SL: Controversial statue has drawn protests, but is a symbol of victory on West Side

ragostini@modbee.comAugust 24, 2013 

The Chief stands about five feet tall and doesn't budge easily. Three grown men struggle to move it from Point A to Point B.

As trophies go, it's a heavyweight, which figures for what was simply a chunk of wood hauled down from the Sierra. But with a little artistry combined with ingenuity, The Chief has become the trophy that goes each year to the winner of the Orestimba-Gustine football game.

And is there a better way to celebrate the West Side rivalry between the Warriors and the Redskins?

The Stanislaus District doesn't own a rivalry symbol more unique than The Chief.

Orestimba and Gustine haven't met in a league game in several years — Orestimba returns to the Southern League in 2014 — but that hasn't calmed the intensity between the two schools.

They're separated by only seven miles bridged by Highway 33, which means that neighbors, friends and sometimes relatives settle this dispute each year. The winner gets The Chief.

"It is like a museum piece," Orestimba coach Aaron Souza said. "It's a truly distinct work of art."

Politically-correct types might disagree with the concept — The Chief has sparked protests from Native Americans over the years — but few argue the point in these valley towns.

"It's not offensive," Gustine coach Russell McWilliams said.

The genesis of the Chief begins with the marriage of David and Sharon Shaw. David, a former Orestimba track star, later became the school's athletic director. Sharon was one of Gustine High's first female coaches post-Title IX.

David remembered during his high school years how a trophy was rewarded to the victor of the annual Gustine-Orestimba track meet. Two decades later, the idea was rekindled as he and Sharon — during a trip to Lake Tahoe — stopped at a shop displaying Native American sculptures in Apple Hill.

The thought crystalized: Why not commission a sculpture that would stand for the Orestimba-Gustine football rivalry?

"It seemed like a natural as a trophy," David said. "It would belong to both schools."

Each school donated $300 for the project. An artist named Matt Welter created The Chief — a generic Native American cradling a football — and former Gustine star Dan Camboia submitted the name that stuck. It's been the centerpoint of the Gustine-Orestimba game since 1987.

Today, the Shaws enjoy their retirement years in Pismo Beach. Their thoughts always revert to the West Side, however, during the fall. This year, it's Gustine High's centennial while Newman celebrates the 125th year of its founding.

"The schools are the extension of towns like Newman and Gustine," David Shaw said. "It's gratifying and amazing how the whole thing snowballed."

West Side aside, the SL has witnessed a shift in power to the south. Le Grand owns all recent accolades. The Bulldogs have won five straight SL titles, three straight Sac-Joaquin Section Division 5 titles, have reached the section final four straight times, and earned a state finals appearance in Carson two years ago.

Before each home game, the Le Grand team stretches on the lawn in front of the high school, not far from Gary Fontes Field. Fans shout encouragement and passers-by honk their horns to support the newest small-schools valley power.

"I graduated from Le Grand in 1990. Our whole staff are alums," 12th-year head coach Rick Martinez said. "The team walks hand-in-hand the 100 yards or so to the field, and we hug and shake hands. We've had the target on our backs for a few years now. It drives us, and our kids have bought in."

Sure enough, Le Grand remains the favorite in the SL with a corps of talent — Juan Gomez, Ryan Martinez and Dustin Slate — providing leadership since 2011.

Ending the Bulldogs' run won't be easy. Archrival Mariposa, ringing in its 97th season and its third on its own campus field, has fallen to Le Grand five straight times. First-year coach Ryan Oliphant, a coach's son, seeks new pride in the program.

In most cases, tradition is a byproduct of winning. Delhi, entering its 16th varsity season, has yet to hang a league-title banner. This season, the Hawks bolstered their staff with the addition of assistant coach Dave Hill, the former head coach at Waterford.

Sometimes tradition stems from a renewed commitment. Ripon Christian, still a relatively new player to high school football, promoted Randy Fasani — the former Stanford quarterback — as head coach.

Fasani graduated from Del Oro, one of the section's most tradition-steeped programs. To grow its own roots, RC is taking a major step forward.

The Knights always have played their games at Ripon High's Stouffer Field next door, but that could change. RC is close to approving a new soccer-football stadium that runs parallel to Highway 99.

"Almost all our team fathers did not play high school football. It's time we build our own football success," Fasani said "The stadium would be like our field of dreams."

Meanwhile, Orestimba has kept The Chief in its main office for eight straight years. The Warriors haven't lost the big game since 2004, a year after Redskins coach Russell McWilliams graduated from Gustine. In his senior season (2002), Williams' Redskins met Central Catholic in the section final, a game CalHi Sports called the unofficial state small-schools title game.

Though the program has fallen on hard times recently, Gustine still points toward transplanting the trophy south.

"My teams never lost The Chief," McWilliams said, pointing to the Redskins' last run of success between 2001 and '04. "It was a really big deal when we were in the same league. The feeling is a little different when we meet now early in the season, but things change next year. I'm hoping we'll go back to playing the game in Week 10. I think they (Orestimba) feel the same."

For now, the teams will charge onto the field in Gustine on Sept. 20 in the 67th renewal of the rivalry. Remarkably, the series stands 32-32-2.

The Chief awaits.

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