SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- Two days before battling on the football field, Santa Maria area rivals met in a much friendlier environment Wednesday afternoon, dining together at the lunch table.
Players with Righetti and Pioneer Valley high schools, along with coaches, plus school and district administrators shared a meal at Cool Hand Luke's in Santa Maria ahead of Friday's rivalry "Battle for the Shield" game.
"Both teams look forward to this annual rivalry each and every year,’’ said Pioneer Valley Athletic Director Anthony Morales. “This game always exemplifies good sportsmanship along with pursuing victory with honor."
The annual luncheon has been a popular tradition with the two schools for many years, but was canceled last year due to the pandemic.
"Unfortunately, both schools were not able to play each other last year due to the limited football game schedule that was allowed per COVID-19," said Morales. However, here we are this week, playing for 'The Helmet.' Best of luck to both teams."
After having last year's game wiped out, the two teams are ready to renew their rivalry, with the winner earning the coveted helmet trophy that is painted in both schools colors.
"That's the goal right there," said Pioneer Valley senior captain Adan Rubalcava. "It would be great to have that and say Pioneer Valley has the helmet."
Righetti has won the last three games between the two schools, including most recently in 2019 by a score of 42-6. Pioneer Valley last won in 2016 when it beat the Warriors in overtime 20-14.
This year, both teams enter the game still looking for its first win of the season. The Panthers have a record of 0-4, while the Warriors are 0-5.
Despite their records, both sides expect an intense and competitive game that should be entertaining for fans to watch.
"We're all working towards the same goal," said Righetti senior captain Ryan Boivin. "We're both going in there with no wins, so I think it's going to be the most hungry game for each side of the ball, so I'm just trying to get my guys right and focused on us and the rest will take care of itself."
While the game will no doubt be hard hitting, Wednesday's luncheon was an opportunity for players to enjoy the company of rival players, many of whom they've known for years, in a relaxed, comfortable setting.
"It's great," said Boivin. "I've watched the other seniors before me go a while ago and it's really nice to get the tradition back. It's like getting the programs back into order since the pandemic. It feels like normal and fun."
"It's very special," said Rubalcava. "It feels good because we know some of them and it feels good to go out and battle against each other."
The Battle for the Helmet will be held at Righetti High School on Friday, Oct. 8.
Kickoff is 7 p.m.