Bonita and San Dimas square off in 40th Smudge Pot Thursday at Citrus College, which could be the permanent home of the rivalry

“It’s harder on us than it is on them,” San Dimas coach Bill Zernickow said. “We have issues with our conditioning because we’re a smaller school and more kids are going both ways. We’ve cramped up fast in the past and we’re hoping we’ve done a better job in the spring and summer with our conditioning to avoid first-game cramps. San Dimas coach Bill Zernickow on losing past two Smudge Pots

Supporting Katie: Bonita and San Dimas donating $1 dollar from each ticket sale to support leukemia research and Katie Ortega, an 18-year-old senior at Bonita who diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia in June. Read about it here.

By Fred J. Robledo, Staff Writer

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the area’s most intense rivalry between Bonita and San Dimas highs.

Known as the Smudge Pot Game, Bonita and San Dimas will kick off the high school football season as the only game in town on Aug. 23 at Citrus College, starting at 7 p.m.

The Smudge Pot rivalry began in 1972 when the mayors of San Dimas and La Verne determined a smudge pot that symbolized the local citrus industry would serve as the trophy for the winning team.

Although San Dimas leads the rivalry 21-17-1, Bonita has won the past two games, beating San Dimas soundly last year, 40-20.

For Bonita, it’s also the debut of first-year coach Adrian Medrano, a former assistant who replaces longtime coach Eric Podley, who resigned after 12-years in charge, though Podley remains on staff as an assistant.

Bonita returns junior quarterback Tanner Diebold and running back Reggie Turner, but it’s hard to to tell who will be more nervous.

“It’s exciting and nerve-racking all in one,” Medrano said. “We have to make sure we don’t think about all the outside stuff and focus on the task at hand.

“But yeah, having your first head coaching game against your biggest rival is a tough way to start, but there’s probably no better way to start, either.”

League re-alignment in 2010 forced Bonita and San Dimas to play in Week 0 instead of the middle of the season, and it hasn’t gone well for the Saints, who lost both years.

It’s a tough way to start because coaches are juggling the emotion of a rivalry with natural first-game jitters.

“It’s harder on us than it is on them,” San Dimas coach Bill Zernickow said. “We have issues with our conditioning because we’re a smaller school and more kids are going both ways. We’ve cramped up fast in the past and we’re hoping we’ve done a better job in the spring and summer with our conditioning to avoid first-game cramps.

“Plus for us, they have a huge offensive line and are extremely well coached. It’s tough playing them to open the season because as a coach, you don’t have the same feel for your opponent that you would playing them in the middle of the season where you feel like you have more of an impact on the game.”

With more than 5,000 fans expected, Bonita and San Dimas will donate a dollar from every ticket sold to leukemia research and the family of Katie Ortega, an 18-year-old senior at Bonita who has been one of the Bearcats’ stat girls for the football team the past two years.

In June, Katie Ortega was diagnosed with AML (acute myeloid leukemia), a cancer that starts inside bone marrow, the soft tissue inside bones that helps form blood cells, according to the National Institutes of Health.

The cancer grows when cells that normally turn into white blood cells begin to multiply rapidly and stop fighting off infections.

“Katie’s pretty close to all of our hearts,” Medrano said. “She’s still pretty involved with us and the coaches have gone to visit her. It’s not much (donation), but we wanted to do anything we could to help her out.”

Presale tickets are available at both schools; $10 for adults and $6 for children. Bonita and San Dimas students with ASB cards are admitted for free.

This is the third straight year the game is at Citrus College, and it’s likely to stay there for the foreseeable future.

In the past, Bonita and San Dimas hosted the Smudge Pot Game in alternate years. But the game has grown so large the schools had to rent bleachers to accommodate the overflow crowds.

Though the schools lose the charm of a packed-house home environment, Zernickow said playing the game at Citrus College has become necessary financially.

“I don’t see us leaving Citrus,” Zernickow said. “It’s a huge financial savings for the district.

“Renting Citrus College is much cheaper than renting bleachers. It costs us $13,000 to rent bleachers and I believe it costs Bonita around $16,000.

“Also, from a safety standpoint and having large groups of people get together, Citrus makes more sense.”

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  • Mr. Smudgepot

    Finally some football. This game is very important for both. Intrigue on both sidelines but far be it from me to do the investigative journalism for the local media. I’m not talking dirt just interesting stuff between the two communities and faculties. With Zernikow still humming along with a great staff Bonita has a new coach but his mentor is still next to him on the sidelines coaching the offense. While the Saints seem to have a full cupboard of experienced guys the bearcats always seem to be able to reload with average guys that somehow learn to play pretty good by the time the season roles around. So far the bearcats have flown under the radar with little positive being said about them and some folks even denigrating their one bright spot, the QB. The Saints on the other hand are ranked high in many polls. This being the case I think it puts a lot of pressure on Zernikow to take back the Smudgepot from his one time coaching assistant. San Dimas will run and Bonita will pass, not much has changed there but special teams have been a huge factor the last few years. I’am excited for the game to start and glad to donate to the young Bonita’s girls recovery. Props to both teams and fans for that. My prediction which will change by game time, San Dimas 33 Bonita 17.

  • Bearcat Dad

    I am definetly ready for some football. Starting with the Smudgepot game, Diebold has had last season and a great summer to mature and grow into the starting job at Bonita. Reggie Turner and Joey Hubbard should be joining him in the backfield. Though they did lose some receivers because of graduation, seniors Victor Magallanes and Mark Salce are there to pick up the slack. They both have had good summer practices and passing leagues, as long as they stay healthy Tanner Diebold should have a good passing year. But everything goes out the window when these two teams get together, I don’t think it will be a blow out like the last two years but Bonita should pull this one out by a score of 28-17. Plus they will have Katie Ortega sitting on their side. Hope it brings them good luck