AP Athletes of Year From California

LeBron James of the Lakers (not from California) is the 2020 AP World Male Athlete of the Year, which tied him with California’s Tiger Woods as one of three who’ve won that honor four times. Photo: sportscasting.com.

Lakers’ fans had to be happy on Saturday with the announcement that LeBron James has been named the Associated Press World Male Athlete of the Year. That got us going on compiling a list of the all-time male and female athletes of the year who are from California high schools. It has only been one year for the last male, but it’s been awhile for the last female.



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(Since 1931)

Barry Bonds is shown as a Serra High Padre. Photo: @SerraSanMateo / Twitter.com..

2019 – Kawhi Leonard (M.L. King, Riverside) Basketball
2011 – Aaron Rodgers (Pleasant Valley, Chico) Football
2009 – Jimmie Johnson
(Granite Hills, El Cajon) Auto Racing
2007 – Tom Brady (Serra, San Mateo) Football
2006 – Tiger Woods (Western, Anaheim) Golf
2001 – Barry Bonds (Serra, San Mateo) Baseball
2000 – Tiger Woods (Western, Anaheim) Golf
1999 – Tiger Woods (Western, Anaheim) Golf
1998 – Mark McGwire (Damien, La Verne) Baseball
1997 – Tiger Woods (Western, Anaheim) Golf
1979 – Willie Stargell (Encinal, Alameda) Baseball
1975 – Fred Lynn (El Monte) Baseball
1973 – O.J. Simpson (Galileo, San Francisco) Football
1972 – Mark Spitz (Santa Clara) Swimming
1969 – Tom Seaver (Fresno) Baseball
1966 – Frank Robinson
(McClymonds, Oakland) Baseball
1964 – Don Schollander (Santa Clara) Swimming
1960 – Rafer Johnson (Kingsburg) Track & Field
1957 – Ted Williams (Hoover, San Diego) Baseball
1952 – Bob Mathias (Tulare) Track & Field
1946 – Glenn Davis (Bonita, La Verne) Football
1941 – Joe DiMaggio (Galileo, San Francisco) Baseball
1938 – Don Budge (University, Oakland) Tennis
1937 – Don Budge (University, Oakland) Tennis

Notes: LeBron James winning for the fourth time for 2020 moves him into a tie with California’s Tiger Woods along with cycling’s Lance Armstrong for the most since the honor was first voted on in 1931. Armstrong, of course, has a major asterisk attached to his name for a doping scandal.
Some might scoff at seven-time NASCAR series champion Jimmie Johnson being a world athlete of the year, but it could be argued that one of the other persons who could have gotten the honor for 2020 would be Formula 1 race car driver Lewis Hamilton. Johnson did compete in high school sports while at Granite Hills. He played on the tennis team and was friends with eventual World Series baseball player Brian Giles.
It has to be noted that the AP world honor is voted on by a panel of almost all American sports editors and clients of the news service so it is viewed as an American sports selection. We’re pretty sure Europeans and perhaps more of a world-wide panel would vote this year for Lewis Hamilton.
Mark Spitz and Don Schollander combined to win 11 gold medals in men’s swimming in the 1972 Munich and 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. Including those two plus others in men’s and women’s swimming in the Olympics from the 1960s and 1970s, it is believed that Santa Clara High has the most alumni gold medals of any high school probably in the world.
While Santa Clara, Serra of San Mateo and Galileo of San Francisco both have two AP World Athletes of the Year, McClymonds of Oakland isn’t on that list with Frank Robinson and Bill Russell. The NBA Hall of Famer, though, has been Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year (for 1968), while Robinson isn’t on that list.


(Since 1931)

Billie Jean King hoists one of the many championship plates that she won during her legendary career at the Wimbledon courts in England. Photo: tennisfame.com.

2000 – Marion Jones (Thousand Oaks) Track & Field
1999 – U.S. Women’s Soccer Team
With Several From California
1988 – Florence Griffith Joyner
(Jordan, Los Angeles) Track & Field
1982 – Mary Decker (Orange) Track & Field
1981 – Tracy Austin
(Rolling Hills, RH Estates) Tennis
1979 – Tracy Austin
(Rolling Hills, RH Estates) Tennis
1973 – Billie Jean King
(Long Beach Poly, Long Beach) Tennis
1969 – Debbie Meyer
(Rio Americano, Sacramento) Swimming
1968 – Peggy Fleming
(Berkeley & Pasadena) Figure Skating
1967 – Billie Jean King
(Long Beach Poly, Long Beach) Tennis
1964 – Mickey Wright (Hoover, San Diego) Golf
1963 – Mickey Wright (Hoover, San Diego) Golf
1956 – Patty McCormick (Wilson, Long Beach) Diving
1953 – Maureen Connolly (Cathedral, San Diego) Golf
1952 – Maureen Connolly (Cathedral, San Diego) Golf
1951 – Maureen Connolly (Cathedral, San Diego) Golf
1949 – Marlene Bauer (Long Beach) Golf
1944 – Ann Curtis (Washington, San Francisco) Swimming
1939 – Alice Marble (Poly, San Francisco) Tennis
1935 – Helen Wills Moody (Miss Anna Head’s School, Berkeley) Tennis
1933 – Helen Jacobs (Berkeley) Tennis

Notes: Yes, it is true that after Sunday’s announcement that the female winner for 2020 is Japanese U.S. Open tennis champion Naomi Osaka it’s 21 years since there’s been a winner from California. It easily could have been Megan Rapinhoe from Foothill of Palo Cedro (CIF Northern Section) just last year for being the leading player on the 2019 World Cup champion U.S. women’s soccer team, but the vote instead went to Simone Biles for gymnastics. Five-time honoree Serena Williams, probably the greatest player ever in women’s tennis, grew up for five years in Compton, but moved to Florida when she was nine years old. Serena has won the AP world honor for the most times by a male or female.
Similar to Lance Armstrong for the men, Marion Jones’ accomplishments for women’s track are marred by a positive drug test. As a high schooler at both Rio Mesa of Oxnard and Thousand Oaks, however, she remains the most amazing girls’ athlete we’ve ever covered in our 40 years of following the state.
Two of the many players from California on the 1999 U.S. women’s soccer World Cup champion were Brandi Chastain from Archbishop Mitty of San Jose and Julie Foudy of Mission Viejo. It was Chastain who scored the iconic game-winning penalty kick vs. China at the Rose Bowl and as we were thinking at time even 22 years ago: “She’s a girl from Mitty. She’s not going to miss.” Foudy was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2007.
Most of the females on this list did not compete in their sports representing their high schools, meaning they’re from the time prior to Title IX. It has been widely reported that all of the ones above went to the schools they’re connected to. One who we couldn’t find a school was for Marlene Bauer, who was 15 years old when she was selected in 1949 for multiple championships in golf. She was in Long Beach, but school not known.
In more later years, more and more of the top young females in individual sports like golf and tennis attend online schools and out-of-state academies and do not attend more traditional comprehensive high schools.

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

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