High School Football: Costa Mesa the home team?

The home team in Friday's Battle for the Bell rivalry football game is Costa Mesa High. Playing on their rival's campus hasn't really felt like home to the Mustangs since the erection of Jim Scott Stadium five years ago.

The Mustangs are the hosts in the Orange Coast League opener, yet they are the ones who will board a bus and make the 3.1-mile trip to Estancia. The route is one Costa Mesa makes for every home game.

When the team arrives for the 47th edition of the Battle for the Bell, any semblance of Costa Mesa is on the field. There's a Mustang logo painted, but the logo doesn't even match the Mustang decal on the helmet.

The Mustangs and Eagles share Jim Scott Stadium, yet the meeting between the two marks the first time Costa Mesa gets to play in it on a Friday night this year.

"No one likes to play on Saturdays. No one likes to play on Thursdays," said Costa Mesa Coach Wally Grant, whose team has played on those nights a handful of times at Jim Scott Stadium during his three years in charge. "It would be nice to be able to say we're playing every Friday night. That's what high school football is supposed to be about, Friday night lights."

Grant expects those Friday night lights to turn on at Costa Mesa in two years.

The Mustangs are getting a stadium of their own after board members of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District voted unanimously last month to fund stadium projects at Costa Mesa and Corona del Mar. Each school will receive $7.4 million to build on-site stadiums and all-weather tracks.

Katrina Foley, a board member, said Costa Mesa's stadium might be ready by 2015, just in time for her son Sam Swanson's senior year at the school.

"That would be a dream come true, for him as well," said Foley, who has spent the last six years, the first three as a member of the Costa Mesa City Council and the next three on the NMUSD school board, working to bring a stadium to Costa Mesa. "I came to this board to accomplish … a few things on my list, and getting approval and funding to build this facility was at the top of that list. There's not that many times as an elected official where you actually can check off your list and see that you've accomplished something in a short period of time. It's a good feeling."

Costa Mesa's stadium might not match the amenities at the state-of-the-art Jim Scott Stadium right away. Jim Scott Stadium cost $9.5 million to build and it features seating to accommodate 2,600 fans, a building with home and visitor rooms, concessions, storage and restrooms, as well as a press box and scoreboard.

Nevertheless, a home stadium with the same artificial turf used at Jim Scott Stadium beats what the Mustangs have been practicing on for many years: uneven dead grass, holes and dirt.

"The kids that are walking through here that are potentially coming to this school, or any other school in our district, and they look around and see what the other schools have, and unfortunately what this school doesn't have, that goes into where they want to go," Grant said. "When that [stadium] gets done … a seventh- and eighth-grader that's trying to figure out what school he wants to go to, this will be a hard place not to come to."

Leading up to the Battle for the Bell, Grant only had 35 players practicing on varsity. Estancia used to be around that number, until the construction of Jim Scott Stadium.

The Eagles now carry around 100 players in their three programs. Grant said a stadium on campus would only attract more students to come out for his program.

Grant, a 1983 Costa Mesa graduate, said the Mustangs are in the process of building an outdoor weight room facility and finishing the team's locker rooms in the summer.

During one summer, the Mustangs wanted to work out at Jim Scott Stadium to get familiar with the fast surface. Under Jeremy Osso, the previous coach, they tried it.

"They said we could," said Osso, referring to district administrators allowing Costa Mesa to use Jim Scott Stadium. "But how do you get everyone there? How do you get your equipment there? We would go over for a week or two during the summer when Estancia was on [its] dead period and it was a pain to transport equipment."

Frank Albers, whose son Andrew played for Osso before he graduated in 2011, said Estancia didn't allow the Mustangs to use its training equipment to run a normal practice. Practicing at Jim Scott Stadium seemed impracticable, Albers said, because of the time it took to load the kids and the equipment.

Albers, who helps with the offensive line and linebackers at Costa Mesa, said the troubles with sharing a stadium have also affected the relationship between the two programs.

"Steve [Mensinger] and I got along great, the first few years we didn't have problems," Albers said, referring to Estancia's booster president. "As far as, you know, getting just the logistics of sharing the stadium has been more problematic the last couple of years."

The issues even deal with the snack bar. Foley said the concessions issue is because Costa Mesa doesn't have space carved out at Jim Scott Stadium that allows its boosters to access on a daily basis.

"You have to get things unlocked because it's not your school," said Foley, who knows in a couple of years that Costa Mesa will have keys to open its new stadium.

In the meantime, the Mustangs plan to continue using Jim Scott Stadium for home games. Facing Estancia on its turf might not feel like a home-field advantage for the host Mustangs, but they are confident about the outcome.

"We're going to crush them," Albers said of the Eagles, who have won the last three Battle for the Bell games. "You can quote me on that."

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