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Silver & black attack as Imperial Valley Raiders Booster club hits 200 members strong

August 30, 2001|By ERIC GALVAN, Sports Writer

There's almost nothing worse than being a fan of a sports team, based about 600 miles away, whose bitterest rival is only 120 miles away.

Fans of said rival team constantly badger the fans of the distant team, asking why they aren't fans of the "local" team. The local media force-feeds the fans of the faraway team with "home town" team scores and highlights and limits the coverage of the favorite team, which had been based only about 200 miles away.

Welcome to the life of an Imperial Valley Oakland Raiders fan.

For years Raiders fans in the Valley had no place to turn to get away from the blue and gold lightning bolts of the San Diego Chargers, or any other NFL team, for that matter.

But for two years Raiders fans have had a sanctuary where they could be one with their brethren in the Imperial Valley Raiders Booster Club.


Now entering its third year, the local Raiders club is more than 200 members strong and is the only officially sanctioned Raider club in the Valley.

Open to anyone and everyone who bleeds silver and black, the club is the brainchild of Brawley Police Officer Chris Eaton.

Originally from Sacramento, Eaton established the club two years ago, not merely as something to do but as his right as a Raiders fan.

"When I lived in Sacramento I was a member of the club up there. Then when I moved I was a member of the club in San Diego," said Eaton, the club's president. "A few years ago I started talking to a couple of my friends about starting a club down here. So we contacted the Raiders about getting sanctioned to be an official club and it happened."

When the club started there was only about 80 members. That number grew to 200 last year and this year membership has exceeded the mark of a year ago.

"In Oakland you're obviously going to have the biggest fan base. But I think we have a tremendous Raider following in Southern California," said Eaton. "I've been to other (Raider) clubs in California and I think per capita, we have the most members in our club, outside of Oakland."

Exactly who are members of the Imperial Valley Raiders Booster Club?

Men, women, children, families, even a former San Diego Chargers fan who converted to the silver and black. All are tied together as a family of Raiders fans.

For most of his life Alan Lee of Holtville found himself rooting for the Bolts. From the days of Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow and "Air Coreyell" to Junior Seau, Rodney Harrison and even Ryan Leaf, Lee was a Chargers fan.

But two years ago he started tagging along with his friends to Raiders club meetings. After a year of meetings, where he was "harassed" for his blue and gold affiliation, he finally decided to take the leap of faith and convert to the Raider Nation.

"I don't know what it was. I just thought the Chargers and the Charger fans were getting lamer and lamer. These guys here are diehards and are rowdy, just like me. Charger fans are more mellow and laid back," said Lee. "The difference between being a Raider fan and a Charger fan is like night and day. When you're a Raider fan, it's pretty much kill or be killed."

While he is now a Raiders fan, it is Lee's former favorite team that brings grief to most local fans.

"When you're a Raider fan down here, it's kind of hard to associate with other fans because this place is full of Charger bandwagoners," said Victor Quinones of Brawley. "It seems like everywhere you turn you see something Chargers. But with the club, it almost feels like you're in Oakland. And you get to hang out with people just like you."

But for Quinones and his cousin Rene Coronado, also of Brawley, the club isn't just for hanging out with fellow Raiders fans and watching football. It gives the cousins and others involved a chance to catch up on family affairs.

With conflicting work schedules, Coronado said attending Raiders club meetings was about the only time he could see certain family members.

"When we come out here, it's like a reunion. I mean, I don't know how long it's been since I've seen (Quinones). So that's another thing this club is good for," said Coronado. "Yeah, we can talk Raider football, but we can talk about our families and everything else, too."

While Raiders football and other Raiders-related affairs are discussed at meetings, that is not the only dimension to the booster club. The club is involved in local and national charity work.

With Eaton, also the coordinator of the Brawley Police Activities League, much of the money raised by the Raiders club from barbecues and raffles goes to supporting local PALs. Money also goes to support the Tracey Biletnikoff Foundation for battered and abused women.

While the majority of the members in the club are men, the number of women members is growing. During meetings the first year, only about two or three women were present. But at Monday's meeting about 15 women made their presence felt, and there are dozens of women who are in the club.

"In all honesty, I wasn't really a Raiders fan until I found out about this club. Sure, I liked football, but I never had one team that I really liked," said Clarissa Bolin of El Centro. "Then I started coming to meetings with my sister (Stefanie Bolin) and I started to like the team.

"You know, at first there wasn't many women in this club, I think me and my sister were the only ones, but that number has definitely grown," said Clarissa Bolin. "Even though there's a lot more guys, I don't feel uncomfortable at all. I think there could and should be more women here, but I'm guessing they probably think there isn't that many women involved. But there is. And all of us are here for the same purpose."

And that same purpose is the silver and black.

If there's any phrase that personifies the typical Imperial Valley Raider Booster Club member, it's the words uttered by Eaton: "I'm American by birth, and a Raider fan by the grace of God."

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