One night a year, downtown street merchants in the city of Bishop – population 3,700 – stay open until well past the typical 5 p.m. closing time. Residents gather for the annual “Street of Lights” and light the town’s Christmas tree at the local city park. Some merchants serve hot chocolate, and most have some sort of giveaway in an effort to draw customers in for a late-night shopping spree.
That night this year is Friday and begins at 6, the same night and time when Bishop Union, the town’s only high school, hosts Pasadena Poly in the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Northeast Division football playoffs.
“We’re a little conflicted,” Bishop Union athletic director Stacy Van Nest said.
“It’s a huge town event that evening, but at the same time, this town heavily supports athletics. Half the town will be (at the event) and half the town will be at the game.”
Bishop Union (11-1) is the top seed, and despite its small student enrollment (645), the school still maintains a stadium with a maximum seating capacity of 3,000.
Pasadena Poly (9-3), to say the least, will experience a playoff game like no other.
Bishop Union’s football games are broadcast live on KOBB-AM radio, home and away. Sierra Wave Television, the only local independent cable station in the area, televises every game on delay. Given the magnitude of Friday’s game, the local FM station, KIBF, will carry the game because of its stronger signal strength.
“I was in Idaho last week and I wanted to listen to the game,” said Van Nest, referring to Bishop’s 49-20 win at Chadwick last week.
“Our broadcasters travel to all the games and they were able to patch me through, so those in town going to the Street of Lights will hear the game live on the radio.”
The game will be televised late Friday night and replayed Sunday afternoon.
Pasadena Poly will make its longest trip in school history for a CIF-Southern Section playoff game. Pasadena Poly athletic director Steve Beerman said the school has planned measures to alleviate the five-hour-plus drive to Bishop.
For starters, the Panthers football team will leave Thursday afternoon for Lancaster, where they’ll practice at Paraclete High from 4 to 6:30, then immediately head for Bishop, where they’ll spend the night.
Paraclete, the top seed taking on St. Margaret’s at Antelope Valley College in the East Valley Division playoffs, will practice early to give the Panthers enough time for a walk- through.
Beerman said practicing at Paraclete is more about beating traffic than getting acclimated to playing in low temperatures.
“We played in 28-degree weather last week in Lancaster,” Beerman said.
“It’s not like we don’t now what cold is. The biggest thing is we don’t want to sit in a bus for a long time.”
Pasadena Poly initially requested to move the game to Saturday, but Bishop couldn’t accommodate, because the school is hosting a middle school basketball tournament. The next request was to move it from a 7:30 start to 6, and Bishop kindly obliged.
“We asked for 6 because after the game, we’ll get right on the bus and head home,” Beerman said.
“Anytime any team has to travel, there’s some sort of request or disbelief that we could possibly be in the same section,” Van Nest said.
“We have people come from as far as San Pedro. That’s what we do, make it as easy as possible.”
Bishop’s no stranger to making long drives, either. The Broncos, who play in the High Desert League and use all of its district funding for travel pay, drive four hours – restroom breaks included – one way to participate in any one of the 18 sports its 27 teams are involved in.
“We’re the only very distant one they have to travel to,” Van Nest said.
The aura that will fill the air in smalltown USA will be a pleasant experience in itself.
“I think this just adds to the specialness of the evening,” Beerman said.
“The whole trip is just going to be a new experience for everybody making the trip.”