Nearby Beaumont also is in the San Gorgonio Pass. The two schools have been playing officially since 1929 and it has been described as the second-oldest rivalry in Riverside County. Beaumont rolled to a 56-0 win in this year’s game in September and has won five in a row in the series, but the Broncos still own a 45-43-7 all-time edge.
3. Leather Helmet
(Santa Paula vs. Fillmore)
The 111th edition of this Ventura County rivalry will be played on Friday. The reason for the brightly-colored leather helmet being the prized possession in the series is because the two schools have been playing each other since 1924 when players wore those leather helmets (with no facemasks of course). Santa Paula won in a spring game against the Flashes, 28-16, to regain the leather helmet. It is the oldest rivalry in Ventura County between two schools from towns that are 9.5 miles apart in the Santa Clara River Valley (and along Highway 126).
(Redwood of Visalia vs. Mt. Whitney of Visalia)
These two schools were the only ones in Visalia from 1957 until 1980 when Golden West was built. They compete for a cowhide that includes the winning team’s name that is stitched on it after each season. When the 50th anniversary of the game was played in 1982, a crowd of 10,000 jammed into Mineral King Bowl. This year’s Cowhide Game will be played on Friday, Oct. 29. We’ve never been to one, but in 1978 saw the two rival schools play for the CIF Central Section title. That was the final win needed for Mt. Whitney to earn State Team of the Year honors.
5. The Shoe
(Carmel vs. Pacific Grove)
The two coastal communities in Monterey County are well-known for many things, but for the locals it’s a special event when their two high schools play each other. Carmel has already won this year’s battle for The Shoe, 46-26, and leads in the series 46-26. The Shoe itself was created by three Carmel students in 1948 who used a shoe from then athletic director Lloyd Miller. It is named in honor of J.O. Handley, who was the father of one of the students and paid for the shoe to be bronzed and then able to be part of a trophy still being used today.
6. Governor’s Hat
(Merced vs. Madera)
These two schools are in different counties and even different CIF sections (Merced in the Sac-Joaquin and Madera in the Central). They also both have traditional crosstown rivals (Merced with Golden Valley and Madera with Madera South), but they have played each other almost every year going back to the 1920s and since the 1950s the winning team gets to keep a hat. It was a hat worn by Governor Goodwin Knight, who was in office from 1953 to 1959 and who once went to a Merced-Madera football game. Legend has it that the governor gave his hat to the winning school and it’s been what the two schools have played for ever since. Merced won this year’s game, 41-13, on Sept. 9. Goodwin Knight later had a high school in Palmdale named in his honor.
7. Smudge Pot
(Bonita of La Verne vs. San Dimas)
This one actually represents another famous rivalry between Redlands High and Redlands East Valley. We’ve listed Bonita and San Dimas first since the only two high schools in the Bonita Unified School District have been playing since 1972. Redlands vs. REV is just more recent. If you don’t know, a smudge pot is an oil burning tool used to shield fruit trees from frost on cold winter nights. Bonita won this year’s Smudge Pot game, 28-14, on Sept. 11. Redlands and REV just had one of their best Smudge Pot games last week with the Wildcats going to overtime to beat the Terriers, 20-14.
8. The Chief
(Gustine vs. Orestimba of Newman)
This Friday’s matchup at Orestimba will be the 75th between these two schools. “These are two close knit communities that are only four miles apart, with numerous mixed families locally,” said Orestimba head coach Aaron Souza. Despite the short distance, Newman is in Stanislaus County while Gustine sits in Merced County with the county line slicing between them. This year’s game also will break a current tie in the series as the two schools have both gone 36-36-2 against each other. Gustine is one of the recent schools in the state that had to change from a Redskins nickname and is now currently known as the Reds. Orestimba is still the Warriors, and both schools want to continue to honor their local Indian culture. That was mainly why in 1987 then Gustine athletic director David Shaw employed the use of Lake Tahoe wood sculptor Matthew Welter to come up with something that could be used as a perpetual trophy. Orestimba paid for half of the job and “The Chief” was born.
9. Milk Can
(Lemoore vs. Hanford)
There is another Milk Can game we found between Chino and Don Lugo of Chino and there also is a Milk Bucket Game played between Lakewood and Mayfair of Lakewood. The milk can between the neighboring Kings County towns of Lemoore and Hanford, though, just has so much history. This year’s game, which will be played on October 29 at Hanford and will close the regular season for both schools, will be the 78th in the rivalry. Both towns have a long history of dairy farming, hence the milk can. The rivalry also has remained strong despite Hanford West opening there. Lemoore still has just the one high school.
10. The Stump
(Santa Cruz vs. Soquel)
This rivalry dates to the 1960s when Soquel High was created and caused roughly half of the students at Santa Cruz High to be switched to the new school. Someone was thinking ahead as a tree stump on the new Soquel campus was made into a trophy. The Cardinals and Knights have been fighting over “The Stump,” ever since. This year’s game will take place on November 5, the final Friday night of the regular season in the CIF Central Coast Section, at Santa Cruz.
11. The Skull
(Terra Nova of Pacifica vs. Half Moon Bay)
The story behind this award is quite interesting because Terra Nova at one time had another school in Pacifica it played every year, Oceana, which stopped fielding football teams in the 1990s. Former Oceana head coach Bill Gray then went to Terra Nova and contacted Half Moon Bay to the south about establishing a rivalry game. Half Moon Bay loved the idea. Next came the process of figuring out what the teams could play for. A saber-toothed Tiger from prehistoric days became the answer since Terra Nova is the Tigers and Half Moon Bay is the Cougars. The schools then called the La Brea Tar Pits in Southern California and bought a fabricated skull of a saber-toothed Tiger. It’s not a real skull but it’s still very cool. Terra Nova and Half Moon Bay will resume playing for The Skull on November 5 after not being able to play in the spring.
12. The Musket
(Helix of La Mesa vs. Grossmont of La Mesa)
Helix has dominated this rivalry for more than 20 years, but it is a totally unique piece of history that in the early years of it did pass back and forth. We just didn’t want to rank a firearm that high for a high school sports feature. The first game between La Mesa’s first two schools took place in 1951 and according to an article on Patch.com from 2016 the musket came from the family of Helix’s Jack Campbell, who was the senior class president in 1951. Jack’s father, Sidney, had a 19th century antique musket said to be from the Civil War and donated it as a prize for the winning school. This year’s game will be Friday at Helix.
Close To Being On This List
The Axe – Barstow vs. Victor Valley (Victorville)
Victor Valley won the 98th edition of this series, 35-14, just last week. Similar to Cal-Stanford.
Fire Extinguisher – Selma vs. Kingsburg
This year’s game, still to be played, will be the 87th.
Gold Pan – El Dorado (Placerville) vs. Ponderosa (Shingle Springs)
El Dorado County schools have been meeting since 1968.
Megaphone – King City vs. Gonzales
Another good one from the Monterey/Santa Cruz County area.
Some others we checked out also were just too new to make the cut. Please let us know if we missed one. We’ll add any of those at later on.