By LUKE JOHNSON
Special to the Tribune
In 1946, Alhambra and Antioch Unified High Schools had three things in common: mascots (Panthers), colors (navy and gold) and initials (AUHS). This stirred up a lot of controversy.
They were essentially neighbors with far less high schools established in the East San Francisco Bay Area, and both athletic programs competed in the Contra Costa County Athletic League (CCCAL).
Alhambra is now home of the Bulldogs, while Antioch cheers for the black and gold. But what happened 70 years ago during 1946-47 is surrounded by myths and mystery.
There are three common theories to this case. One is the winner of a football game got to choose which of the two, mascot or colors, they wanted to keep. The majority said Antioch won, and selected the Panther, but some have said Alhambra won, and picked the colors because it would be cheaper to reuse their logo-less blue and gold uniforms.
Antioch’s football program in the 1940s was the cream of the crop, and produced NFL All-Pros such as Gino Marchetti and Duane Putnam. Antioch never lost to Alhambra in the 1940s, so half of that theory is out of the equation.
The second theory is there was a coin flip and the winner got first pick, while the third theory states it was a decision by school administrations and the CCCAL.
Alhambra Athletic Director Pat Ertola said the most consistent story he has heard is the dispute was ended after the result of a football game, while Antioch’s head football coach John Lucido has only been told the coin flip story.
Looking through Antioch Ledger archives, 1946’s post game article between Antioch and Alhambra football doesn’t state a single mascot, while the 1947 pregame article references Alhambra as the Bulldogs and Antioch as the Panthers. Neither mention the games having any impact on future representation of the schools.
A Sept. 13, 1947, article in the Contra Costa Gazette sights one of the changes. It covered a back-to-school assembly at Alhambra. It reads:
“It (the assembly) brought home to the student body that no longer will they hear the roar of the Panthers in victory or defeat, but instead listen to the low, menacing growl of the Bulldog when the going is rough, and his more friendly growl when all is well.”
The student body at Alhambra needed two elections to choose a new mascot, according to the Contra Costa Gazette. The first ballot in May of that year proceeded in a draw between Bulldogs and Wolverines, but the following election was well in favor of the Bulldogs. The reporter of a June 4 article pointed out that “bulldog” has the same amount of letters as “panther,” and highlighted that the school’s songs and yells could easily be modified.
In the 1947-48 edition of Antioch’s yearbook, it indicates the football team would don new colors the following season:
“This year the blue and gold uniforms were packed away for the last time, but every Antioch fan will remember the spirit and superiority of the teams who wore them to victory, or defeat. In the coming seasons the Panthers will be fighting under new colors, black and gold, but they will be fighting with the same degree of sportsmanship which is characteristic of Antioch High School, and the teams of the blue and gold.”
Joanne Viera-Bilbo, who graduated from Antioch in 1948, was a part of student council that year. From her perspective, Antioch’s change in colors had nothing to do with a football game or a coin flip. In fact, she said she did not hear of those proposed theories until recently.
She recalls in the middle of a student council meeting, during the 1947-48 school year, administration informed them that the CCCAL was forcing Antioch to change either its mascot or color, and they needed to decide by the end of the day.
She said keeping the panther mascot was an immediate and easy decision by the rest of the council, and shortly after they chose the colors black and gold, because black looked similar to navy, not to the contrary belief it was chosen because panthers are black.
According to the Martinez Museum, Alhambra first developed the panther mascot in 1927, while Antioch’s first association with the feline was in its 1923-24 year book, titled, “The Panther.” That was back when the institution was named Riverview Union High School.
Despite all these findings, many questions have yet to be answered. Why did Alhambra change its mascot? Why did the CCCAL mandate Antioch to change colors? If it was not decided during a football game or a coin toss, then why has a high school rumor passed on through 70 years? Why did two nearby high schools with the same initials pick the same mascot and team colors? Did one of them lack creativity? This case has been reopened with the mystery yet to be solved.