SAN DIMAS – Bill Zernickow lives in Claremont but does some of his shopping at the Target store in La Verne. Why not? It’s the closest one to his home. Zernickow can walk through the aisles of the La Verne Target with no problem 51 weeks out of the year. But not this week. This is the week where everything changes. And there is much more at stake than Zernickow’s shopping habits. Tonight, the Zernickow-coached San Dimas Saints and their rivals, the Bonita Bearcats, will meet in the annual Smudge Pot game for the 34th time. It is an intradistrict battle between the neighboring cities of San Dimas and La Verne, two places that have somehow retained the apple-pie feel of small-town America while a metropolis grew around them. “We were always the same way.” San Dimas is hoping to repeat the ’93 scenario. The Saints have struggled with an 0-4 start while Bonita is 4-0. At Bonita, where the Smudge Pot has resided eight of the last nine years, students spent the week throwing anti-Saints rallies and decorated the school’s classroom windows with signs and pro-Bearcat slogans. San Dimas celebrated by having an anti-green day Wednesday (no students were allowed to wear Bonita’s colors) and a blue-and-gold day Thursday (no students were allowed to wear anything but San Dimas colors). “It doesn’t matter if part of your family went to San Dimas and part went to Bonita,” said former Bearcat David Musa, who helps coach his ex-team. “There’s still hatred there.” Said Zernickow: “These players grew up as little boys, dreaming about playing in the Smudge Pot game, under the lights, with 10,000 people in the stands. The Smudge Pot means everything.” That is why Zernickow isn’t welcome at his favorite Target store this week. And why he has been getting calls all week – some from complete strangers – asking him to beat Bonita and bring back the Smudge Pot. That’s a familiar story to Zernickow’s mentor, Bonita coach Eric Podley. Zernickow was Podley’s defensive coordinator at Northview from 1997-98, and the first-year San Dimas coach said Podley is “my father in coaching.” The two have remained close friends and even had an hour-long phone conversation Tuesday, adding more spice to tonight’s game – not that any was needed. After all, Podley said, the matchup might not ever lose its intensity. “Both cities have limited growth potential,” he said, “so it’s less likely they’ll add another high school and dilute the rivalry. “It’ll be these same two high schools for the next 30 years, just like it’s been for the last 30 years.” The Smudge Pot figures to stand the test of time as well. It is a silver relic from the era where the pots were used to heat citrus orchards to ward off frost. The Bonita-San Dimas version has the score of every game etched on a plaque and bolted to the pot’s base. Bonita linebacker Pablo Garay often goes out of his way to walk by the Smudge Pot in its custom-built trophy case. “I think, `That’s ours. It’s staying here,’ ” he said. Naturally, players like the Saints’ Chad Massey and Eric Samples beg to differ. “We’ve been trying to please other people in the last four games,” Samples said. “We’re going to do it for family, do it for each other.” Said Massey: “Everyone’s been doubting us because of the season we’ve had so far … it would really mean a lot (to win).” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe top 10 theme park moments of 2019 Bonita alum Glenn Davis gave the school a Heisman Trophy from his award-winning 1946 season. But which Bonita trophy has the most prestigious placement, sitting in the central office for all to see? It’s not the Heisman. It’s the Smudge Pot. Winning the Smudge Pot, which stays at the victorious school for a year, can be a season-making event that stays with players and coaches for generations. To wit: In 1993, San Dimas entered Smudge Pot week 0-9. But the team upset Bonita 19-0 and brought home the trophy, so everyone deemed it a successful season. “As a coach, you try to fight it,” said San Dimas assistant coach Mark Stevenson, a senior on that ’93 squad. “But these players are so much more worried about beating Bonita than they are about winning the league and going on in the playoffs.