It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 10 years since we lost the founder of Cal-Hi Sports. In case anyone has forgotten, we’d like to remind everyone what Nelson Tennis did to chronicle the history of California high school athletics.
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Two days before May 23, 2004, Nelson Tennis lay on his bed and read off state baseball record updates to me as I sat at a computer in his apartment in Sacramento and input the information.
We didn’t know it on that day, but it was the last time Nelson would work on his pride and joy, the California high school state record book, which had been published five times until that point and would be published two more times (the last time in 2009).Nelson went to the hospital that night. We all knew his days were numbered due to bladder cancer, but I thought it was okay to head off to the Nike Football Training Camp at Stanford the next day. Instead, just as I was arriving at the camp, I got the call from my father that I needed to head home.
On Sunday morning of that weekend, literally a few minutes after I had arrived in Nelson’s hospital room, he passed away. He clearly waited until I got there.
It’s now been 10 years to the day since Nelson died. We wish the state record book that was so important to him had become an annual printing or that we’d been able to keep them all updated and posted on a statewide website. For various reasons (most beyond our control), that hasn’t happened. But we’re still working on it for this site and we’ll never give up trying.
It was in 1974 when Nelson first began collecting statewide information about California high school sports. He just decided one day to go through notes he’d collected on longest football winning streaks and wrote up a list. He realized such a list didn’t exist anywhere else and he was hooked. In 1975, at the urging of a Sacramento Bee prep sportswriter, he compiled state football rankings and coined the name “Cal-Hi Sports.”
I started working with Nelson when I was in high school myself at La Sierra of Carmichael (a school that closed in 1983). I would go to the state library for him and look up scores and stats. After I went to college at San Jose State, Nelson and I decided that a publication could be created based on all of his work. We had a lot of ups and downs, but eventually came up with a subscription newsletter approach that showed some promise as well as a wire service for media outlets.
We didn’t really break through until 1989 when we became partners with Andy Bark of Palos Verdes Estates. Andy was and still is a great wheeler-dealer and we were able to concentrate on what we do best. Cal-Hi Sports became a magazine for a time, which then morphed into becoming the Student Sports national magazine. We’re also very happy that the Cal-Hi Sports name lives on through the “Cal-Hi Sports Bay Area” TV show hosted by Robert Braunstein in the San Francisco Bay Area.
I don’t know what Nelson would have thought with all of our moves since his death, but I know I wouldn’t have made any of them without him, including the four-year stretch when Cal-Hi Sports and Student Sports were part of ESPN.
On this 10-year anniversary of Nelson’s death, we’d just like to remind everyone that the state record book he created would not exist without the 30 years of work he put into it. And there are some who have hinted that even some CIF state events, such as the football bowl games, might not have happened had not Nelson started Cal-Hi Sports and a legitimate state rankings system.