MONTEREY PARK - As a prelude to the "77th Annual East Los Angeles Classic" to be played 7:30 p.m. Friday night between Garfield and Roosevelt highs at East Los Angeles College, representatives from the two schools and teams held a press conference on Wednesday to mark the significance of the game.
Also billed as the most important high school football game and rivalry west of the Mississippi River, Garfield coach Lorenzo Hernandez - who is in his 11th year at the helm of the Bulldogs - said there is nothing like this game.
"It's very big," Hernandez said. "It's important for the community, for the kids, for the student bodies."
He added there must be nothing like the rush these players will feel when they finally take the field.
"You could just imagine when 20,000 people are screaming their heads off," he said. "It's probably a special feeling, that's an understatement."
In addition, he said he really cannot believe the popularity of this game.
"We literally close the gates and people are still trying to get it," he said.
Garfield defensive lineman and senior Martin Soto said he watched his brothers play this game and now he gets a chance.
"This is a really big game to both our teams," Soto said. "There's a lot riding on it - rivalry, bragging rights and who's the real team in East L.A."
Garfield principal Jose Huerta said playing the game is an "honor."
"The communities of East L.A. and Boyle Heights will come together to cheer their teams to victory," Huerta said. "The young men will play their hearts out. This rivalry will not be fought just on the field, but 20,000 men, women and children will cheer for their team on each side of Indiana Avenue."
In addition to the well wishes for the game, one Roosevelt and one Garfield student athlete was honored with a $500 scholarship for college next year for their work on the field and in the classroom.
"It feels great," said Garfield recipient and middle linebacker Jonathan Valles of receiving the funds. "I have money for my education and have better resources to succeed."
The scholarships were sponsored by State Farm Insurance and presented by local agent Cindy Vasquez.
"Education is very important in developing our youth and makes strong communities," Vasquez said. "We believe it's good to help people get to a better state in their lives."
(Shel Segal can be reached at