Cross-town friction

Pleasant Valley and Chico high schools have shared a rivalry for more than 35 years

KICKIN’ BUTT AND TAKIN’ NAMES <br>Angie Camilleri, last year’s Chico High mascot, gets a swift kick to her Panther behind from veteran Pleasant Valley mascot Jjon “The Viking” Mohr in this staged dramatization of one of Northern California’s longest-running high-school sports rivalries.

Angie Camilleri, last year’s Chico High mascot, gets a swift kick to her Panther behind from veteran Pleasant Valley mascot Jjon “The Viking” Mohr in this staged dramatization of one of Northern California’s longest-running high-school sports rivalries.

Photo by Tom Angel

Chico High School graduate Tiffany Curtis vividly remembers a homecoming rally held before the big Almond Bowl football game with cross-town rival Pleasant Valley High School more than a decade ago. She and some other senior cheerleaders, including future Hollywood starlet Amanda Detmer, performed a parody of Pleasant Valley High cheerleaders in front of the whole school.

“We got some of their outfits and did a routine to George Michael’s ‘I Want Your Sex,'” she recalls. What she didn’t realize at the time was that two of her fellow cheerleaders had a plan to carry it further.

“We didn’t think it was that racy,” she explains, “but one girl didn’t wear any underwear, and another girl who had a broken arm sat on the sidelines pretending to nurse a baby. … I guess it was risqué. We got suspended.”

Curtis had friends who attended PV, but that didn’t stop them from engaging in the kind of friendly mud-slinging and pranksterism that has always gone on between the two schools, even among those students who don’t care about sports.

“Our mentality was like: Chico was more the downtown scene, and PV was more the old mall,” Curtis explains. “A lot of people at Chico High were positive they were cooler than the rednecks at PV.”

In this town, the lines are drawn early.

Usually, before entering junior high, most grade school kids in Chico face a decision: Be a Panther, or be a Viking.

If you go to Chico Junior High School, chances are you will attend Chico High. If you attend Bidwell Junior, you are likely considered a “junior Viking” and will soon be headed to Pleasant Valley. That’s just the way it is.

The ongoing rivalry between the schools formed when Pleasant Valley High School opened in 1966, instantly becoming a natural rival for the older, established Chico High school. The intense competition has since been embodied primarily through sporting events, the key one being the annual Almond Bowl football game, which is held at University Stadium. The winner receives not only a coveted trophy made from the old Hooker Oak, but also, and more important, bragging rights.

Since there’s not really a clear boundary between the districts, and because students can “Form 10” to the school of their choice, students from the two high schools can grow up living right next door to one another. When kids (or parents) decide which high school to choose, it may be for a number of reasons, but it’s usually the desire to stay with certain friends or follow in a parent’s or sibling’s footsteps. Parents may look at the strengths of each school, such as Chico High’s reputation as a diverse arts school with better music and agriculture programs, or PV’s International Baccalaureate Program, reputed to help place students in better colleges.

Looking past the ingrained hostility and jokes, teachers and administrators point to the wholesome athletic competition on the field, a tradition that has resulted in one of the top high-school sports rivalries in Northern California.

Jjon Mohr, the self-anointed PV Viking mascot, recalls the first time he attended a basketball game between the schools while wearing his Norseman getup.

“I walked in the wrong door, the Chico side, right in front of the students,” said the burly, bearded Mohr, who has teenage children of his own. “The next thing I knew, they were all over me, and my helmet was ripped off my head. By the time I got the helmet back, it was missing one of the horns. So I just turned it around and held the single horn on the front.”

Mohr, who lives right across the street from PV, said he became the mascot about eight years ago by way of a spontaneous action. He was walking his rottweiler, Lunchbox, near the university football field in late fall and noticed a player in a PV practice uniform sitting on the bench while his teammates were on the field.

MOHR THAN THEY BARGAINED FOR<br> Self-anointed PV mascot Jjon Mohr has improved his costume since his original appearance as a trashcan-lid-wielding impromptu Viking several years ago.

Photo by Tom Angel

“I asked him what was going on, and he said his team was practicing for the Almond Bowl, which, he said, they were going to lose to Chico,” Mohr recalled.

After a brief conversation, in which the young man explained he was the quarterback but was suffering from a leg injury, Mohr and Lunchbox continued walking. A short while later, Mohr said, he spotted a mural with a Viking painted on it displayed near the stadium in preparation for the big game.

“I saw that mural, then saw a school bus carrying the team pull up and stop,” he said. “So I grabbed a trashcan lid and a stick and took the pose of the Viking. Pretty soon the bus windows all went down and the players all started yelling about the Viking.”

That year, PV upset Chico in the Almond Bowl.

“I was listening to an interview with one of the players on KPAY, and he was asked how PV won,” Mohr said. “The player said it was the Viking they saw that night of practice.”

Mohr has been the loyal mascot ever since.

Coach Gerald Circo started teaching at Bidwell Junior when he was just 22, in 1968. He later helped coach football at PV as well as other sports such as basketball, track and tennis. Since 1989, however, he has been the student activities director at Chico High School.

“I’ve seen this rivalry from lots of sides. It’s basically just about bragging rights. These kids grow up together, they’re on the same Little League teams, they probably swim Aqua Jets together. Their families know each other.”

In the beginning, Circo says, Chico High dominated the sports rivalry because the school had several hundred more students. But times have changed, and now the enrollment at PV is larger, which tends to have an impact on such “minor” sports as tennis, golf, track and swimming, which are usually short on participants. The major sports—football, basketball and baseball—generally present strong teams at both schools every year.

“The rivalry has always been wholesome. Both schools have really stressed a fun, safe, healthy rivalry,” Circo says. “But unfortunately there’ve been some incidents over the past where somebody—alumni, parents, kids, whoever’s involved—does pranks that make the newspaper. … When I think of the rivalry, I think of the games.”

PV Athletic Director Randy Gilzean agrees that “at times it’s very heated and [there’s] a lot of animosity, but it goes in cycles. … Sometimes off-campus actions happen that shed negative light, [but] right now I think it’s characterized by more professional attitude, and once the game is over it’s over.”

Describing his own feelings involved with high-school-level sports, Circo—who himself experienced athletic success during his own student days (he was drafted into pro football from college but didn’t remain)—says that when so many of the final games in this North Section come down to championship games between PV and Chico High, the effect can be devastating on players. It’s common sight to see kids crying after big games, their hearts broken.

Circo understands. He says the victory of his high school over its biggest rival “stands out as one of the greatest feelings I have ever had.”

On the other hand, he drops a little sports wisdom with the old adage that “you learn more with a tough loss than an easy victory. That’s one of the nicest things about sports.”

Circo is quick to add, “I’ve never as a public educator gone out to recruit young players to any school—although there are a lot of stories going around about local coaches doing that.

The annual Almond Bowl between the Pleasant Valley Vikings and the Chico High Panthers is the focal point of the schools’ athletic rivalry.

Photo by Tom Angel

“There’s a lot done for the rivalry that is very wholesome, [such as cheerleaders] decorating the players’ rooms before a big game,” he notes. “Obviously things done off-campus, not organized by educators, can be dangerous. That’s the stuff where we just hold our breath.”

Graffiti, toilet paper, road-kill on campus, brutal beatings.

As is perhaps inevitable with fervent cross-town rivalries and their resulting pranks, some unsanctioned actions wind up getting students in trouble. So much so that several security guards patrol each campus during the “spirit week” prior to all the big games.

2001 Chico High graduate Holli Clements, who was a cheerleader, says that some students during her school tenure felt that PV students looked down on them, believing Chico High had gang activity and poorer students, while many Chico High students in turn labeled PV an all-white school of privilege.

Statistics from the latest School Accountability Report Cards available from the Chico Unified School District Web site do indicate that PV has less diversity among students—about 89 percent being white, with the next largest group being Hispanics, at 8 percent (or 317 students), as opposed to Chico High’s 69 percent white and 16 percent Hispanic. Of course, reflective of area demographics, neither school has many black students. Right now, PV boasts the larger student body by some 300-plus students.

In terms of raw SAT scores, PV’s verbal and math averages in 2001 were about 10 points higher than Chico High’s, but this has little to do with the common stereotypes that endure between generations of graduates.

Clements has a concise opinion of the current social rift some students sense between the schools.

“It’s all about money,” she says. “All you need to do is go look at the difference between the parking lots at each school. PV’s is full of nice, or at least decent, cars, while Chico has a bunch of trucks, some beaters.”

She is quick to state that the ongoing pranks between the schools, while normally done in jest, have at times bordered on cruelty.

She mentions several incidents: one where PV cheerleaders covered a Chico High cheerleader’s yard in hay and left cow signs visible, another where a visible attempt to cut a giant mushroom tree on the Chico High campus left students in tears, and, worst of all, a candle memorial to two Chico High students killed in an auto accident years ago that was believed to be trashed by PV students.

But most pranks are remembered in a fonder light.

Circo describes one of his favorites: a joke from the 1970s, when some students flew an airplane flew over the Almond Bowl game and dropped loads of toilet paper on the stadium. The paper fell in long strands, creating an “eerie” scene of surreal proportions.

On the whole, prank stories are so numerous that it’s hard to tell whether they are real or cultivated urban legends passed down to help fuel animosity and cement loyalty and pride within the schools themselves.

Current junior cheerleader Jordyn Wise and senior Shawn Blosky from Pleasant Valley imply that the rivalry can be overblown and is mostly directly related to the major sports.

“Unless you have friends over there, you just don’t see the [other school’s] students that much,” says Wise. “Some Chico High students think that PV is like a country club, or preppy school, but it’s really diverse. … We do think we’re better than Chico High, but that’s just because we have a lot of pride in our own school.”

And so, the legendary rivalry continues.