No Matter Who's Winner, This City Will Celebrate

A celebration will be in order hereabouts tonight. In fact, a celebration is already in order.

The City of Oceanside is the home of a championship basketball team.

Sam Williamson, an insurance agent and city councilman, was talking about it this week.

"If they want a parade," he said, "we'll have it on Hill Street. It's the best street as far as closing down an area."

A parade will definitely be in order, though the guests of honor will be in doubt until later this evening.

Will the toasts of the town (and county) be Oceanside High School's Pirates? Or will it be El Camino High School's Wildcats?

Which school will have the Hill Street blues when it comes time for the parade?

You see, the boys' 2-A championship game is all in the family as far as Oceanside is concerned. The game may be played 30 miles south of here in the Sports Arena, but it belongs to Oceanside.

Williamson has a son who went to El Camino and then Oceanside. Or was it the other way around? And he has a daughter who went to Oceanside and then El Camino. Or was it the other way around? And he has a son who now goes to El Camino.

"Where do we sit?" he pondered. "Probably down at the end."

It's the same with Mayor Larry Bagley.

"It certainly wouldn't be politically expedient to have a favorite," he said. "Besides, I've had kids at both schools. I've got to be impartial."

A waitress at a country-style restaurant not far from El Camino High School said her son goes to Oceanside.

"But," she said, "all the kids at church go to El Camino."

Naturally, she favors Oceanside--probably at risk of losing some tip money.

In Oceanside, we're talking lines being drawn between easy chairs in living rooms, down aisles in churches and maybe even down the middle of the rickety pier.

Oceanside vs. El Camino.

But don't these kids get together all the time? Yes, but not like they will tonight. This is special. This is El Camino vs. Oceanside for the championship of the entire county, not just the bragging rights on Mission Avenue.

One of these teams seems to always make it to the championship game, but never both. Oceanside has won the championship three times in the last four years, earning bragging rights to I-5, I-8, 117, 94, I-15, 163, 79, 76, you name it. In fact, no one east of I-5-- where El Camino is tucked into a semi-secluded hillside--has to be reminded that Oceanside has won the championship the last two years.

However, no one west of I-5--where Oceanside High lies next to the freeway--needs to be reminded that El Camino has won the last five times the schools have met, including twice this year, to win the Avocado League championship. The "Pirate Pride" sign on the Oceanside gym somehow serves as a smirking reminder that these guys win when it counts most.

And it isn't just that these youngsters meet on football fields, basketball courts and baseball diamonds. They've grown up together.

"Here in the city," Oceanside Principal Brian Sullivan said, "a lot of these kids went to junior high school together. The eighth grade classes from the two junior high schools (Jefferson and Lincoln) are split between the two high schools. And, during the year, we sponsor several co-events that both schools attend."

The student bodies likely also share the same beach, which happens to be one of the best on the San Diego coast. But this is not an occasion to argue which shoreline has the fewest rocks.

We're talking basketball here.

We're talking the Phi Slamma Jamma style of El Camino's Wildcats, a fun bunch with nicknames like Ice-T, Mr. Air-o-Dynamics, Captain Funkdunk and Sir Slam-a-Lot, and the tightly-orchestrated discipline of Oceanside's Pirates, who subscribe to the theory that the ball cannot be slammed in their faces if they are in possession of it.

And we're also talking inner-city basketball against suburban (or maybe even rural) basketball. Oceanside High School is the aging dowager, made up as best she can to cover her flaws and proud of where she has been. El Camino High is the young daughter of a yuppie couple, fresh-faced and smiling and wondering where she is going next. This game will be a race between a 1968 Chevy and a 1985 Prelude.

If it sounds uneven, remember the fabled 10K between the turtle and the bunny.

El Camino, nearing the end of its 10th year as the city's second high school, has enjoyed remarkable athletic success. It has won San Diego Section championships in football, girls' basketball, boys and girls' cross-country, boys' track and field and wrestling. None in boys' basketball.

Oceanside wins those.

Oceanside High will celebrate its 80th anniversary next year, undoubtedly making it the second-oldest institution in town. The oldest, of course, is Mission San Luis Rey (Established: 1798), which does not field basketball teams. Distinguished alums will be invited for the occasion, among them Barbara Mandrell. Let El Camino top that one.

OK, so maybe it can.

I spent a day up in Oceanside this week, trying to get a feel for the pulse of the community. I wondered where allegiances lay.

Like the mayor and the councilmen, stores, saloons and even the mission itself presented non-partisan facades. It simply would not do to show favoritism and risk the alienation of potential customers.

However, at the Valley Drive-In, one of those sprawling four-screen complexes, I found that El Camino High School had a booster.

As the marquee said: "Goldie Hawn . . . Wildcats."

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