We first wrote up this feature five years ago and have updated with different photos and updated information. The premise is about what do you do when you’re from a school that no longer exists? These schools did exist and some thrived in various sports for many years. Cal-Hi Sports has strong connections to more than one. Here’s a look back at some of the most memorable in California history.
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Being from a closed high school myself, La Sierra of Carmichael, this has been a topic I’ve been interested in for many years.
During a recent visit to the Sacramento area to visit parents for the first time since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, I decided to take some time walking around my old school. It closed in 1983, but despite all of those years you wouldn’t know that ever happened. All of the buildings essentially look the same, they are just repurposed into such community programs like an art center, a playhouse and the California Montessori Program. The gym and baseball diamonds are still being used as well.
I assume most of the reason the place looks so good for being a closed high school is that the actual headquarters for the sprawling San Juan Unified School District are right next door.
My high school closed in 1983. On one hand, I’ll never be accused of favoritism in the rankings regarding my alma mater. On the other, it’s proven to be harder for graduating classes from closed schools to do reunions and other events (although Facebook definitely helps).
Doing a state record book and keeping it maintained (as well as helping with national record books) also can help keep the name of the closed high school alive.
In La Sierra’s case, a group of baseball players did something just a few weeks before the school’s doors closed forever that alums of the school should always be grateful for. It happened during a game against San Juan of Fair Oaks when the Longhorns scored 20 runs in the fourth inning on their way to a 27-5 victory. In that inning, three players – Todd Prangley, Tim Moore and Kurt Zalar – all hit grand slam homers. It’s a state and national record (most grand slams in one inning by one team) that still stands to this day. That La Sierra team also hit a fourth grand slam in that game to set another state record that still stands.
I also would be remiss not to mention the great teachers I had at La Sierra, especially Perry Williams for journalism. The best team the school had when I was there was in basketball in my junior year (1976 season). That team was in the NorCal rankings for a few weeks before going out in the section playoffs. The school was more well-known for being among the best in the nation in Marine Corps testing and believe-it-or-not rifle shooting.
Other than my own school, here are some other significant closed California high schools (updated since the last time we did this feature):
Aviation (Redondo Beach)
Closed in 1981. Known for boys basketball and all-time great player Paul Westphal (the 1968 Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year). First football season was 1957.
Brookside Christian (Stockton)
This school just closed after the 2019-20 school year. The Knights had a final basketball team that reached the CIF D4 state final (although that was due to Lincoln of San Francisco not being allowed to play in the regional final) and was scheduled to face Bakersfield Christian, but the event was cancelled due to the pandemic. Brookside also once played for state titles in football and girls basketball.
Camden (San Jose)
Closed in 1980. The basketball teams when Raymond Townsend (UCLA) was there were outstanding. A fun fact is that the Camden campus was built partially on an orchard that was owned by my great-grandmother. After the school closed, Valley Christian of San Jose began on the same location. Valley Christian later moved up to its beautiful hilltop campus where it sits today.
Closed in 1958 with beginnings in the late 1890s. Billy Kilmer, the first QB for a Washington Redskins team in the Super Bowl in 1973, was a star for Citrus in many sports in the 1956-57 school year and appears in our record book as the State Athlete of the Year. We also consider him to be the greatest Grid-Hooper in state history.
Commerce (San Francisco)
Closed in 1952. The Bulldogs, who we have playing football for the first time in 1951, had some strong teams in basketball and baseball. NBA Hall of Famer K.C. Jones went there. So did 1951 American League Rookie of the Year Gil McDougal.
Cubberley (Palo Alto)
Closed in 1979. Just before the school closed, big-time sprinter Bill Green broke the national record in the 400 meters with a 45.50 clocking. He also won in the state meet 100 but was disqualified in the 400 for running out of his lane. The Cougars also had an 11-1 football team in 1973.
Harry Ells (Richmond)
Closed in 1985. This school first closed in 1967, then was re-opened in 1971. Good thing it did because in 1975 the Falcons’ boys track team won the CIF state title. They also went 8-1-1 in football earlier that school year. Ells also is where longtime MLB standout Willie McGee went to high school.
Closed in 1952. We have to include this one just because my father, George Tennis, went there and was in the last graduating class. My late uncle and the founder of Cal-Hi Sports, Nelson Tennis, was in the second graduating class at Nevada Union. Nevada City High also closed in 1952. Grass Valley was the Miners. Nevada City was the Yellowjackets. Albert Ali (baseball, football) and Pete Daley (baseball) were two of the best-ever athletes from Grass Valley.
Miraleste (Palos Verdes) & Rolling Hills (Rolling Hills Estates)
Closed in 1991. These two schools, both longtime powerhouses in sports such as tennis and swimming, along with neighboring Palos Verdes were consolidated in 1991 to form Peninsula High of Rolling Hills Estates. In 2002, Palos Verdes re-opened. The Marauders of Miraleste had an 11-1 football team in 1973. The Titans of Rolling Hills had a 10-1 football team in 1969.
Montclair Prep (Van Nuys)
Closed in 2012, the athletic department was eliminated one year earlier. In its heyday, the school was often the choice for Hollywood celebrities to send their kids to high school. Alums include Michael Jackson, Khloe Kardashian and Frank Sinatra, Jr. Athletically, the Mounties were a small school football powerhouse in the 1990s. They had five 10-win seasons, in fact, between 1990 and 1995. They also had several all-state small school baseball players, including MLB players Brad Fullmer, Torey Lovullo and Russ Ortiz.
Mount Carmel (Los Angeles)
Closed in 1976. The Crusaders might be the greatest closed parochial school in state history. Football alums included Kermit Alexander and Marlin McKeever, both longtime NFL players. The basketball teams also were very good, including CIF Southern Section title winners for 1947 and 1954 and a runner-up finish in 1957. The first football scores we have for Mt. Carmel are for 1936.
Norte Del Rio (Sacramento)
Closed in 1982. The school shut down one year before mine in the Sacramento area. The Dons were strong in football and girls basketball. The late Don Rogers, an All-American at UCLA and on his way perhaps to a great NFL career with the Cleveland Browns, went to Norte. The Dons’ best football team was in 1967 (10-0).
Poly (San Francisco)
Closed in 1973. Remnants of the old school can still be seen close to Kezar Stadium. One football game in 1928 against Lowell reportedly drew close to 50,000 fans. It’s the alma-mater of Super Bowl winning coach George Seifert and NFL Hall of Famer Bob St. Clair. As late historian Bruce McIntosh noted in his files for 1973: “Polygon.” Like Poly of Sun Valley in SoCal, this Poly was the Parrots as well.
From being a Stockton resident for more than 25 years, I can tell you how important the school is to people who went there. Stockton High, which closed after the 1956-57 school year, is possibly the greatest closed high school in California, at least from an athletically historic point of view. In addition to winning six CIF state titles in boys basketball and swimming in the 1920s, the Tarzans also were outstanding in football. You can’t beat their all-time great nickname, either. And when you see other major cities in California still with their originally named high school, it’s just sad that all that Stockton High tradition was lost when Stagg High opened in the middle of the 1950s. The new campus simply just should have been named the same as the old one.
University (San Diego)
Closed in 2005. School was re-opened by the San Diego archdiocese in a different part of the county as current Cathedral Catholic. The Dons of Uni could also claim to being the greatest closed high school in the state (for sports). Alums include Luke Walton (basketball), Phil Mickelson (golf) and Barry Zito (baseball).
Other closed California high schools (listed with year it closed):
Awalt (Mountain View) 1980
Ayer (Milpitas) 1980
Bellarmine-Jefferson (Burbank) 2019
Blackford (San Jose) 1991
Black-Foxe Military Academy (Los Angeles) 1967
Buchser (Santa Clara) 1981
Capistrano (SJ Capistrano) 1963
Crestmoor (Daly City) 1980
Daniel Murphy (Los Angeles) 2008
Del Valle (Walnut Creek) 1978
Eagle Mountain 1983
Excelsior (Norwalk) 1980
Fresno Tech (Fresno) 1949
Fort Jones 1983
Heritage (Buena Park) 1997
Hogan (Vallejo) 2011
Junipero (Monterey) 1969
Kennedy (Barstow) 1977
Lasuen (San Pedro) 1971
Loretto (Sacramento) 2009*
Lowell (Whittier) 1980
Marello Prep (Santa Cruz) 1987
Marian (San Diego) 2007
Marina (San Leandro) 1980
Marshall (West Sacramento) 1977
McAteer (San Francisco) 2002
McKinley Boys (Van Nuys) 1952
Mercy (San Francisco) 2020*
Mission (San Gabriel) 1969
Mission (San Luis Obispo) 1969
Monte Vista (Whittier) 1979
Montezuma (Los Gatos) 1952
Mountain View 1980
Neff (La Mirada) 1980
Pacific (San Leandro) 1983
Pacifica (Pittsburg) 1976
Pater Noster (Los Angeles) 1991
Pius X (Downey) 1995
Peterson (Sunnyvale) 1981
Pleasant Hill 1980
Presentation (San Francisco) 1991*
Rancho San Antonio (Chatsworth) 1971
Ravenswood (East Palo Alto) 1976
Royal Oak (Covina) 1981
Sacred Heart of Mary (Montebello) 1990*
San Carlos 1988
San Dieguito (Encinitas) 1996
Serramonte (Daly City) 1981
Sierra (Whittier) 1979
Sunset (Hayward) 1990
University (Oakland) 1945
Ursuline (Santa Rosa) 2011*
Washington (Broderick) 1977
Wilson (San Francisco) 1996
Note: Not all private schools that have closed were put on this list and we didn’t include any that have re-opened.