Warriors at the Trona Sand Pit

Posted July 8, 2001 by thswarriors.com

It's the story nobody believes. The tale of the infamous Trona Sand Pit.

If you played for the Warriors or supported the Warriors anytime between 1943 and 1979, chances are pretty good you experienced The Pit first hand.
But try explaining The Pit to somebody who has never heard of Trona, or been to Trona?

They refuse to believe.

Traveling to Trona for the first time is quite an experience. There is the short drive east on Highway 58, north on Highway 14 towards Bishop, and connecting with Highway 178.
Just past Ridgecrest, you make your way through a mountain range before coming upon the Searles Valley and the small historic mining company town of Trona.

Depending on the time of your arrival, and through the eyes of a teenager, it can be a surreal experience. The first thing you see is the HUGE mining plant on the west side of the highway, and the large expanse (as far as you can see) of the Searles Dry Lake basin on the eastern side of the highway. The smoke from the plant hovering over the valley. And then it hits you like a rock --- BAM --- the smell. Ooh, the constant smell of sulfur in the air (smells like rotten eggs). Making your way through the town towards the high school, you also notice there are no lawns; very little urban vegetation.

The Searles Valley, pictured above, is the home of the small mining community of Trona.
The Searles Dry Lake has been the center of many mining operations over the years.


Over the years, Warrior coaches have attempted all kinds of strategies to prepare the boys from Tehachapi for The Pit. Practicing on the dirt of the baseball infields, weights on the legs, running in the mud, psychological counseling, etc. Really, they should have just loaded the boys up on a bus and headed for the beach for a day or two.

Playing at The Pit always gave Trona a huge advantage. Opponents had a difficult time running, passing, and kicking in the sand. The first few plays from scrimmage usually set the tone for the game when you would get a splash of sand in your face --- in your eyes --- or going down your jersey. Hard to block somebody when you can't see! Combine that with the usual whirling winds and heat of the Searles Valley, and you had one uncomfortable football experience.

A Warrior team that might beat Trona in Tehachapi, say 28-0, might beat the same team in Trona, 6-0. It's hard to say how much of a point advantage Trona had at home --- but over the years --- many good teams were upset in Trona. The best way to stop a good offense is to play a game in Trona.

Trona High School opened its doors in the fall of 1941. The first graduating class of the 1941-42 school year had 14 graduates.

Currently (in 2002), the school's enrollment has declined to 105 from a one-time high of 350 - not enough to put 11 players on the field consistently. Next season it will play in an eight-player league. Apart from the football field at Juneau High in Alaska, which is made of glacial silt, Trona may have the only all-dirt field left in the United States.

"No athlete should be subjected to conditions found nowhere else in the country but Trona," Stu Downes, a sportswriter for The Mammoth Times, wrote last year about Mammoth High's troubles with Trona. "This is 2001, not ancient Rome. If they can't grow grass, there's always artificial turf."

Trona's coaches have heard complaints about home-field advantage from all quarters. Trona has never really considered artificial turf. It was seen as too expensive - and just not right, somehow. "We don't want it; we like the sand," said John Parks, the team's coach. "There's something about the mystique of The Pit." Even the principal at Boron High, Paul Kostopoulos, finds something inexplicable about The Pit. When he was the team's football coach, he beat Trona only once on Trona's home field, and that was Boron's first victory in The Pit in 12 years. "When we won, I scooped up some of the sand and put it in a Coke bottle," Mr. Kostopoulos said. "I still have it on my desk."

The Trona Pinnacles, located a few miles from Trona, are some of the most unique geological features in the California Desert Conservation Area.
The unusual landscape consists of more than 500 tufa spires, some as high as 140 feet, rising from the bed of the Searles Dry Lake basin.
The Trona Pinnacles have been featured in many commercials, films, and still-photo shoots. Episodes of "Star Trek" and some scenes from the remake of
"Planet of the Apes" were filmed using the Pinnacles as the background.


If mining is the nervous system of Trona, population 2,000, football is its heart. There is no youth basketball, baseball or soccer here; only football. Some of the passion for the game was imported in the 1960's and 70's when the Oklahoma-based Kerr-McGee Corporation owned the mining operations and brought scores of football-loving Oakies to the desert.

In a blow to its ego, Trona had to forfeit four games this year because it could not field enough players. The school's declining enrollment reflects cuts at the town's mining plants,
now owned by IMC Chemicals. About 700 people work at them, down from 1,700 in the early 1980's.

For those interested in learning more about Trona and life on the high desert, or about its rich mining history,
you can visit "Trona on the Web" at www.trona-ca.com/ or the "Trona Care" website at www.pcpages.com/tronacare.

The 1970 Warriors, pictured above, defeated Trona at The Pit, 21-0. Dennis Grantham (61)
runs for yardage against the Tornadoes while John King (33) and Bill Robison (10) watch the action.
The Warriors were more fortunate than most, winning 9 of 18 games (between 1943 and 1979) at The Pit.
However, over the years, the Warriors suffered some heartbreaking losses in the sand.


History of Warriors At The "Sand Pit"

Year-by-Year Results

1979Trona 00 03ANon League
1978Trona 06 06ALeague
1976Trona 12 12ALeague
1974Trona 24 00ALeague
1972Trona 21 00ALeague
1970Trona 21 00ALeague
1969Trona 06 00ALeague
1967Trona 14 00ALeague
1965Trona 00 14ALeague
1963Trona 26 20ALeague
1961Trona 00 06ALeague
1959Trona 00 10ALeague
1957Trona 00 12ALeague
1953Trona 19 20ANon League
1951Trona 40 06ANon League
1949Trona 34 07ANon League
1944Trona 30 12ANon League
1943Trona 07 28ANon League

Footnote: The Warriors defeated Trona in a 1980 playoff game, 21-7,
but the game was played on a neutral field in Ridgecrest, CA.