The school bands gathered in proper formation on Friday night on opposite sides of the patchy field of San Pedro High, which was prepared by a single conductor.
Behind them stood the San Pedro and Banning soccer teams, hands over hearts, staring at each other over 50 yards of grass. Behind them were seas of black and yellow, or red and white, and the San Pedro and Wilmington parishes went full steam ahead to support their local schools.
It’s a rivalry with decades of history in the Los Angeles port area. The locals of Wilmington and San Pedro wear a pride that breaks out one day each year during a high school football game. Loud boos will follow. Players push each other and chirp relentlessly after whistles. But many of these opposing fans in the stands gather the next day to resume their jobs on the docks.
As the lights of the towering cranes twinkled in the distance down by the harbor, the two bands struck their instruments simultaneously, and the familiar booming tones of the national anthem echoed across the field.
The tones of their trombones and clarinets were slightly different. But the drumline – the heartbeat – was very similar.
When someone from San Pedro steps into Wilmington, says Banning trainer Raymond Grajeda, the community will know immediately, and vice versa.
Grajeda, who has lived in Wilmington for all 38 years of his life, said there was a stigma. At the same time, the separate industrial areas are constantly mixing within the port area. You are a dock worker. Construction worker. Engineers.
“At some point we say words like ‘hate’, ‘I can’t stand it’, but at the end of the day these guys are brothers,” Grajeda said. “They work together at the port every day, they shake hands.”
Corey Miller, who coached San Pedro High, had a similar description of the relationship.
“We hate each other one week a year,” said Miller, “and we like each other fifty-one weeks a year.”
This week goes back generations. Youth sports programs pit communities against each other before their children hit puberty, and the rivalry is passed on because, as Grajeda said, people in communities grow up so close with family friends that they are like “cousins”.
Alumni of the schools will stop by the docks to bet on games, and Miller has seen pictures of workers at the docks recording the scores on the cranes overlooking the bay.
Prohibited players watch from the sidelines during their annual rivalry game against San Pedro.
(Luca Evans / For the Times)
“You take it personally,” said Rodney Jackson, the father of San Pedro quarterback Aidan Jackson.
Historically, the rivalry is evenly divided. In the 1970s and 80s, Miller said, Banning dominated until Mike Walsh stepped in as a coach to help make the San Pedro program a powerhouse. In 2019 and 2020, San Pedro blew up the banning. But the teams went head to head in the game on Friday as the top programs in the city section.
This edition of the rivalry was one for all time. In a game that lasted nearly three hours, the two teams fought back and forth, neither with a margin of more than a touchdown. Players on either side stretched their arms into the crowd to raise the decibel levels after each score, and trash talk was exchanged until the last second.
This atmosphere is special. There is an understanding in this – and a common mentality.
“I think that’s why both churches are so proud – we feel left out,” Miller said. “We feel obliged that no one else will do it if we don’t take care of each other.”
In 2001, San Pedro and Wilmington pushed for secession from the city of Los Angeles because they felt that City Hall was not properly serving the needs of their districts. But overshadowed by other issues, that effort didn’t even make it to a vote on the 2002 ballot.
There is a line that stretches across the 110 freeway from Los Angeles that flows into the waterfront – a “heartbeat” line, as Grajeda calls it. The distance has sometimes left local residents disrespectful and frustrated, who do not always feel respected by the city, even though the port’s workforce is an important part of the economy.
“It feels like you were born here, you just fight to prove you have a life,” said Grajeda.
Containers are piled up along the docks of San Pedro.
Power cables are being lowered from the YM Movement container ship for dock workers at the TraPac terminal to plug it into the power grid in Wilmington.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Miller said the schools are so far away that they hardly receive any transfers – it just adds community pride as the players are almost all from their own country.
“My kids’ big talk is letting everyone know that we are not bottom feeders,” Grajeda said. “We are a community of family, respect; We are an affluent community. “
That pride hummed in every Friday game. In the first half, Banning star running back Jakob Galloway ran amok, galloping for big runs and a couple of touchdowns. He finished the night 284 yards and a stiff arm on a 42 yard score.
“It got me,” said Galloway of the pirates’ trash talk, “but it also helped me finish the game.”
Aidan Jackson, meanwhile, was all over the field, making four touchdowns. Banning’s floor game and San Pedro’s passing game were hit hard all night. With a minute to go and the pilots one point ahead, San Pedro recovered a fumble to get it in position to win – but in an unlikely twist, Banning blocked a brief field goal attempt with seconds remaining and gave it up returned for a touchdown to seal a 48-41 win.
As the crowd exploded, Banning players dashed across the field cheering while the pirates tossed their helmets in disgust. For one night, for a week, the rivalry tipped back towards Wilmington.
But in a few days it won’t matter much.
“Tomorrow, guess what we’re going to do?” said Grajeda. “We’re going to eat together. We’ll be on the docks and work together. Do you see this guy – ‘Hey, give me my hundred dollars and let’s go eat.’ And that’s what it’s about. “