State Coach of Year: Arnold Zelaya

Arnold Zelaya participates in post=game press conference after his team at Mission (San Francisco) won CIF Division III state championship. Photo: Mark Tennis.

Historically great seasons typically generate numerous honors for the head coach and players. Since Mission of San Francisco ended its 35-1 season by winning the first CIF state title for a San Francisco public school, some of the attention (including a trip to be honored by the Golden State Warriors) has waned. But we’re now going to ramp it back up again by selecting Mission’s Arnold Zelaya as State Coach of the Year. He’s not the first State Coach of the Year from an S.F. public school but the first since 1957.

For our post on each of the divisional boys basketball State Coaches of the Year, CLICK HERE.

RELATED: Mission’s CIF title was great, but S.F. boys hoops has had teams that were No. 1 in California before. For column, CLICK HERE.

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It wasn’t just the historical fact of the Mission High of San Francisco boys basketball team becoming the first public school from San Francisco to win a CIF state title that made the Bears such media darlings in the Bay Area during their run toward that championship.

First, when the CIF Division III regional playoffs began, the Bears weren’t even the top-seeded team from San Francisco. St. Ignatius, which was the second-place team in the regular season in the highly regarded West Catholic Athletic League, was given that slot. And why not? WCAL teams have frequently made it to the CIF state finals, including Serra of Mateo, the D2 state champ just last season. Second, Mission was often quite under-sized when going up against its playoff foes, including a 30-4 Vanden of Fairfield team the Bears had to defeat on the road and then again in the state final against Villa Park, a back-and-forth matchup that needed overtime to decide.

Jayden Foston was one of Zelaya’s top players. Photo: Willie Eashman.

And as a public school from San Francisco, the Bears were a group of players who grew up in some of the toughest neighborhoods in the city such as Bayview-Hunter’s Point and Potrero Hill. This definitely wasn’t a squad that benefited from a significant summer transfer.

The one constant in Mission’s trek to the 2017 season has been head coach Arnold Zelaya. And for what he did in his work with the players (three of them were four-year starters), he’s now been selected as the Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year.

Perhaps longtime S.F. Chronicle prep editor and MaxPreps columnist Mitch Stephens said it best when Zelaya was named as the S.F. Metro Coach of the Year: “Combine “Coach Carter” with Norman Dale of “Hoosiers” and it sort of equals what Zelaya accomplished for the Bears. A father figure to many of the players, Zelaya used a tough love and “next-play” mentality to guide Mission to a 35-1 record and the San Francisco Section’s first state basketball title.”

While Mission as a team made CIF history, remember that from 1929 to 1981, there were no CIF basketball playoffs and in many of those years San Francisco public schools were among the best in the state. Zelaya therefore is actually the sixth from an S.F. public school to be State Coach of the Year (the list goes back to 1920). The last one was Jim Witt of San Francisco Poly for 1957 when that team went 28-1.

“These guys, I love them,” Zelaya told the El Tecolte newspaper. “African-American males, they have it rough. I can’t pretend to be them, but I love them like they’re Salvadoran, like me. It doesn’t matter. These guys know, they love pupusas.”

Even if the Bears had fallen short in that overtime to Villa Park, just the fact that for the first time since perhaps the 1990s that a public school and not one of San Francisco’s parochial schools (Sacred Heart Cathedral, St. Ignatius, Archbishop Riordan) was the best in the city was a major accomplishment. That bragging right was claimed by Mission when it defeated St. Ignatius in the NorCal D3 semifinals 64-54.

Zelaya has been coaching the team for 10 years. This year’s squad also won the Academic Athletic Association title for the third straight season and made it seven league crowns in the last 10 years. Zelaya also improved his career record to 207-87.

“I don’t think the history part has sunk in for them,” Zelaya told the San Francisco Examiner. “It will at some point, just like all of the lessons we teach high school kids. They might not understand it now, but this is a forever thing.”

Congratulations to Coach Zelaya and his staff of assistants and to his players.

Last year’s State Coach of the Year, Russell White, of Encino Crespi. Photo: James Escarcega.


(Selected by Cal-Hi Sports)

2017 – Arnold Zelaya, San Francisco Mission (35-1)
2016 – Russell White, Encino Crespi (33-4)
2015 – Chuck Rapp, San Mateo Serra (23-6)
2014 – Doug Mitchell, Torrance Bishop Montgomery (28-6)
2013 – Mike Haupt, San Diego St. Augustine (29-4)
2012 – Bill Mellis, Richmond Salesian (33-2)
2011 – Eric Cooper, La Verne Lutheran (27-5)
2010 – Dwan Hurt, Gardena Serra (34-2)
2009 – Steve Johnson, Rialto Eisenhower
2008 – Dwight Nathaniel, Oakland
McClymonds (32-0)
2007 – Harvey Kitani, Los Angeles Fairfax (28-5)
2006 – Peter Diepenbrock, Palo Alto (32-1)
2005 – Pete Newell, Santa Cruz (36-1)
2004 – Don Lippi, Alameda St. Joseph (28-6)
2003 – Zack Jones, San Diego Horizon (32-1)
2002 – Ed Azzam, Los Angeles Westchester (32-2)
2001 – Vance Walberg, Fresno Clovis West (31-3)
2000 – Frank Allocco, Concord De La Salle (31-1)
1999 – Clinton Williams, Oakland Fremont (28-4)
1998 – Jerry DeBusk, Rancho S.M. Santa Margarita (32-2)
1997 – Frank LaPorte, Alameda St. Joseph (31-4)
1996 – Russell Otis, Compton Dominguez (34-2)
1995 – Steve Filios, Mountain View St. Francis (27-8)
1994 – Hank Meyer, Carmichael Jesuit (31-7)
1993 – John Barrette, Palo Alto (31-0)
1992 – Tom Orlich, South Tahoe (30-1)
1991 – Tom McCluskey, Tustin (30-4)
1990 – Lou Cvijanovich, Oxnard Santa Clara (28-0)
1989 – Willie West, L.A. Crenshaw (25-2)
1988 – Reggie Morris, L.A. Manual Arts (27-3)
1987 – Gary McKnight, Santa Ana Mater Dei (31-1)
1986 – Mike Phelps, Oakland Bishop O’Dowd (31-5)
1985 – Stephen Keith, Glendale (28-0)
1984 – Ron Palmer, Long Beach Poly (31-2)
1983 – Jorge Calienes, Rosemead Bosco Tech (25-5)
1982 – Dick Acres, Carson (26-2)
1981 – Maury Halleck, Santa Barbara San Marcos (25-1)
1980 – Leo Allamanno, Oakland Fremont (24-2)
1979 – Dave Shigematsu, Oakland Castlemont (23-3)
1978 – Ben Tapscott, Oakland McClymonds (22-3)
1977 – George Terzian, Pasadena (29-3)
1976 – Bill Armstrong, Palm Springs (22-4)
1975 – John Mihaljevich, Palos Verdes (24-6)
1974 – Dan Risley, Elk Grove (30-0)
1973 – Tom Conway, Stockton Stagg (28-0)
1972 – Tom Cleary, Fresno San Joaquin Memorial (27-2)
1971 – George McQuarn, L.A. Verbum Dei (29-2)
1970 – Spike Hensley, Berkeley (32-0)
1969 – Gordon Nash, La Mesa Helix (29-2)
1968 – Ralph Krafve, East Bakersfield (29-0)
1967 – Frank LaPorte, Oakland Bishop O’Dowd (37-2)
1966 – Len Craven, Whittier Sierra (28-1)
1965 – Leo Allamanno, Oakland Fremont (21-2)
1964 – Bill Mulligan, Long Beach Poly (32-1)
1963 – Bill Armstrong, Compton (27-4)
1962 – Dick Edwards, Sacramento El Camino (23-1)
1961 – Paul Harless, Oakland McClymonds (19-1)
1960 – Bill Thayer, L.A. Fremont (17-1)

List continues back to 1920 in the Cal-Hi Sports State Record Book & Almanac.

Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of He can be reached at Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports

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  1. Magic
    Posted April 12, 2017 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    Congrats to Arnold Zelaya but can someone please tell me how Doug Mitchell of Bishop Montgomery isn’t coach of the year? After beating Sierra Canyon, Mater Dei twice & Chino Hills. Winning Cifss & state open divisions. Come on Cal Hi’re better than that.

    • Mark Tennis
      Posted April 13, 2017 at 7:17 am | Permalink

      We love Coach Mitchell and have honored him at least twice before (once overall, once for divisional). We have always spread these coaching honors to as many as possible. If we didn’t, Gary McKnight would be listed a bunch of times, too. No coach has ever complained in any of the five sports we’ve done for 30 years about this. In fact, they all have told us they like it that we do it this way.

      • Magic
        Posted April 13, 2017 at 10:55 am | Permalink

        1st…thanks for the reply. I can appreciate spreading the award around & I don’t think a coach would ever complain about not winning. I’m not a Bishop alum but I love HS sports and follow it & your site closely for over 10 years. This year however it’s a glaring omission for Mitchell, regardless of previous wins. Bishop Montgomery didn’t just win a division & state title, they won the OPEN division & state title. In a year which was the most competitive & difficult tournament in the history of the state. I’m sure even coach Zelaya would agree. McKnight btw should have his own award…” best recruiter of the year” Thanks again for the reply, love the site.

  2. Ronnie Flores
    Posted April 13, 2017 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Not just that Doug Mitchell just won the overall coaching award when he team won D4 state title in 2014. Just trying to spread the honors a bit. A bit different than honoring players.

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