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Trona High football team gets a helping hand, and a marching band, from rival Ridgecrest

The Trona High football team practices at their school in Trona, Calif. A goal post was knocked to the ground after two earthquakes hit in July near Ridgecrest.
The Trona High football team practices at their school in Trona, Calif. A goal post was knocked to the ground after two earthquakes hit in July near Ridgecrest.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

There has long been a rivalry between Trona and Ridgecrest, neighboring towns located at the edge of Death Valley, but a string of earthquakes — plus a little high school football — seems to have bridged the gap.

When Trona High plays its home opener on Friday, the tiny school — too small to field a marching band — will have the band from larger Burroughs High in Ridgecrest on its sideline.

“Extremely awesome,” Trona coach Richard Ancira said. “This community … it’s a loving thing.”

The region was hit with a massive foreshock and earthquake over Fourth of July week, leaving both towns to pick up the pieces amid thousands of disquieting aftershocks.

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Things have been especially tough in Trona, where the population has dwindled since the local plant laid off hundreds of workers in the 1980s and the once-proud football program has struggled to survive.

The Tornadoes might be better known by their unofficial nickname — the “Sandmen” — because they play on a dirt field. For decades dating to the 1940s, they fielded large squads that competed for championships.

In recent years, though, the program has attracted barely enough bodies to fill the roster for a downsized, eight-man team.

After a recent story in The Times, people at Burroughs High noticed this week’s bye in their schedule coincided with Trona’s first home game.

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The rivalry between the towns is more cultural than athletic — given the difference in the schools’ sizes, they don’t really play each other. Still, Burroughs musicians quickly stepped up, volunteering to serve as the home-team band when Trona faces Hesperia Christian.

“I passed around a sheet and 35 of them signed up,” said Mark Hatter, a music instructor at the school. “They’re excited.”

The gesture adds to an already promising early season in which the Sandmen won their first two games, both on the road, by a combined score of 134-3.

“We’ve been put through the crucible,” Ancira said. “Something special is happening here.”


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