The End of the War & The Birth of the Bruce

After the end of World War II, SI and SH thought of a fitting memorial to the fallen alumni of both schools: a perpetual athletic trophy, given to the school that won at least two of the three games in football, basketball and baseball. This trophy, named for SI’s Bill Bruce ’35 and SH’s Jerry Mahoney, would also commemorate the oldest athletic high school competition west of the Rocky Mountains.

In The Red and Blue of January 29, 1947, reporter Watt Clinch ’47 predicted that “this trophy, as time goes by, will doubtless come to mean as much to SI and Sacred Heart as the legendary Axe means to Stanford and California and the Old Oaken Bucket means to Indiana and Purdue.”

The Chronicle’s Ken Garcia wrote an article about this trophy in 2001, in which he noted that “Bill Bruce was a gregarious, sharp teenager, who came to SI in 1931 on a scholarship as a virtual unknown. Bruce was an orphan who attended St. Vincent’s School near San Rafael, commuting across the Bay by boat. He was a fine student and a good athlete who started as a lineman — defense and offense were not specified in those days since everybody played both ways.”

The February 26, 1947, edition of The Red and Blue added that while at SI, Bruce “repeated a year of Greek so he could raise his average from a 92 to a 95,” and was later elected salutatorian for his class.

“Bruce never made All-City,” wrote Garica, “but his charisma and quick mind charmed his classmates who elected him student body president. When he graduated in 1935, Bruce went to Santa Clara University, where he started on the Broncos team that beat LSU 21-14 in the Sugar Bowl. He spent his summers working as a park director at Grattan Playground in the Haight, before enlisting in the Navy in 1940, where he became an outstanding fighter pilot.

“‘Bill was a natural leader, extremely popular, who just had this air of command,’ said Fr. Harry Carlin, SJ, SI’s executive vice president, who was one of Bruce’s classmates. ‘He was a model for students then and he’s a model for them now.’

“Bruce flew more than 50 combat missions in Europe during the early ’40s before being called back by the Navy to train young pilots at the Naval Air Station in Pasco, Washington, part of the Tri-Cities area in the eastern part of the state that combines desert terrain with steep canyons. And there, on April 14, 1943, Bruce, with a young trainee at the controls, refused to bail out when the pilot could not pull their plane out of a nosedive, and the two men were instantly killed. Bruce was 25.”

Garcia added that SH’s Jerry Mahoney, who grew up in the Richmond District, was tall enough to start on his school’s varsity basketball team as a freshman in 1941, “a feat so uncommon that it stands out almost as much as the fact that he made first team All-City in basketball and football his senior year. ‘He was one of the best athletes in the city,’ said Jack Grealish, ‘and I know, because I played with him and against him.’

“Mahoney enlisted in the Navy and, after boot camp, was assigned to a merchant ship for combat duty. In June 1944, just hours after the Henry B. Plant set out from the Atlantic coast, the ship was torpedoed by a German submarine. Every man on board was killed. Mahoney was 18.”

Even though the trophy match was not inaugurated until 1947, the schools mark the first year of the match-up as the 1945–46 academic year to commemorate the end of WWII. SH took the trophy that year, and SI the next. In all, SI has kept the trophy 40 times as of 2005, and SH 18 times.

In 1967 SI joined the West Catholic Athletic League and SH remained in the AAA until 1969. For two years, the schools split ownership of the Trophy, though they didn’t play each other on a regular basis during those years. Competition resumed in the 1969–70 academic year when SH joined the WCAL. By the end of that year, the schools had tied in football and split the other two games. SI kept the Trophy that year as it had been the last team to win it back in 1967.

Few traditions capture the joy of high school as this rivalry between SI and SH. If you go to Kezar Stadium, Big Rec Field or Kezar Pavilion for a Bruce-Mahoney match-up, you will find emotions tuned to a fever-pitch, voices hoarse from shouting and athletes primed to play at their peak. You will also find something more — a community of parents, alumni, students and teachers who are part of something special, something that transcends the specific time and place of one game and that connects them to the ideals of service and tradition that both Bill Bruce and Jerry Mahoney stood for in their brief lives and that they upheld in their deaths.