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San Marino goes the whole 10 yards to gear up for Dixie football challenge.

Times Staff Writer

When a private high school in Jackson, Miss., challenged San Marino High School to a football game last year, the local reaction was “slightly amused,” recalls one school official.

Now, with the game set for Sept. 24, and after several cross-country cultural exchanges with Jackson Academy, the game has grown to a four-day event that Assistant Supt. Jack Rose calls “a unique adventure.”

More than 400 Jackson students and fans are expected for the weekend.

Neither school has ever played an out-of-state team. National and California Interscholastic Federation officials said interstate games are not unusual. But San Marino High School Athletic Director Michael McNamee said: “For a school to play a team as far away as Mississippi, that’s an uncommon experience.”

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Mike Frascogna, spokesman for the Jackson Athletic Booster Club, said this will be the first time a high school team from Mississippi will play a football game outside of the South.

The idea originated in Jackson, Frascogna said, in the hope it would grow into an intercultural exchange for all the students.

Frascogna said Jackson boosters originally corresponded with 60 California schools before narrowing their field to 16 that had “comparable football teams.”

Equally important, he said, was that they wanted schools with lots of community support and that offered the possibility of cultural and educational exchanges.

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“Our original plan was to send the Jackson team to three schools for three successive years,” Frascogna said. “However, our relationship with San Marino has been so productive, we’d like to have San Marino come to Jackson in 1989, and maybe play again in 1990.”

Rose, who was principal until his promotion to assistant superintendent last month, said he doesn’t see that happening. “We have too many financial problems to be talking about raising funds to go back to Mississippi and play football.”

But it has already become far more than a game for both communities.

In the year since the schools agreed to play, eight San Marino students have gone to Jackson to compete in athletic events and debates, and parents and teachers have made several trips. Jackson students have come to San Marino twice for similar reasons.

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“I know of nothing like this happening before, where there is such an intermingling of communities,” Rose said.

One result of the visits was that the academy emulated San Marino’s Grad Night, an all-night party arranged by parents immediately after graduation. The schools also exchanged information about student governments and yearbooks.

In addition to academics, Rose said, “our students have seen some cultural differences. For one thing, there’s the politeness of people in the South, a real etiquette that is very respectful of parents and teachers. And there are very strong, tight family units in the South.”

Frascogna said some stereotypes have been broken: “Such as, everyone in California is believed to come in on a surf board, while Mississippi people are seen as wearing overalls and driving a tractor. But our similarities have proven to be much greater than our differences. The fact is, we have a majority of kids who have never been on a farm.”

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Jackson Academy is a four-year high school with 400 students that was founded in the 1950s for college-bound students. In a city of 300,000 that was known for its racial strife in the 1960s, Frascogna said it is an integrated school, “with more blacks than San Marino has,” but he would not say exactly how many.

San Marino High School, in a city of 15,000, has 1,100 students. Although long known as an all-white bedroom city of expensive homes, San Marino now has a large Asian population. Rose said the high school has three black students.

An estimated 99% of the graduates of both schools go to college, spokesmen said.

As for football, McNamee said, “there’s a uniqueness about this game. The most interesting part is the unknown factor. We know nothing about their caliber of players, how good they are--there’s nothing familiar between us in any way, shape or form.”

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The game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at San Marino High School. Local boosters said they expect the 3,500-seat stadium to be filled.

Rose called this year’s arrangement “a win-win situation for San Marino,” since Jackson Academy is bearing all the expense of traveling to the game.

Jackson students and boosters raised their own money for the trip, Frascogna said. They plan to arrive in Los Angeles and stay in two hotels in Monrovia.

Several San Marino families have formed a committee to greet the planes and to entertain the visitors throughout the weekend.

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When eight San Marino students visited Jackson for a week last April, they raised their own travel money.

When adults made the trip, they were greeted by reporters and photographers and booked for television interviews, said Rose, who has been to Jackson three times. He said the school district did not pay his expenses.

“High school football is very, very important in Mississippi,” Rose said. “It’s hard to describe, the way we’ve gotten involved.”

Frascogna said: “I’ve been in San Marino so often now that on my last visit I felt like I’ve lived there. I’m starting to see people I know on the street, and we wave to each other.”

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