RIPON — It was 2004, and Ripon Christian High was about to step foot on a patch of grass foreign to the school since its 1928 opening.
It was a football field.
The Knights, a basketball and volleyball power for decades, chose to start playing football after years of discussion about cost, about the value of the sport in its curriculum, about the unspoken tradition of being Ripons non-football school.
Ripon High agreed to let Ripon Christian use Stouffer Field, but what the Knights didnt have was a blueprint a how-to of going about building a football team from scratch.
And for that, too, they looked to Ripon High, hiring former Indians all-league lineman Ted King as the schools first varsity coach.
When I started with the kids I used Ripon as a model for RC because theyd seen Ripon football and the success Ripon had, King said. I incorporated a lot of of what Ripon did in practice.
Kings wife Debbie even fashioned an oversized Ripon Christian flag that the team could carry onto the field because Ripon High had one.
The schools could not be closer in proximity, with the northwest edge of the stadium serving as a property line between the two. And tonight theyll also be connected in another way.
Despite the large number of cities in the Stanislaus District that are home to multiple high schools, the only town with multiple football teams still alive in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs is Ripon. Population 14,500.
Ripon High, with an enrollment of 895, defeated Dixon 46-0 in a Division 4 playoff opener. It will take a No. 4 seed and a 10-1 record into tonights quarterfinal home game against Mother Lode League champion Calaveras. The Indians lone loss is to unbeaten Hilmar.
At the same time, Ripon Christian the No. 3 seed in Division 6 with 248 students will be on the road to take on Woodland Christian in a semifinal game. The Knights are 9-2 and have lost only to Ripon and unbeaten Le Grand. They beat Merceds Stone Ridge Christian 50-20 last week in a home game played across the county line at Modesto Christian.
Im excited that we have two schools in the playoffs ... go Knights and go Indians!, said Ripon mayor Dean Uecker. Even in as short of time that RC has been playing its amazing that its program has come along to reach this level.
Actually, with the exception of a single 0-10 season in 2007, the Knights have been competitive at their level. Their 10-year record is 52-54, but theyre 25-10 the last three seasons and are making their third straight appearance in the Division 6 semifinals, their first with former Stanford quarterback Randy Fasani as head coach.
Meanwhile, crossing Maple Street and hopping a few fences, the Indians have slowly built a powerhouse under coach Chris Johnson. Theyre 65-40 in the last 10 seasons, but a stunning 29-5 since the start of the 2011 campaign and are making their fourth playoff appearance in the last five years.
That amounts to a lot of football pride in such a small town.
Everybodys excited at Ripon because Coach Johnson is doing such a great job, said Uecker, whose insurance agency is an athletic sponsor on both campuses. I dont know as much about the Ripon Christian programs, but I know theres a lot of pride over there. Not everybodys into football, but I can see everybodys excited.
Yes, there was that barrier at Ripon Christian, where some members of the school board and foundation were not fully supportive of the decision to start playing football. Some since have accepted the sport and others have fully embraced it, but there remain a staunch few who dont believe the sport is a good fit for RC.
I dont want to say too much about that but there was some difference among the staff, said King, who left RC after one year and joined the football staff at Modesto Christian for several seasons. Basketball and soccer ruled the roost (for boys sports) for so many years, and its natural for people to be afraid of anything theyre not familiar with. They didnt know how football would affect the kids in the classroom and I ran up against that.
Im glad at this point that football has shown itself to be beneficial at RC, and even in the classroom. Im sure any school bringing in a new sport would run into that, especially if the sport entails embracing a whole new culture, and football is controlled violence. So it was a culture shock for the first few years, but Im happy its turned around and the school and the staff has accepted it.
Some barriers remain for RC. The school is still discussing how to finance a sports complex that would include a football stadium.
And then theres the matter of the crosstown rivalry. The two schools have met on the gridiron every season since 2006, with the first four meetings coming when Ripon Christian was a member of the Trans-Valley League.
Ripon not only is 8-0, but the average score of the game has been 50-10. The Indians won this years contest 56-26, leading 56-12 after three quarters.
The rivalry game might be one-sided, but the continued success of both the Indians and Knights is a certain sign that this town is big enough for two teams.
It all goes back to the small-town feel of Ripon, King said. Its a unique place to grow up and a unique place to go to high school. For years, Ripon had its football and Ripon Christian had its basketball.
But I think that as far as football is concerned, Ripons small-town feel is strong enough for two schools.