‘Strathmore, USA’ State Champs
For those who are wondering why a school of 300 has to play a school of 1,900, the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) has what’s called competitive balance in which schools are placed in the divisions where they have the best chance to win. California crowned state champions in 13 classifications on the weekend ofr Dec. 15-16.
Strathmore, a small community in Central California — think the fictional Hickory in “Hoosiers” — can now boast its high school football team as the only one in California history to win a Northern California and Southern California Regional title.
And now, my alma mater, with an enrollment of just under 300 students can claim the distinction of being a 16-0 CIF 6AA state championship team.
You can also think about another well-known sports movie, “McFarland, USA,” another small town Central California school and how its coach built a cross country powerhouse.
Call this Strathmore, USA. You can give credit to a blue collar — and run-the-ball-first — mentality and supreme confidence that enabled the Spartans to overcome large odds to win that state championship.
To provide some background, virtually this same Strathmore team had won the Southern California region championship in 2016, only to lose 29-28 on a last-second field goal to St. Patrick-St. Vincent of Vallejo in the state championship game (the Spartans were aligned in the Northern California playoff bracket this year).
On the road in Southern California against Orange High School (enrollment of just over 1,900), Strathmore was clinging to a 23-22 lead midway through the fourth quarter facing a fourth-and-6 play inside the Panthers’ 40-yard line.
Do the Spartans pooch punt. Of course not. And at Strathmore fourth-and-6 isn’t a passing down. They RUN THE FOOTBALL. And get the first down. They go on to score a touchdown to take a 29-22 lead.
Of course the logical thing to do would be to kick the PAT to take a 30-22 lead, forcing Orange to score a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie the game.
But not the Spartans. They go for two to take a two-score lead. And they RUN THE FOOTBALL. They convert on the two-point conversion to take a 31-22 lead.
Good thing the Spartans went for two because Orange scored late in the game to pull within 31-29.
On the next series, with about two minutes to go, Strathmore is facing a fourth-and-3 inside the Orange 40, and of course, the Spartans are going for it because a first down puts the game away — and wins the State Championship. And, of course, Strathmore is going to RUN THE FOOTBALL.
Here’s where the Spartans realize their “Hoosiers” moment. Remember, at the end of Hoosiers when Norman Dale tells the team we’re going to run the picket fence and the team looks up at him in disappointment? Then Jimmy Chitwood says, “I’ll make it.”
In Strathmore’s situation, the Spartans would normally run behind Jadon Guire (6-foot-2, 220 pounds), but Guire has been playing through a back injury. Strathmore coach Jeromy Blackwell suggested running to the other side instead of behind the hurting Guire. Star running back Joseph Garcia (5-10, 178, 2,849 rushing yards and 49 TDs) says, ‘No we’re running behind Guire.’ Garcia gets the first down and Strathmore wins the state championship, 31-29.
For this Strathmore High graduate and many other Strathmore High graduates, it’s a moment we’ll never forget.
Editor’s note: Charles Whisnand is the Nevada Appeal’s assistant editor and former sports editor, who says the genesis of “The Popcorn Stand” column “came when I wanted to write mostly about whatever bugged me and decided to name the column in honor of my favorite sports columnist, Pulitzer Prize-winning Red Smith, who once dubbed one of his columns The Popcorn Stand.”