The VW Bug was proudly on display at the Homecoming Game last Friday night (2013) against West High atop the
R.M. Johnson Press Box at Coy Burnett Field. The VW Bug has been the symbol of THS Homecoming for over 30 years. Photo courtesy Denise Rhodes.

A Homecoming Tradition: The VW Bug
An iconic symbol of THS Homecoming for over 30 years

Posted on October 9, 2013 by Tom Shea, The Tehachapi News

Few things signal in Tehachapi Homecoming like the Volkswagen Beetle, or commonly referred to over the years, the “VW Bug”.

For over 30 seasons on homecoming week, the VW Bug has made its appearance either on the JMS gym (old high school), the current high school campus quad and on the R.M. Johnson Press Box. It is important to Tehachapi’s homecoming as turkey is to Thanksgiving, a tree is to Christmas, a four-leaf clover to St. Patrick’s Day, etc. More than any other symbol, the VW Bug is synonymous with Tehachapi Homecoming.

There are some quirky traditions out there for high schools, some not so as subtle as the VW Bug. Some that have experienced Texas football can tell you about the homecoming mums, which many will vouch can be just as serious as the homecoming game itself. According to, which did a feature on homecoming traditions, a mum is an oversized corsage decorated in school colors with anything from bows, bells, stuffed animals, long ribbons and streamers, lights, and just about anything else to make it stand out. Mums have been known to cost more than $200 and weigh as much as 20 pounds.

But that is Texas, and this is California. In Tehachapi, we have our VW Bug.

Rather than spend $200 on a mum, we pour our heart and wallet into decorating an old beat up VW Bug frame. Usually donned with the jersey numbers of the senior class and signature catch phrases over the years that are true Tehachapi (hit n’ fly, mountain football, go warriors, etc.), it is a symbol of spirit for the green, black and white.

“It really is a rite of passage from one senior class to another,” said the class of ‘14. “We know how important this is to the history of our school and our team. It really is an honor to paint the bug and bring it to the campus and the game each year.”

The VW Bug first made its debut on the THS scene in the early 80’s, and became a consistent every-year operation in the mid 80’s.

“Myself and a few buddies slipped into the shop yard and covertly took the bug. There was five or six of us. It was a true Navy Seal Operation,” said the class of ‘86. “Once we got it out of the yard, we put it on top of the gymnasium at the old high school. We tied it down so it wouldn’t fall. It was a ton of fun to pull it off.”

The school district took the VW Bug down the very next day and put it back in the shop yard, but the foundation of tradition solidified. From that point forward and for the next 30 years, it has been painted, put on roofs, stolen by cheerleaders, given back to the football players, put on the press box, rolled off the press box. Everything imaginable has been done to the VW Bug.

“It is great that it is still a part of our tradition. I think it is fantastic that it has been with us all these years,” said the class of ’08.

Over the seasons, the VW Bug frame itself has changed a few times due to rust and wear, but a “new recruit” has always been a trip to the junkyard away. As far as the reason for a VW Bug, it was in large part due to weight.

“If you’re going to lift a car onto the roof of the gym, it better be light. That’s why we preferred a VW. I believe one year we salvaged a bug from the desert, somebody was out there one weekend and came across it, so we used that one and painted it black,” said the class of ’98. “You always painted it a night or two before you actually put it on the roof, that way it was dry and you didn't stay up too late painting and placing.”

The tradition has been tweaked somewhat over the quarter-century, largely in part due to administration concerns and the transition of the THS campus moving from 711 Anita Drive to its current home, 801 S Dennison Road.

As far as the press box tradition on the night of the game, that solidified in the late 90’s at the request of the THS administration and coaches.

“In 1996, a few administrators decided to roll the bug off the roof and it nearly hit a parked car near the weight room. We were standing there watching it roll down the roof when someone said, do they realize that a car is parked there?,” said the class of ’98. “At that point, putting it on top of the gym was out of the question and we went straight to the press box from that night forward.”

When the campus officially moved in the early 2000’s, the VW Bug’s tenure on THS’s campus was resurrected to the center of the quad before making its way to the top of the press box right before Friday night’s game.

The quad-to-the-press box chain of events holds true to this day, with the current seniors “guarding” the VW Bug from classmates and passing the bug down to the juniors for the following year’s festivities.

“The cheerleaders always try and steal the bug, but we are on watch,” said the class of ‘14. “It is the football player’s job to protect it and keep it safe.”

Those Interviewed Remain Anonymous

You may have noticed that I did not include names in this article from those that were interviewed, just the year they graduated.

That was by design, because those that participated in the bug’s mobility (usually at night) on the gym, press box, campus quad, etc. were ‘technically’ trespassing during non-school hours and could have potentially been sanctioned for their actions.

Also, some interviewed are current prominent members of our community, so we would not want to point out the ‘fun’ they had in their younger days. Their graduating class is revealed, so we’ll leave it up to you to determine who you think each of the interviewee’s might be. But as promised, I won’t tell.

A special thanks to the class of ’84, ’86, ’91, ’95, ’98, ’00, ’04, ‘08 and ’14 for contributing to this story.

In the early years, the VW Bug symbolized THS Homecoming with placement on top the gym (now the Junior High campus).
This bug was placed on the gym roof during the 1985 season.


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