Tustin officers, other PD personnel who were high school rivals now play for the same team

By Greg Hardesty

School may be out for summer, but at the Tustin PD, there’s always a bit of a high-school rivalry going on.

That’s because the agency employs 17 graduates from the two oldest local high schools in town: Tustin and Foothill. Beckman High also is part of the Tustin Unified School District, but has only been around since 2004, while THS opened in 1921 and FHS opened in 1963.

Tustin High Tillers (there are nine at the TPD) love to clarify that Foothill High School (there are eight Knights at the agency) actually is located in unincorporated Santa Ana, so technically it isn’t even part of Tustin.

Foothill High Knights bark back that their cross-town rivals are just jealous of Foothill’s location “up on the hill.”

And the near-constant ribbing goes on.

Tustin Lt. Bob Wright’s daughter graduated from her father’s alma mater, Foothill High School, on June 16. Wright, who graduated in 1981, noted that he walked across the same field 36 years ago — at Tustin High, which hosts all major FHS functions since it’s the only school in town with a football stadium. Wright sent out a text to his fellow lieutenants letting them know he was busy attending the graduation.

Capt. Jeff Blair

Capt. Jeff Blair, a diehard Tiller, responded by reminding Wright to be sure to clean up after himself since he was a guest at THS for the ceremony.

Blair is one of the TPD’s more vocal supporters of his alma mater, Tustin High. He has a red Tiller towel hanging on the door of his office.

“About a year ago, a guy who was quarterback of our football team in his senior year sent me a message to see if he could come by and drop it off,” said Blair, who graduated in 1986. “’Sure!’ I told him.”

Blair recently had another run-in with a former Tiller.

“I heard knocking on my window and looked outside and there was a homeless man,” Blair said. “He had heard I worked here.”

“‘Do I know you?’ I asked through the window.

Responded the unkempt dude: “Yeah, man, we went to high school together.”

Said Blair: “When he said his name, I knew exactly who he was. We played Little League together.”

Blair’s wife of 28 years went to Foothill High (class of 1986).

“We still talk smack back and forth every year when Tustin High plays Foothill High in football,” Blair said.

Indeed, the rivalry exhibited itself most vividly — and still does today — whenever the Tillers and Knights face each other in their annual football game, typically on Homecoming.

Foothill High School alumni Lt. Robert Wright, left, and Sgt. Sean Whiteley of the Tustin PD.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Chris Sidahmed, a Tustin PD cadet for nearly two years, graduated from Tustin High in 2014.

“The rivalry was something special to be a part of,” said Sidahmed, who also served for three years as a TPD explorer. “Football games and basketball games were the most hyped events. It’s one of the biggest rivalries in the Orange County public school system.

“Everyone attended the games — students, teachers and faculty from both schools — as if it were a Lakers/Celtics game.”

Wright said the rivalry was more intense three-plus decades ago, when Tustin was sleepier.

He added: “For the longest time, the only thing in this area were the two high schools. Tustin was a small town back then. That intensified the rivalry. Now, there are so many other things in the city — the Marketplace, the District, and with Beckman High now part of the district — the rivalry doesn’t feel as heated. It’s waned a little bit.”

But the barbs being regularly hurled back and forth inside the TPD remain sharp.

Tustin PD Officer Glenn Hollingshead, an alumni of Tustin High, class of 1986.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Officer Glenn Hollingshead, a Tiller, feels a sense of division in the rivalry. While he attended THS, one of his children graduated from Foothill and the other from Tustin.

While attending THS, Hollingshead had many friends at FHS when he played Little League, and recalled attending pool parties.

“The people who lived up the hill near Lemon Heights and Cowan Heights, they all seemed to have black-bottom pools and ponds with koi fish,” said Hollingshead, who retired from the TPD after a 27-year career in late June.

His parents would urge him to go to college, saying: “Don’t you want to live up the hill?”

Hollingshead retired in late June as a community impact officer. He and Blair went to pre-school together and both were members of THS’ class of 1986.

Tustin PD Det. Shonn Rojas talks about his high school days at Foothill, class of 1991, and the crosstown rivalry with Tustin High.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Property Crimes Det. Shonn Rojas graduated from Foothill in 1991.

He recalls the rivalry playing out in the form of good-natured ribbing in the TPD’s Explorer program, which Rojas joined when he was 16.

“I really didn’t get too involved in the politics of it,” Rojas said of the high school rivalry.

Major Crimes Det. David Nguyen, 30, graduated in 2005 from Foothill High School.

Like Rojas, Nguyen has seen the rivalry play out in the Explorers program. He recalls a few years ago ribbing an Explorer from Tustin High after his team got trounced by FHS.

“Whoever wins that game pretty much has bragging rights for the whole year,” Nguyen said. “It wasn’t a rivalry where you would get into fights — it was a fun rivalry.”

Sgt. Sean Quinn in front of Tustin High’s Sports Pavilion. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Chris Glover, a Tiller (class of 1994) and supervisor of the TPD’s CSI unit, went to high school with another current TPD Officer.

“We laugh and joke a little bit around here, but it’s not a huge deal,” Grover, 41, said of the rivalry.

Blair said early in his career as a patrol officer (he started at the TPD when he was 20), it would be common to run into former THS classmates on calls.

“Many of the people causing problems were in their early 20s,” Blair said. “Luckily, most people eventually ‘aged out’ of getting into trouble.”

Capt. Jeff Blair’s high school ID cards. Photo courtesy of Blair

Blair laughs at how FHS alums describe the school as being in Tustin Hills or North Tustin.

“There’s no such (places),” he said. “The school has a Santa Ana address.”

Touché!