It Has Become Hottest Ticket in Town : Prep Football: Community support is a big reason why Fontana High has one of the most successful programs in California.


In the football coaches' office at Fontana High School, a chart hangs on the wall near a window facing the school's football field. The oversized chart is really a composite schedule of the school's opponents this season.

The results of every game are written in the square above the school's name and there is a noticeable diagonal line of scores reading: 0-47, 9-35, 14-30, 0-30, 6-18, 0-46, 0-41, 0-41, 7-41 and 22-30. They are all losses to Fontana.

As Fontana heads into its Southern Section semifinal game Saturday night against Edison of Huntington Beach, the Steelers are the top-rated team in the state with a 12-0 record and are ranked third in the country.

Sometimes teams are overrated in national polls, but a lot of Southern Section coaches figure Fontana's rating is appropriate.

Coach Steve Grady, whose Los Angeles Loyola teams have won their share of Del Rey League titles, gave a respectful chuckle when asked about Fontana's football tradition.

"I think its program speaks for itself," said Grady, whose Cubs are 1-4 against Fontana. "They are always well coached and they play extremely physical, hard-nosed football. A major reason why they are so great is the support they get from their community."

Fontana is in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains, 50 miles east of Los Angeles. In a city of 78,000 people with only one high school, prep football is a way of life. And since 1974, that way has meant winning.

Overflow crowds of 8,000 fill Fontana's stadium for late-season games against Citrus Belt League rivals Riverside Rubidoux, Colton, Rialto Eisenhower and San Gorgonio of San Bernardino.

Having one of the 1,500 season tickets is recommended because, in order to get a seat on the home side with a general admission ticket, people start lining up at 5 p.m., even though the game does not start until 7:30.

"When teams come to play us they get mad when they find out that our fans have bought up all the tickets on their side because our home side was filled up," said Fontana Coach Dick Bruich, in his 13th year as coach. "We have a unique situation, where the community gives so much support."

Fountain Valley Coach Mike Milner told the San Bernardino Sun after the Steelers had defeated his team in the first round of the Southern Section Division I playoffs, 51-6: "You have to play a perfect game to beat Fontana. They're that good. And on this field . . . It's the one field in the CIF where there is a distinct home-field advantage with their fan support and tradition."

Support is a word commonly used in connection with Fontana football.

"I'm spoiled," Bruich said when asked about a new high school, planned for 1992. "The situation here is so good that I am like an only child. I don't want to look ahead when I'll have to share (players and community support) because I've been spoiled all of this time. I don't think that there will ever be a situation like this again."

How good is Fontana's football program?

The Steelers have defeated seven playoff teams and have outscored opponents, 436-64, shutting out six. In the tough Citrus Belt League, they have allowed opponents not even a touchdown a game.

In Fontana's 28-0 quarterfinal win at Long Beach Wilson last Friday, the Steelers held the Bruins to 21 yards in total offense. One Wilson player said after the game: "We hit 'em and played hard, but they just dominated us."

Fontana intimidates opponents before the teams even meet with its reputation for fierce hitting. And next year the Steelers will be strong again, with the entire offensive line returning, including 6-foot-4, 270-pound tackles Clay Hattabaugh and Robert Loya.

Under Bruich, the Steelers have made 13 consecutive playoff appearances, won seven Citrus Belt League titles, one Southern Section championship, and a mythical national title. Bruich's teams have a 125-31-1 record and have shut out 51 opponents.

Fontana High opened in 1953, when the city population was under 14,000. In its early years, the Steelers' football program took its lumps and after the 1973 season had a 65-118-8 record. In 1974, John Tyree, now coaching at Pasadena Muir, took over the Steelers' program and quickly turned it around. In his three seasons at Fontana, Tyree had a 26-9 record, leading the Steelers to the Southern Section major division championship game against Los Altos at Anaheim Stadium in his final season.

The Steelers' success continued when Bruich, Tyree's defensive coordinator, became head coach in 1977. Bruich had no prior experience as a head coach, but he surrounded himself with talented assistants, such as Skip Fazio and John MacKinney, who still coach at Fontana.

And the Steelers' program began to grow as rapidly as the community. Fontana eventually grew into the largest school in the Southern Section with an enrollment of 3,400.

"When I first started here we had only 50 kids on the team," Bruich said. "Now we have a total of 83 and that is counting varsity and junior varsity."

As the team got stronger, so did the community support. Bruich said that the Steelers' philosophy of "success breeds success" has played an equal role. "Over the years we have had to make many adjustments," he said. "We used to have only kids who were Fontana-bred. Now, with people moving here at such a rapid pace, we have many kids who are not familiar with Fontana or the area.

"Fontana used to be a town based on the Kaiser steel mill, but when that shut down (in 1983), different people started to move into the area because of affordable housing. I would say now the mix of kids here is 50-50, with Fontana-bred kids and outsiders."

Whatever the mix, Bruich and his staff have the players and the community committed to the Steelers' winning style. When Fontana lost to Rubidoux last season, some players did not know how to react.

"I was in total shock," said Kenneth Cannon, a senior two-way starter for the Steelers this season. "Winning is a tradition around here, it is something expected."

In most cases, winning high school football programs are filled with talented players who have graduated from youth programs geared to match the high school's. That is not the case in Fontana, though.

"We just take the players as 10th-graders and then start to work with them," Bruich said. "We do not have any control over the programs at the junior high level. We take them as sophomores and then try to work out any bad habits they may have."

So how does Fontana continue to win?

"There are times when we are not the best team on the field but we win," Cannon said. "We win because we have a group of guys who have worked hard and play as a team."

For Fontana, the mixture has worked successfully for the last 15 years.

And Steeler opponents? They can only hope that the second high school in Fontana is finished on schedule and that 1992 comes quickly.

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