It started with a quote, the coach of a favored team looking for the words to explain an unexpected and dramatic defeat.
In 1975, the St. Ignatius boys’ basketball team was a perfect 23-0 and had rolled off 18 consecutive West Catholic Athletic League wins entering a Valentine’s Day game at Serra.
But somehow, in front of a capacity crowd, the Padres were able to turn back the Wildcats 54-50 in overtime.
Afterwards, then-SI coach Bob Drucker was quoted in The Examiner as saying "Playing at Serra is like playing in a jungle."
With that, the Jungle Game was born, a rivalry that resumes each year when the Wildcats travel to Serra.
This season’s meeting is scheduled for today, with St. Ignatius (14-3, 5-2 WCAL) and the Padres (10-7, 4-3) set to tip off at 7:30 p.m.
Each team has won 16 times in the 32-game history of the rivalry, with Serra claiming the last five in the series.
The gym is always packed and decorated with palm leaves and other safari scenes and the fans often arrive dressed in jungle garb.
"I don’t want to sound cheesy," Serra coach Chuck Rapp recently told Traditions, the school’s alumni magazine, "but it’s a slice of Americana and echoes a time gone by.
"Two rival schools meet in a high school gym and vie for bragging rights, surrounded by their community. The game has always really appealed to me."
A standing-room crowd of 1,200 is expected to attend today’s game, although no tickets are sold. St. Ignatius is allotted 300 tickets per league rules, while Serra distributes its share through a lottery run by its boosters. Serra students are awarded tickets through spirit points, earned by attending games and other events.
Wrestling success: Annie Nguyen and Connie Jew of Lowell each reached the podium in last weekend’s CIF girls’ wrestling regional tournament.
Nguyen was the runner-up in the 114-pound division and Jew took sixth in the 146-pound class.