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.