TURLOCK — "It's so much more strict than last year."
As voiced by Dutcher Middle School eighth-grader Natalie Bartell, that was the prevailing sentiment at the sixth annual Harvest Bowl on Friday night.
After several scuffles and confrontations between fans at last year's football game between intracity rivals Turlock and Pitman high schools, officials implemented new regulations.
They limited the number of tickets sold to the rough capacity of the bleachers, rather than allowing hundreds of fans to stand along the track and in the end zones. Fans for each team entered through clearly labeled gates on opposite sides of the field. And in response to a poster last year that made reference to a Pitman High teacher accused of having sex with a student, only preapproved signs were allowed.
Turlock High's posters were generalized slogans — "Go Dawgs," "Dog Pound — Beware," "Go, Fight, Win" — made into reusable, professional vinyl banners, courtesy of the booster club. Pitman's were homemade and a little more tongue in cheek: "Approved," "Winning the Harvest Bowl — there's an app for that," "this poster means nothing."
The stands were nearly filled by about 6:45 p.m., or the last quarter of the junior varsity game. Some Turlock High fans leaned over the bleachers on Colorado Avenue and hollered at passersby, but the taunting was good-natured and they weren't disciplined.
Pitman beat Turlock 40-6.
Turlock Police Chief Gary Hampton, attending his first Harvest Bowl, said the plan, developed by Turlock Unified School District Superintendent Sonny DaMarto, seemed to be working.
"The precautions were probably overdue, and they're effective," he said.
Hampton said his department assigned about the same number of volunteers as usual to the game, but they closed down the streets around the stadium to help with traffic control at the end of the game.
Volunteers staffing the closed-off streets reported no problems. The gates operated smoothly as well, though people staffing them turned away anyone without a ticket.
Most of the tickets to the game sold out earlier Friday; the only remaining seats available were $20 "adult gold" tickets, sold as a fund-raiser for the Turlock Turf Crew, which is working to improve athletic facilities at both high schools. A handful of people bought those tickets and sat on bleachers set up in the north end zone.
The south end zone, the scene of most of the problems last year, was declared a "dead zone" and kept clear by volunteers and staff. They kept people in the concession areas moving and roped off the sides so people couldn't cross.
For the most part, fans seemed to understand. A couple of high school students, caught without enough tickets, debated whether to spend the $20 on the adult gold ticket so they could all get in.
Natalie, adorned in the blue and gold of Turlock High, saw both sides of the issue.
"It was pretty bad last year — everyone was fighting," she said. "This is kind of good and kind of bad — I have friends over there and I can't hang out with them."
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2343.