Updated at 1:25 p.m. Oct. 27, 2012
Eddie Stalder, Class of 1953, had his arm around Ron Wade, Class of 1954. And for good reason. The former Grossmont High School teammates hadn’t seen each other for 60 years.
Friday night, the football friends reunited at Helix Charter High School as part of La Mesa Centennial year celebrations.
The pair came to be honored along with nine Helix players from the game of 1952—watching current stars wear $6,900 in throwback jerseys from that Korean War era.
Wade is now a retired banker living in Escondido, and Stalder a retired sheriff’s sergeant with a home near Cowles Mountain. They had plenty of catching up to do as they saw their Foothillers fall to Helix 45-14.
But in 1952, Grossmont was the victor—by a score of 14-7.
“It went our way,” said Stalder, a running back in that game at Aztec Bowl.
Grossmont was coached by Bud Nygren, a former San Jose State star who played in the All-America Football Conference—an early rival to the NFL. Ken Maynard, a former BYU star, guided Helix.
But the debut Grossmont-Helix game was played Nov. 2, 1951, shortly after students first occupied the University Avenue campus—who had shared the older Grossmont High School.
Across the field, Bob Adams and Brian Herald stood with seven other Helix teammates from the 1952 musket game—playing for a Civil War-era rifle donated by a player’s family.
Wearing dark-green Helix 1 shirts, the nine Scotties in their mid- to upper-70s and family members watched the contest from the top of the stands under an Honored Alumni banner.
Adams, a retired Lemon Grove firefighter who played end, and Herald, a retired banker living in Santee and a tackle for Helix, recalled playing both offense and defense back in the day.
“They just split the school up,” Adams said with a smile. “There weren’t a lot of players out there.”
Helix had a grass field, but all its games were played at the old Aztec Bowl at San Diego State College, Herald said.
Other Highlanders who took part in pre-game ceremonies—including the coin flip by Herald (which went to Helix)—were Henry Bonilla, Stuart Harvey, Gordon Henry, Dick Gardner, Leo Kennison, Jim Ethridge and Bob Atkins.
James Newland of the La Mesa Historical Society—who researched the 1952 team and helped organize Friday’s festivities at Jim Arnaiz Field—was himself honored between the first and second quarters, receiving a plaque from Helix athletic director Damon Chase and first-year executive director Mike Lewis.
What did Newland learn from the athletes of yore?
“Mostly how tough their coaches were, both former military guys. And that they still have plenty of football memories 60 years later,” Newland said.
The jerseys for the game were made by Retro Sports of La Mesa (Grossmont) and Prime Sports of Chula Vista (Helix), Newland said, adding that he thinks he’s raised their full $6,900 cost via cash and in-kind discounts.
“Extra funds will be split between the two schools,” he said. “We will be taking orders for the retro jerseys through next week. These purchases feature a $20 donation to the campaign.”
Two donors accounted for $3,000 of the funds raised; La Mesa Rotary Club kicked in $500, “and the rest were $200 to $20 donations,” he said. To order more jerseys, contact Newland.
Wade, one of the two Grossmont players who returned, said the reunion got a late start and some out-of-state Foothillers couldn’t attend.
“When they repeat this next year [at Grossmont High School], they’ll have a lot more,” Wade vowed.