Covina District is the oldest football stadium in the San Gabriel Valley? Is it time for a facelift?

Jim “King” McConnell’s area history pieces are legendary, and today he writes about Covina District Field, which opened in 1925 (and looks like it hasn’t been renovated since). It’s used by Covina, South Hills and Northview, and is still one of the best places to watch football because of its intimacy — the seats are on top of the field and the surrounding fences make you feel like you can reach out and touch the players. However, if you’re planning on watching a game there, take you allergy medication and don’t wash your car — the parking lot is all dirt and dust. After all these years you would think the city of Covina would have done some renovations by now. It’s never made sense, schools all over the SGV are renovating their stadiums with all-weather fields and in Covina, where you take care of three schools for the price of one, they can’t even pave the parking lot. If you’re going to spend money to build three new gyms at the Covina schools and spend all that money to renovate downtown Covina, maybe it’s time to give the 85-year-old venue some love too.

By Jim McConnell, Staff Writer
CDF History: The oldest football stadium in the San Gabriel Valley? Try Covina District Field. Covina schools have used the field every year since 1925. The football field, originally part of the old Covina High School campus, was ringed by orange groves when it first opened in the fall of 1925. (To continue click thread).


But Covina school officials and townfolk had high hopes for the facility. At the time, Covina was a sleepy little town of 3,000, with easily 10 times that many citrus trees. But Covinans loved their football and some even saw the field as a budding Rose Bowl.

Covina High football teams experienced success under Don McIntosh in the early 1920s, but for the 1925 season the school administration brought in Wallace “Chief” Newman to lead the program.

Newman had put together a string of winning teams at Sherman Indian Institute in Riverside. He came by his name honestly, being at least half American Indian.

The Chief quickly put together a strong team. Using homegrown talent left over from the McIntosh era and dipping into surrounding towns for other players, Covina High’s 1925 squad won the CIF-Southern Section and CIF state titles.

The CIF had rules regarding the use of out-of-district and over-age players. But in an era when determining age and residency was difficult at best, Newman and the Covina High administration successfully skirted the rules – if some of the contemporary accounts can be believed.

At least one of Covina’s league rivals, El Monte, went so far as to claim Newman had brought several of his Sherman Indian players with him, not a one under the age of 20.

Covina High football fans could not possibly have cared less. They took to their new coach and his winning ways in a big way, and Colts games at the new stadium were the biggest events in town.

After winning the San Gabriel Valley League title, the Colts swept through three games to win the CIF-SS title and then beat Bakersfield, 13-7, for the state crown. The Bakersfield game was held in front of a crowd estimated at 5,000 at District Field.

Eighty-five years later, it likely remains the largest crowd to ever see a football game at the facility.

The game’s kickoff was delayed more than an hour in an attempt to get the crowd settled in. Parking was at a premium, and since many of the 5,000 fans had arrived by car it created quite a traffic jam on Covina’s two-lane streets, many of which still were not paved. Some spectators reported having to park more than two miles away in the middle of orange groves.

Vendors quickly ran out of food and programs. Hot dogs, candy bars and sodas were rushed to the site by local entrepreneurs. Those also were quickly consumed.

The Bakersfield team, which arrived by train and had brought its own food, was not affected by the delay. But they were outplayed by the Colts.

No complaints were raised from the Bakersfield camp about the status of Covina’s players. The Bakersfield program already was known for its ability to lure overage players from oil fields surrounding the city.

For Covina, the net result of the playoffs was a huge trophy and approximately $8,000 put into the school’s coffers. After a brief debate, the school board agreed to use the windfall to build permanent bleachers on site.

Covina District Field was on its way.

Newman continued to produce winning teams at Covina in 1926-28, but league members continued to complain about where the players were coming from. How does a town of 3,000 produce great football teams?

A movie shoot in 1928 added to the list of CIF grievances against Covina High. The movie “Harold Teen” was filmed on the campus. The studio’s rental fee, amount unknown but believed to be at least four figures before a decimal was reached, was used to install additional upgrades at District Field. The studio also used the team as extras for the football scenes, with Colts players reportedly receiving $25 each – a considerable sum in 1928 – for their services.

Newman moved on to take over head coaching duties at Whittier College in 1929. Covina gave him a huge going-away party that spring. Among other things, he was presented with a “player” to take with him – the wooden Indian from a local cigar store.

Newman had considerable success at Whittier College. He coached the Poets from 1929 to 1950 and compiled a 103-67-13 record. The football field at the college now is named in his honor, although his biggest claim to fame was placing a singularly unathletic young man named Richard M. Nixon on the roster so Nixon could earn a letter.

Honor wasn’t on the mind of CIF officials who gradually zeroed in on the Covina football program. Finally, in 1932, Covina was booted out of CIF. It didn’t go without a fight and hauled the CIF into court to battle the suspension, only to see the CIF prevail.

Covina’s “death penalty” lasted for only one year and surely had more to do with the wild goings-on during the Newman era than activities of his successor, Ted Gorrell. But it was an early turning point in high school athletics in Southern California.

From that point onward, the CIF became far more aggressive in enforcing its rules.

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  • Aaron

    I’m pretty sure district field has had more than 5,000 folks for a game, and the stadium has been renovated…otherwise you would be sitting on wood and not metal bleachers. There’s no way that the field hasn’t been re-crowned several times over these past few years. However it does get some serious wear and tear.

    Good story though.

  • Jack

    District Field was the best field hands down in the 80′s and 90′s, but it’s not kept up by the District Crew like it used to be. The grass is just ok now and the bleachers are outdated. The district guys Jr. and Robert are letting the place go. It needs a facelift for sure. Also, in the article, it mentions old covina coach newman getting players from all over…some things never change, coaches from covina now are doing the same thing.

  • Anonymous

    It was a good article.

    I don’t live in the Covina Unified School District, so maybe someone whose kids go to one of the schools in the Covina Valley Unified School District can answer a question for me.

    There are three regular high schools in CVUSD (Covina HS, South Hills HS, and Northview HS), right?. I have seen all three of those schools’ football teams play at the district field (obviously not at the same time). But it seems that only South Hills gets to play soccer there. CHS varsity soccer games are played at Traweek Middle School. Northview’s varsity soccer field is on their baseball field. South Hills HS plays their soccer games at the district field.

    So, why is South Hills the only CVUSD high school to get to play soccer at the district field? Are the SHHS fields really worse than the NHS and CHS fields?

    Just wondering. No offense intended to any of these schools.

  • Jimmy

    What South Hills wants, South Hills generally gets from the district. They are the golden child of the district. Soccer has really destroyed the field year after year because of weather at that time of year and just plain overuse. This field has seen better days.

  • Jhykron

    Sure, fix the grass and bleachers. But please move the friggin’ fences back about 10 feet to make some room on the sidelines.

  • valley fan

    South Hills boys and girls soccer do not have a practice or a game facility on campus. They practice at Mesa elementary down the street. If you think they are lucky to have the District field for home games, come by and check out the field. It is a disgrace after football season has torn up the field. It is so bad that both girls and boys have to play road games until league play in January so the district can attempt to make it playable. Kevin Smith put his baseball fence up in December this past year and thus no soccer practice fields available. Please understand that soccer would like a place to call home but not happening yet. Currently, a project is in play to create a grass surface down on the track, but now football is talking about taking over that area for practice especially if Kevin Smith keeps his fence up. It would be great if all three high school would pool their resources and create turf at the District Field. Football and soccer from all three schools would greatly benefit from this.
    Thank you for your time.

  • Damien “Head Football Coach” position open.

    Jhykron,

    What are you worried about your dad is going to be out of a job after this season.

  • Overhaul

    South Hills can for now only dream of securing the NE sliver of the golf course and change the scene of Cameron Ave and Barranca as we know it.