Gladiators on the Gridiron: A Double Bill of College and High School Football at the Los Angeles Coliseum, 1925

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The 2019 high school and college football seasons are now underway in greater Los Angeles and do so under increasing scrutiny of the health risks associated with this physically violent sport.  It has been frequently reported that youth participation in the game is down significantly in recent years due to growing attention to traumatic injuries and the consequences born by players who experience them.  Indianapolis Colts star quarterback Andrew Luck’s decision to retire several days back is a reminder of the

This week, a heartbreaking article covered the devastation experienced by the family of Tyler Hilinski, a quarterback from the area who was playing Washington State University when he took his life not long after learning he had CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), caused by injuries to the brain common in football.

Los Angeles Times, 27 November 1925.  In the first column is an account of an appearance for the NFL’s Chicago Bears, in a barnstorming tour, of sensation “Red” Grange.

The piece, however, noted that the family’s youngest son, Ryan, was pursuing the game as a backup quarterback at the University of South Carolina and that the grieving parents do not refer to “committing” suicide nor accept it as a given that CTE caused Tyler to kill himself.  The human tragedy in the article brings a deeper dimension to the issues surrounding what the physicality of playing football can mean on a very personal level.

What adds to the issue is that today’s football players, in contrast to their predecessors, are increasingly bigger, stronger and faster.  They use, even at the high school level, sophisticated strength-building and nutrition techniques, get specialized instruction on maximizing their physical abilities, and can demonstrate remarkable athletic abilities.  In some cases, players rely on performance enhancing drugs to try to get an extra edge, a problem that permeates so many sports these days.

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Times, 27 November 1925

With more attention paid to devastating injuries, associations, federations and leagues will adjust the rules on how and where players can hit and tackle each other, require new helmets (as is the case in the National Football League this season), and take other measures.  Whether this will make much of a difference remains to be seen.

Tonight’s highlighted objects from the Homestead’s collection were acquired some time ago because they are interesting football artifacts from a double bill at the Coliseum on 26 November 1925 between Los Angeles High and Polytechnic High (now John H. Francis Polytechnic High School in Sun Valley) followed by a match-up between Occidental College and the University of Hawaii.

The lot consists of a game program with a used ticket clipped to one page and a scorecard.  The card has printed material imploring holders to “SEE SPORT SECTION in Tomorrow’s LOS ANGELES TIMES.”  The program’s foreword notes that the Thanksgiving tussle noted that the Rainbows from Hawaii were undefeated and that the Occidental Tigers were looking to avenge a loss in Honolulu in 1927 “when the Hawaiians thumped them 18-3.”

The remaining images are from the double bill’s program in the museum’s holdings, including a separate score card and a used ticket affixed to one of the pages.

Playing up the holiday theme, the intro stated that the Rainbows looked for “the pot of gold at the end of the bow” in the form of a “big fat pigskin stuffed with the fruit of victory” and hoped “to find a big football stuffed with a nice, brown, juicy, roasted turkey” by beating the Tigers.

As for the high school game, it was noted that “there was a day when Poly and LA were the same school on opposite sides of the street,” because the former comprised the commercial portion of the school.  But, “Poly got rich” and moved to a campus on Washington Boulevard while “LA remained on the hill” in its old location on Poundcake Hill west of the Plaza.

A football rivalry built up quickly between the two schools and, in 1924, they tied for the city championship, while, in 1925, the Romans (Los Angeles High) were undefeated and Poly suffered just one loss, so a victory by the latter would deny the former the title it was vying for against Lincoln High.


Program information included short bios of the four coaches, rosters and photos of the teams, a centerfold scorecard, an explanation of penalties, a list of other college games on Thanksgiving Day, and some local advertisements from a movie theater, an engravers, a clothier, a restaurant, a jeweler, and the famous Cocoanut Grove nightclub (with its college nights, dancing contests, dance music and other enticements) at the Ambassador Hotel.

It is remarkable that, for the Hawaii roster, the information did not just include the uniform number, name position, and weight of the players, but also their “nationality,” though Hawaii was a territory of the United States.  So, of the 21 players, some were listed as American-Hawaiian, others as English-Hawaiian, a few as Part-Hawaiian (meaning, apparently, Hawaiians mixed with those not American or English), or a couple as simply Hawaiian, perhaps “pure” blooded natives.  A majority were denoted as American, with one Portuguese and one Japanese listed.


For the Occidental players, there was no attempt to distinguish ethnicity, but merely the more traditional hometown high or prep school.  Almost all,were from greater Los Angeles, though three had no identified school, and two hailed from Puente, including quarterback Ralph Deaver and tackle Victor Conde.

The high school rosters had the uniform number, name, position and weight and it is notable that of all the players, only two, both playing for Los Angeles High, were persons of color, this being black fullback Theopholis Smith and Latino tackle Louis Morales.

Something else, apropos of the discussion at the beginning of this post about the size, speed and strength of modern football players, stands out.  The Hawaiian team’s heaviest player was tackle Gordon Young, who topped the scales at all of 190 pounds.  Guard Archie Kaaua was a pound lighter, as was guard Ed Towse.  The lightest member of the Rainbow squad was halfback Al Lemes at just 140 pounds.


For Occidental, it was Conde, a tackle, who weighed the most at 185 pounds, with two other lineman at 180.  Two halfbacks came in at just 145 pounds and, overall, the Tigers had a  lighter team, though it was a larger squad.

Compared to today’s college players this really stands out.  This year’s Hawaii squad, for example, has a wide receiver at 155 pounds (and also at 5’9″, quite short) and a defensive back just five pounds heavier.  Yet, there are many players topping 200 pounds and linemen are as heavy as 310 and several topping 270.  Even linebackers are routinely in the 200-230 pound range.

Hawaii is a Division I program, while Occidental plays in the Division III, but the Tigers have some big linemen, too, with one, a native of Rowland Heights and a product of La Habra High School, weighing 315 pounds, while two others are in the 290s and a fourth is at 275.  The lightest player, a free safety, is 150 pounds, with several others, including a quarterback, in the 160s.


So, the dramatic difference in player sizes really stands out and it stands to reason that with more extensive weight training, faster speeds, and so on, the physicality, even with the improved helmet, pads and other gear, is so much different than it was over 90 years ago.

As for outcomes of those games, the original owner of the program did not plot quarter to quarter scoring, but did pencil in the final scores, though the college game outcome was in error.  Los Angeles High was able to continue its quest for a city title by besting the Poly squad, 14-7, while Hawaii shut out the Tigers 13-0 (the program had 14-0.)

Just as promised on the score card, which was not filled in or marked up, the Times gave prominent coverage of the doubleheader in its issue of the next day and some excerpts are included here, including several photos of the action.


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