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The Rivalry

A Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens running back being tackled by two CMS Stags

On a sunny November afternoon in Claremont, Pomona-Pitzer’s football captains, in dark blue, meet the maroon-helmeted captains of the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Stags at the 50-yard line of Merritt Field for the coin toss in the 41st game between the two squads. The victor will take possession of the Peace Pipe, the trophy that goes to the winner of each fall’s contest. This is the biggest game of the season for both teams, the battle for campus bragging rights, the Battle of Sixth Street.

Sixth Street is like all other streets in Claremont: paved, tree-lined, with bikes and cars rolling along it. But it divides the two athletic programs of the five undergraduate Claremont Colleges. While most college athletic rivalries exist between cross-town or cross-state institutions, the PP-CMS rivalry is separated by only a thin ribbon of pavement. To the south lie the facilities for student-athletes from Pomona and Pitzer. And to the north lie the facilities for Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, and Scripps.

The rivalry brings students out of the dorms and libraries to pack the stands and root for their team. Fans often need to come early to get seats. The rivalry cuts across all sports—not just football. This past fall in men’s water polo, the Sagehens beat CMS, 7-5 for their first win over the Stags in 38 games across 18 years. In cross country, Sagehen women placed 1-2 individually in the conference championship meet, but CMS’ depth earned them the title. On the men’s side, Pomona-Pitzer’s number-one runner finished second at the conference meet—ahead of all CMS runners—but the Stags finished higher than the Sagehens in the team standings. In volleyball, the squads’ first meeting was a roof-raiser: CMS won the first game (15-9), PP won the second (15-6), CMS won the third (17-15), and PP won the fourth (17-15). In the rally-scored fifth game, Pomona-Pitzer eked out a 16-14 win to take the match.

Three minutes into the game, wide receiver-defensive back Ray Portela ’99 returns an errant CMS punt snap to the end zone to open scoring and bring Pomona-Pitzer fans to their feet. After three straight wins, including a 74-7 rout the year prior, the Sagehens see the start of what they hope will be another trouncing.

The athletic rivalry between Pomona-Pitzer and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps began in 1958, when Claremont McKenna College (then Claremont Men’s College), started its own athletic program after being affiliated as Pomona-Claremont for years.

Longtime Pomona coach and Athletic Director Ed Malan ’48 remembers that time. “We had a great relationship in those days,” says Malan. “The SCIAC conference wouldn’t let us continue to do that, so we had to split up. We were too good!”

The initial meetings between the two programs in the late ’50s and early ’60s didn’t have the ‘rivalry’ label. “It was more a case of them trying to reach parity with us,” Malan explains. “And in some sports it was very rapid!”

Slowly a rivalry developed, simply because of the proximity of the two athletic programs, and the fact that opposing fans and student-athletes may have seen each other in class and on various campuses. Pranks and hijinks began to prevail.

Malan remembers his favorite football game prank, perpetrated by the opponent frosh class of 1966. “The morning of the game, which was going to be here at home, I came out and I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were 66 tires around the flagpole! In the middle of the night, somebody had shinnied up that pole, and then they’d pulled each tire individually up a rope, dropped it around him, and down to the ground. The greatest prank I ever saw in my life!”

Early in the second quarter, CMS scores on an 8-yard pass to tie the game. Two minutes later, a Sagehen fumble gives the Stags the ball on the 11, and the Stags score on the next play to lead, 14-7. A bit surprised, Pomona-Pitzer fans are quiet, while the CMS backers stand, stomp the bleachers and roar their support.

Former baseball coach and current Facilities Coordinator Mike Riskas also has a long memory of the rivalry and its attendant pranks. 

“When Larry Cenotto (’75) was quarterback,” relates Riskas, “CMS broke into our locker room. They took Larry’s shirt, and every guy on their team put their name— plus expletives—on it in felt pen. They then proceeded to give it back. Of course, our coaches wanted Larry to wear a clean shirt, but he said, ‘No way. I’m wearing this.’ Meanwhile, they had garlic and I believe it was Limburger cheese that they rubbed all over the shoulder pads of all the rest of the team so that when you walked into the locker there was a terrible odor. And of course these guys had to wear pads during the course of the game and they smelled. I forget what the final score was, but it had a reverse effect. We creamed them.”

A 15-play, 80-yard Sagehen drive ends with career rushing leader Jim Regan ’99 bursting into the end zone on a six-yard score to tie the game just before halftime, 14-14.

Pomona partisans have been guilty of pranks, too. “On the old CMS field on the upper north-side bleachers, they had a huge amount of big, heavy rocks on the bank,” continues Riskas. “And a group from Pomona went up and took all of the rocks and spelled out ‘Pomona.’ I don’t know how the Athletic Directors treated all of that. We sent them bills, and they sent us bills.

“Our soccer guys also stole all of the trophies from Claremont’s trophy case. I don’t know how long it took to get them back. In the old gym here they were up in one of the rooms hidden, then found, then returned.”

After a few years, the competitions on the fields and courts had escalated into something larger. The outcome versus Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in every sport is now a seasonal focus—its importance cannot be overstated. Coaches rally their teams, ‘You can throw out all the records and results! This one is going to be close!’

Midway through the third quarter, CMS drives in from 34 yards out after a Sagehen turnover. The Stags’ fullback rumbles in from a yard out, and CMS leads, 21-14. Sensing an upset, Stag fans are delirious while Pomona-Pitzer fans shake their heads in disbelief. 

Gradually the rivalry and pranks turned rancorous. “It became too personal,” says Malan. “It’s like being in a family. When you’re raised with your siblings, it can get tough. You need to figure out ways to say grace together at the table.”

Grace came when Mort Johnson, Pomona alumni director, got together with the alumni director from CMC. The duo decided to start a post-game hot dog barbecue and came up with the idea of the Peace Pipe. “This was to get everybody back together again,” explains Malan. “We’d had such a fine feeling of camaraderie between the schools when we played together as Pomona-Claremont that they hated to see what was happening in terms of tearing that down.”

Down by seven with 1:21 left in the third quarter, Pomona-Pitzer faces a fourth down and nine. Coach Roger Caron sends in a make-or-break trick play: a double reverse pass that unwinds slowly. Backs hand off to receivers, who hand off to other receivers. Portela lofts a high, arching pass to a wide-open Jace Withy-Allen at the goal line. Bedlam on the Sagehen side! The score is still tied, 21-21, but Sagehen fans and players are electrified, and a clear momentum switch ensues.

Pomona wasn’t lacking for rivals. The Sagehens had a long-standing rivalry with Occidental College that began with the first football game between the two schools in 1895—the oldest continuing rivalry in Southern California. The game was always preceded the night before by a huge Homecoming bonfire. For years the media carried feature articles and photos of the players.

“It was only after the students here made it clear that the Pomona-Claremont rivalry was far more important, that it ended,” says Malan. “They didn’t understand the Pomona-Occidental rivalry. Things change.”

So it continues. Contests against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps are circled on the schedule. Memories are made. As you read this, the outcomes of this year’s winter and spring sports are being played out.

Looser and more confident in the fourth quarter, Pomona-Pitzer shuts down CMS and scores twice more to win, 35-21. The win gives the Sagehen seniors a first-ever four consecutive wins over CMS, and they loft the Peace Pipe to the sky.


—Kirk Reynolds


Editor’s Note: The Peace Pipe trophy was retired a few years ago and replaced with the Sixth Street trophy.