When Lorenzo Hernandez was attending Huntington Park High, he was fascinated with the Garfield-Roosevelt football game — from the enthusiasm of the fans, to the sheer size of the band and drill teams arriving on multiple buses at East Los Angeles College, to the pride of the players walking onto the field in their school colors and the outpouring of community support.
“I was mesmerized,” he said.
In 2001, he became head coach at Garfield, calling it “a fairy tale to come here.”
The 85th edition of the East. L.A. Classic will be played Friday night at East Los Angeles College, and it will take place one week before the release of a new documentary film about the game, “The All-Americans,” which opens in movie theaters Nov. 8.
Written and directed by Bill McMillin, the movie was filmed during the 2014-15 school year. Hernandez and former Roosevelt coach Javier Cid are featured prominently. The film focuses on two players from each team — Stevie Williams and Joseph Silva from Garfield, and Sammy Hernandez and Mario Ramirez from Roosevelt.
McMillin said he was relatively new to living in Los Angeles and didn’t follow sports when he heard an announcement on a radio station that the annual Garfield-Roosevelt football game would be played.
“I had wanted to do a project on immigration that was different than a lot of people were talking about,” he said. The idea was to make a film about “what it means to be an American and take the temperature down and help people understand how similar we are,” he said.
Sports is a uniter, so it makes perfect sense to tell a story of the East L.A. community while providing an inside look at the passion before, during and after the annual game.
I already learned something new from seeing a screening. There was Hernandez driving a police car with a radio clipped to his uniform. Who knew that he was a reserve police officer and dreamed of becoming a police officer before he became a teacher and coach?
“I try to guide the kids not to make the same mistakes I see out on the streets,” Hernandez said.
This year’s game will have added importance with the Eastern League championship on the line. Both teams are 5-2 overall and 5-0 in league. Hernandez faces real pressure each year from the person sleeping next to him in bed.
His wife, Martha, is a Garfield grad. She doesn’t like losing to Roosevelt.
“She doesn’t care about any other game except that one,” Hernandez said. “We’re trying to get into playoff contention and she’s worried about the Roosevelt game.”
McMillin said he followed the players for three years after filming began and provides updates in the credits.
Asked if there were any surprises, he said, “Everybody had told me how loud it was. Even though they had told me, I was not prepared how overwhelming it was. I didn’t grow up playing high school sports. The amount of cheering and booing is one of the interesting things about the Classic that I liked. The level of highs and lows fans get into is truly unique about the game.”