A ribbon cutting ceremony for the new California High School Football Hall of Fame was held last weekend at the Rose Bowl. It will be open for public viewing starting this weekend. A gala induction ceremony for all of the initial inductees will be planned for the spring of 2024.
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On an exceptionally hot Southern California day, many of the greatest high school football players and coaches in state history gathered at the de facto hub of football — the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena. California’s prep football history is vastly rich and “America’s Stadium” has witnessed the best football players from every level perform on its grass field for a full century. Now heading into its next 100 years, the venue has been renovated and equipped with the finest amenities, comforts and features that rival any modern construction. This includes museums and exhibits explaining the lore and glory of its gridiron past.
What better place would there be to accommodate a shrine to the great high school game for the entire state of California, its participants and contributors?
Saturday, August 26 saw the official ribbon cutting and dedication for the California High School Football Hall of Fame. Longtime and well-known KCAL television sportscaster and former AFL and NFL player Jim Hill hosted the event. An audience of nearly 100 friends, family, patrons, and media members were on hand. Prep greats present included Ronnie Lott, John Sciarra, Gene Washington, Dennis Smith, Anthony Davis and legendary former coaches such as Bill Redell, Harry Welch and Dick Bruich.
Cal-Hi Sports was fortunate to chat with the President of the Rose Bowl Legacy and three of the inductees to gain their feelings about high school football.
Legacy President Dedan Brozino focused on the effort to complete the project and its own legacy.
“After much anticipation, planning and thoughtfulness by a team of people, we are excited to open another great space at America’s Stadium for the enjoyment of our visitors,” Brozino said. “The space is an ultimate tribute to the rich history and tradition of high school football in California. Hopefully it continues to serve as an inspiration for future prep teams, as well as those across the state and the nation to learn and enjoy one of the most decorated, history-driven football states in America.”
NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott concentrated on the current environment for high school players and the challenges they face.
“Today’s high school student-athlete has much more advantages than in decades past,” said Lott, who is the namesake of the home field at his alma mater Eisenhower of Rialto. “However, there is more to deal with. As the landscape exists now, there is no infrastructure or support system to address the future. What if you don’t make it? Even if you do, what about life after sports?”
Lott went on to say that there should perhaps be some type of organization or even legislation to address all of the variables to support young men and women.
From a real heartfelt space, Lott described a common thread he and all of the other greats in the room possess: purpose. “We have all overcome pain and challenges in our lives and succeeded,” he said. “We chose to address the future — what matters — and leverage our skills for post career.”
Legendary Fontana High head coach Dick Bruich was at the helm of several prominent and highly successful teams that garnered section, state and national laurels. Vividly, he recalled how high school football was embedded in the fabric of the town’s community and the impact on its residents.
“Throughout my tenure at Fontana and later at Kaiser (also Fontana), the whole town shut down on Friday nights for high school football,” said Bruich, whose son, Kurt, won his 200th game last season while coaching at Citrus Valley of Redlands. “That was the spot for thousands to be. We were a blue-collar town with a steel mill and when it closed, 10,000 people lost their job. We were the only things that still kept everyone together.”
Another prominent head coach, Harry Welch, discussed the leadership development process. Welch is the only coach to ever lead three different schools to CIF State championships, beginning in 2006 for Canyon (Canyon Country). His later titles came at St. Margaret’s (SJ Capistrano) and Santa Margarita (Rancho SM).
“Be you,” Welch said. “Do not focus on winning a state championship. Rather, focus on daily excellence. The key is to do the little things and do them well.
“The proudest part of my coaching career is the outstanding men that I helped develop. They have gone on to be successes in may areas — corporate CEOs, leaders in society, military academy graduates and more. Winning is a false goal. It’s a misinterpretation of success. Success is the best you can be each day.”
NFL and CFL great Warren Moon was the keynote speaker on behalf of the inductees present at the event. He reflected on his desire as a young athlete from Los Angeles dreaming of playing in the Rose Bowl.
“This is where I wanted to play,” said Moon, a graduated of Hamilton High (Los Angeles).
In late December, 2021 the nonprofit Rose Bowl Legacy Foundation announced the receipt of two major “leadership” pledges to be utilized as the base for the formation of the California High School Football Hall of Fame. The generous donations were received from two prominent Southern California philanthropists and business leaders — Brian Panish and Mickey Segal. Philanthropist and enthusiastic supporter Brian Kennedy provided another significant donation. The Foundation collaborated with the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), the National Football Foundation, the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Rose Bowl Stadium to forge a cohesive partnership.
The group’s objective is succinct: to honor the history, quality, and overall impact of players, coaches, and integral moments that have shaped the landscape of high school football in the state of California.
The next step was the formation of a committee that began the selection process. Nominations were received from various sources, including a large number of them from Cal-Hi Sports. The committee had a daunting task of selecting the first admission class among the hundreds of viable candidates. Ultimately, the inaugural class was announced in mid August last year — 100 players and 13 coaches.
Originally, the Hall of Fame was to open in late 2022. Known as “America’s Stadium,” the Rose Bowl was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1987 and thus every step of the project had to be cautious and not disturb the original integrity. All decisions were reviewed and submitted for approval. The year 2022 was significant in the process as the Rose Bowl celebrated its centennial.
The footprint for the spacious museum is located between Tunnels 20 and 21 at the Stadium. It occupies one of the original 1922 stadium locker rooms. Every player and coach is represented there along with a chronological history of prep football in the state that has extended well beyond a century itself.
The new grand event is now scheduled for the spring or summer of 2024. The ceremony, slated to be on the stadium’s field, will induct the entire inaugural class.
Chuck Nan is a frequent contributor to CalHiSports.com, primarily for Orange County where he lives. Chuck also has authored a book “San Francisco Giants Fifty Years By The Bay” and is currently working on one about the now demolished Candlestick Park.