By Sondra Murphy
Renewing a football rivalry can be good for a small town like Ojai, but the return of Villanova vs. Nordhoff competition has also brought out an unpleasant side in a few people.
Vandalism against Villanova Preparatory School’s quiet campus in the early hours Friday morning has the valley talking about the spray painting of a statue of St. Thomas and other destructions perpetrated. Extensive graffiti insults referenced NHS and the football game and Villanova’s pool and football field were also damaged.
Sheriff’s Detective Mark Burgess said Monday that, contrary to rumors circulating throughout the community, the FBI is not involved in the investigation and it is not considered to be a hate crime. As many as eight suspects have been identified as participants in the vandalism and will be interviewed later this week. Details were not released pending inquiry.
“We were investigating the whole thing on Friday,” said Nordhoff High School assistant principal Susana Arce on Tuesday. “We’re letting the police take the lead because it is a criminal investigation. Today, the detectives are on the way up from Ventura. We do intend to see that justice is done. No one is trying to sweep anything under the rug. The school will act appropriately.”
Burgess said Villanova officials would determine what legal action is pursued. “It will depend on what the prosecution wants,” said Burgess. “We want to investigate kids who are possibly involved and see what their part is and then see what Villanova wants to do.”
Materials used in the vandalism were salt, manure, bleach and paint — -notably Nordhoff’s colors of blue and gold. Most everything had been cleaned up by Monday and no permanent property damage was reported.
“We were appalled by what we saw and ashamed that anyone from Nordhoff was involved in this,” said Arce. “I can tell you there are some very ashamed students and parents. We talk to the kids about pranks, especially around the end of the year. We tell them things that start off as kind of a joke can end up being very damaging. This is really ugly.”
The disappointingly puerile incident taints an otherwise healthy competition that culminated in the first cross-town football game in 33 years and brought the community together at Ojai Valley Community Stadium to root for their teams.
The type of paint used on the statue is proving troublesome to remove. “It looks like they used an oil-based paint that leached into the marble of the statue and the blue tinted into the marble,” said the Rev. Gregory Heidenblut, Villanova president. “It’s just a statue, but to us it’s very special. It could be compared to how we might feel if someone desecrated a statue of Abraham Lincoln.”
Nordhoff’s athletic director contacted Villanova Friday offering help in cleaning up the mess but, according to Arce, was told the Villanova campus staff had the cleanup under control. “It was a gesture of good will,” Arce said.
Heidenblut said that they were initially most concerned with the safety of students in light of the graffiti subject matter. Particularly upsetting to the Villanova population were the sacrilegious comments left about Jesus Christ and Jews. “If someone is capable of doing this, are they also capable of doing violence to our students?”
Security had been arranged for the 131-acre Villanova campus and school officials are looking into what broke down. Heidenblut said that they, too, are waiting for police to finish their investigations before deciding what action they would like to pursue. “On Friday, when we talked with our students, our headmaster handled this very well. We prayed for the students, faculty and families to start a healing process. The whole community is affected by this unfortunate incident.”
Still, Heidenblut is optimistic. “From the first minute, the olive branch was there between (Nordhoff principal) Mr. Musick and me,” said Heidenblut. “We’re thinking of ways to put this behind us now and how students can learn from this experience. I truly believe that good will come out of this. I hope that this will be a thing past and Ojai will never experience this kind of thing again.”