My first memories of Hollister are from 1962 to 1965 when I played high school football. I was a Morgan Hill Live Oak Acorn. Acorn? I know, us “he-man” football players tried to get the name changed to the Live Oak Oaks but we failed and to this day the mascot is still the Live Oak Acorns. In any case, back in those days, the towns of Morgan Hill, Gilroy and Hollister were all self reliant independent little Ag farming and ranching communities. Each with their own distinctive flavor. These little towns weren’t the schizophrenic bedroom communities for the Silicon Valley like they are today. Long spans of empty miles stretched between them. Hollister was the most distant of the three. So football provided my introduction to Hollister. We’d load up all us skinny Morgan Hill prune picker, apricot cutter rancher “Acorn” boys on the old yellow school bus #2 and come down here to Hollister to play the Hollister Haybalers. That’s right, Haybalers not Balers. At least Hollister shortened their mascot name to something a little less humiliating.
Back during those years, us proud Live Oak Acorns would load up old bus #2 with our pads, helmets and courage and head south. We’d be pretty confident on the bus, all cocky and full of bull until just south of Gilroy. That’s when the bus made an ominous left turn off of the great California Highway 101, the old El Camino Real, the “Kings Highway." I guess the Kings would pass through Morgan Hill and they would pass through Gilroy but they passed on passing through the town of Hollister. The bus turned onto Highway 25, also called “The Bolsa,” and eased over the railroad tracks there after stopping to make sure our bus didn’t get T-boned by a Southern Pacific freight train brimming with sugar beets heading for the Spreckels sugar plant in Salinas. It was just after we crossed those tracks, that’s when the bus got quiet. Rumor had it that Highway 25 was given that name because from the 101, it was exactly 25 miles to the edge of the earth…and that’s where Hollister was. After that left turn, that’s when us macho football players started to get a little nervous and scared. Especially the Junior Varsity players.
We’d heard horrible things about Hollister. Massive earthquakes and lawless beer bottle bustin’ motorcycle riots. The older players started to whisper stories to the younger players as our bus droned on down the 25. Stories about how the Haybalers were a real tough football team. Their players were all older than us because they started school late after growing up first amongst the coyotes and wild boar. They wrangled wild mustangs and rode them bare back as part of their physical fitness training. They even had their own rodeo! To make varsity, a player had to successfully kill a wild boar with only a Bowie knife that he made in metal shop. The player who got the biggest, gnarliest boar was how they chose their team captain. All their players shaved. And they shaved with those same Bowie knives, using only lathered boraxo for shaving cream. Yikes, we were a band of beardless bambies compared to the Haybalers. Oh my.
All the Hollister players could bale hay…with their bare hands. That’s why they called them The Haybalers. Then they tossed those bales of hay around like medicine balls. They were strong and mean with calluses so thick and so hard they could scratch glass with the swipe of an open hand. Their defensive linemen used barbed wire to trip runners trying to run between the tackles. And if a runner got through their defensive line, we heard the Haybaler line backers all had hay hooks hidden under their jerseys and they were lookin’ to use them. And if a runner were so lucky to get past the barbed wire and the hay hooks, they ran smack into the scrappiest, hardest hitting defensive backs in the whole Mission Trail Athletic League. Those defensive backs would hit you so hard it felt like getting struck by a meteorite wearing brass knuckles. Man those were some tough hard hitting games. In my 4 years of high school football, I can only remember being victorious once against Hollister. Live Oak finally won that 4th game in 1965, and later that season, its 1st Championship. But I was just happy enough to have survived those brutal games against the Haybalers. And after all the hard hits and concussions, I am even happier to just remember those games.
Those are my 1st memories of Hollister from long, long ago. And now, even today, the Balers remain a tough football team…and the last I checked…Hollister is still near the edge of the earth.
© Edward Ferri, Jr.