Cal-Hi Sports Insider Blog

Quick-hitting, behind-the-scenes news and notes from the staff, including previews of upcoming content and events.

Gone But Not Forgotten (Preseason FB)

Here’s an easy to find and working list of key football players from the Class of 2021 who have already left their high school teams and therefore were not able to be included on any preseason or postseason all-state teams for the 2021 spring season. For anyone not correctly listed, email All of these players will appear on our final Hot 100 recruiting chart for the Class of 2021. For the last time we updated those player rankings (Gold Club post), CLICK HERE.

Napa’s Brock Bowers has reportedly already made a strong impression at Georgia and may be catching passes this fall for the Bulldogs from former Mater Dei standout J.T. Daniels. Photo:

RB Jonathan Arceneaux (Lawndale)
LB/DL Devin Aupiu (Pacifica, Oxnard)
ATH Anthony Beavers (Narbonne, Harbor City)
TE Brock Bowers (Napa)
DL Zach Buckey (Garces, Bakersfield)
QB Tyler Buchner (Helix, La Mesa)
DB Calen Bullock (Muir, Pasadena)
DL Akili Calhoun (Liberty, Brentwood)
LB Ethan Calvert (Oaks Christian, El Dorado Hills)
WR Beaux Collins (St. John Bosco, Bellflower)
QB Finn Collins (Alemany, Mission Hills)
OL Thomas Cole (San Luis Obispo)
QB Peter Costelli (Mission Viejo)
DB Jaylin Davies (Mater Dei, Santa Ana)
WR Cristian Dixon (Mater Dei, Santa Ana)
LB Jonathan Flowe (Upland)
DL Korey Foreman (Centennial, Corona)
WR Troy Franklin (Menlo-Atherton, Atherton)
QB Jake Garcia (La Habra)
DB Xamarion Gordon (Warren, Downey)
DL Ja’Quez Harvey (Locke, Los Angeles)
QB Kajiya Hollawayne (San Jacinto)
QB Jalen Henderson (Chaminade, West Hills)
DB Jamier Johnson (Muir, Pasadena)
DB/ATH Devin Kirkwood (Serra, Gardena)
OL Ryan Lange (Pittsburg)
QB Justin Lamson (Oak Ridge, El Dorado Hills)
LB Keleki Latu (Jesuit, Carmichael)
DB Mitch Leigber (Laguna Hills)
RB/DB Dyson McCutcheon (Bishop Amat, La Puente)
QB Miller Moss (Mater Dei & Alemany)
QB Ari Patu (Folsom)
AB Chayden Peery (Sierra Canyon, Chatsworth)
DB Robert Regan (Lutheran, Orange)
LB Will Schweitzer (Los Gatos)
OL Josh Simmons (Helix, La Mesa)
DB Jaylin Smith (Alemany, Mission Hills)
RB Julien Stokes (Grace Brethren, Simi Valley)
TE Jermaine Terry (Kennedy, Richmond)
DL Jay Toia (Grace Brethren, Simi Valley)
OL Jason White (Lutheran, Orange)
WR Xavier Worthy (Central, Fresno)

Salute to Leo Allamanno

The former Fremont of Oakland boys basketball coach, who won more than 400 games with most of those wins in the glory days of the Oakland Athletic League in the 1960s and 1970s, died this week at age 99. He’ll always have a special place in the history of Cal-Hi Sports and this website for what he did in the aftermath of Fremont’s greatest season in 1977.

As the 1977 Fremont of Oakland boys basketball team was looking like it might have the best team in California that season, Nelson Tennis was in his early 40s, living in an apartment in San Francisco and was at a mid-point of what to do for the rest of his life. One of his passions at the time was to closely follow the best California high school football and boys basketball teams (other sports would come a few years later).

Former Fremont of Oakland boys basketball coach Leo Allamanno is shown at 2018 ceremony when court was named for him. Photo:

There were no newsletters, statewide magazines or hardly anything else at the time comparing and contrasting top teams on a weekly basis so Nelson would take time to personally write up letters and would mail them to the major newspapers. He’d use colored pens, arrows pointing to key statistics and tailored each letter to the person he was writing to. Some of the newspapers, especially in the Bay Area and the Sacramento Bee, thought the letters were so well done that they printed those state rankings. Nelson used the title Cal-Hi Sports.

If you don’t know by now, Nelson was my uncle and during the 1977 high school basketball season I was a senior at La Sierra High in Carmichael (now closed). We had one of the best basketball teams in the fledgling Sac-Joaquin Section for both 1976 and 1977 and I recall at some point in those years actually printing Nelson’s rankings in our school newspaper (of which I was sports editor) since our team had been ranked. I was also helping Nelson collect information for his rankings from our area and also would go down to the state library to look up information for him as he had already started compiling all-time state records. I knew I was going to college to major in journalism (choosing San Jose State later that spring) but wasn’t sure whether Nelson’s “hobby” would ever become something to get involved with.

With my own school having had strong teams, I became more hooked on following the Northern California and state rankings in 1977. This team at Fremont of Oakland was continuing to win in a league Nelson said was one of the best. Our team didn’t go that far in the section playoffs, but when I saw that our section’s championship team from St. Mary’s of Stockton was going to play Fremont in the first round of the Oakland Tournament of Champions at the Oakland Coliseum Arena (where the Golden State Warriors played) it was too much to pass up.

We didn’t even know how to apply for media credentials in 1977 so Nelson and I just paid to go in. He took BART from San Francisco and I drove up to Oakland on my own (only the second time I had ever driven that far from Sacramento). St. Mary’s was 28-5 (partly led by Laurence Held, a neighbor of mine today in Stockton many years later), but had no chance against Fremont. I remember the Tigers dunking off the opening tip and they were off and running. They won 67-47.

By the end of that weekend, the crowds in the Fremont rooting sections were going wild. The school itself was just a few miles away, which likely contributed to the enthusiasm. To this day, there’s only been a handful of head coaches we’ve ever heard being the subject of rooting sections, but at that event the chants of “Alleee-Mahhn-Oh” were frequent and loud.

The coach they were cheering for was Leo Allamanno, who had coached basketball and baseball at Fremont at that time since 1954. He was a World War II veteran and taught the players the art and ferocity of man-to-man defense.

Fremont captured the TOC title with a 61-38 victory over St. Joseph of Alameda (which had a young head coach named Mike Phelps who would later become the winningest in state history, a record later broken). Phil Barner led Fremont with 21 points. The Tigers finished 25-1 and for Nelson’s final state rankings he penned them at No. 1, just in front of CIF Southern Section champion Pasadena (which was 29-3).

Lester Conner was the sixth man on Oakland Fremont’s rock-solid, defensive oriented 1977 squad but went on to play in the NBA for several teams. Photo:

After the Oakland Tribune published those rankings, Allamanno looked into finding out more about the author. He contacted Nelson with the idea of honoring that championship team with a rally at the school and invited him. Nelson and I talked and I agreed to help (along with my dad, George) by getting certificates for the players and a framed certificate for the school.

Nelson was shy in front of people for all of his life, but once we got to the school he warmed up to Coach Allamanno right away. Coach asked if Nelson wanted to say anything. He didn’t but Allamanno made it easy for him and he accepted. As the students and others gathered in the gym and the excitement began to build, Coach continued to assure us it would be great. These kids in front of me were all my age or younger so doing anything in front of them caused a lot of nerves for me as well.

In the end, Nelson got up in front of the school and announced in simplest terms what the award was and that their school was getting it. The cheering was loud and all the players were very happy. All I did was read off some names. Allamanno essentially ran the show.

After that rally, a couple of players came up and thanked Nelson. Allamanno also bid us goodbye with encouraging words for Nelson to keep doing what he was doing and said I had a bright future as a sportswriter. Keep in mind who we were at the time and that Allamanno was the popular coach of the top boys basketball team in the state. It was just such a jolt of confidence for both of us that it certainly helped in our development of what Cal-Hi Sports (and Student Sports) later became.

That Fremont team gained in some stature in later years when one of its players, Lester Conner, became a solid regular in the NBA.

Several years later, as Cal-Hi Sports was launching a newsletter, Allamanno was one of the first to sign up. He loved to tell the story of how we once correctly predicted that two Oakland teams, Fremont and Castlemont, would play for the TOC title in 1979 even though it was a time when other section champions from around Northern California (including 30-1 St. Francis of Mountain View) and the state (most notably L.A. City champ Crenshaw) were also in the field. Fremont won the title in that TOC as well.

We’d still get to visit with Coach Allamanno for many years into the 1990s at CIF events in Oakland and Sacramento, but not after he got into his 80s and 90s.

In 2018, Allamanno was honored by his school with the naming of Leo Allamanno Court. He was presented a banner that showed all of his records and league titles.

The school wrote in a tweet this week: “The Fremont community mourns your loss today. Incredible life you lived, giving over 30 years at @FrickUnited and at Fremont. Thank you for your dedication to thousands of students.”

And to high school sports outside of Oakland, too.

New Guidelines: Advocates Speak Out

Not long after Governor Gavin Newsom conducted a press conference on Friday in which the highlight was the announcement of new youth sports guidelines, leaders of the Golden State Football Coaches Community and the Let Them Play CA group met with the media to provide their reaction. Football wasn’t just a focus for the leaders of the two groups, but Newsom also was joined at his event by NFL standout Arik Armstead of the San Francisco 49ers (Elk Grove Pleasant Grove) and NFL QB Josh Johnson (Oakland Tech).

Here are select comments from those speaking at the second press conference:

Justin Alumbaugh has been the head coach at De La Salle of Concord since 2013 season . Photo: Mark Tennis.

Patrick Walsh (Serra, San Mateo)
This is a massive first step. We’ve been overwhelmed with love and gratitude. We know we’ve been a pain in the neck (to Gov. Newsom and to chief of staff Jim DeBoo) but we knew if we pushed hard and were organized that good would happen. (The state guidelines) should be the bar. If that happens (with a county going against them), they will feel a lot of pushback.

Ron Gladnick (Torrey Pines, San Diego)
We’re excited to reach this place. What a great lesson for kids. We’ve all got to tell our players that when something is important is that you try. Also want to thank Governor Newsom and Jim DeBoo. It would have been just as easy for them not to listen to us. Even with all of the things they have to deal with, they still worked with us. We know that indoor sports isn’t there yet, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get there.”

Justin Alumbaugh (De La Salle, Concord)
I haven’t seen that many smiles from our players in 11 months. I would have never thought that three meathead football coaches could get ahold of them, but they met with us and they listened to us.

Brad Hensley (Let Them Play CA)
It’s not perfect, but we need to celebrate today. I’ve never seen a bunch of guys work as tirelessly as these guys. It’s not just the football coaches, but all of the youth advocates. On December 31, we were just a group of three people (on Facebook) and now we’re up to 60,000. Very early on, we vowed not to go at it from a negative standpoint. We stayed true to that. The job isn’t done. Know that the conversations are going to continue.

Vallejo On My Mind

Only a few days after watching the HBO documentary about former State Athlete of the Year C.C. Sabathia, it was time to pick up a recently published book about Vallejo’s legendary 1954 football team.

Sabathia’s documentary, titled: “Under the Grapefruit Tree: The C.C. Sabathia Story” has been shown on HBO several times since it was completed late in 2020. It’s a very personal journey that the longtime MLB pitcher takes the viewer on since it’s told in his voice in the first person. Co-produced by Major League Baseball, much of the story is on C.C.’s battle with alcohol and how he was finally able to come to grips with the personal loss that he revealed was at the heart of his affliction.

C.C. Sabathia was a basketball and football standout at Vallejo right along with baseball. Photo: Seth Poppel/Yearbook Library

The title of the doc about the future Hall of Famer refers to a grapefruit tree in the backyard of his grandmother’s house in Vallejo. That’s where the youngster would set up a chair 60 feet away from him and he would throw grapefruits at it.

I wish I could say I saw Sabathia pitch for Vallejo, but decided one day when the Apaches (now called Red Hawks) were playing in a CIF Sac-Joaquin Section playoff game down the street from our Stockton office at Billy Hebert Field that I would chance it that they would win and I could watch the next game. Unfortunately, Vallejo lost and that was it for Sabathia’s prep career.

There was the time, however, I saw C.C. play effectively as a power forward for Vallejo’s basketball team that reached the 1998 CIF NorCal finals and I did see him work out as a defensive end at a football combine. There’s just never been anyone like him as an elite California prep athlete before or since: A big-time power pitcher in baseball who also excelled as a power forward in basketball and two-way DE/TE in football. That’s why he was a fairly easy choice as our 1997-98 State Athlete of the Year.

It also was thrilling for myself and family when we were able to see Sabathia pitch in our only visit ever to Yankee Stadium for a July 2011 matchup vs. Tampa Bay. Going against another former all-state pitcher, James Shields (Newhall Hart), both pitchers were spectacular. C.C. struck out nine and had a complete game four-hitter (a clip of the last out is actually in the doc). Shields also went the distance with a four-hitter and the only run of the game in a 1-0 win by New York came on a throwing error.

There’s not a lot about Sabathia’s high school days in the HBO doc, but that’s okay since the important messages are from what he overcame off the field.

The Apache Gift: An Incredible Experience

As many know who’ve followed Cal-Hi Sports over the years, we’ve always thought of the 1954 Vallejo Apaches (9-0) as one of the greatest high school football teams of California history. They were still No. 2 in our most recent top 65 all-time greatest rankings and will be hard to drop any time soon.

Authors Dale Flowers and Ed Sowash were valuable members of the great 1954 team at Vallejo. Photo: Mark Tennis.

Two players from that team, Dale Flowers and Ed Sowash, contacted me late last summer to talk with them about a book they had written recounting the formation and domination of that team plus a recounting of all of the accomplishments of the players from after high school.

As a recap, Vallejo 1954 played in an era of no playoffs and just nine-game regular seasons in Northern California. The district in those days also was set up so that kids went to a junior high for ninth and 10th grade, then to the high school for 11th and 12th and then to Vallejo JC for two more years.

The book does a great job documenting those 9th and 10th grade years for running back Dick Bass and all of the rest of the players. Dick went to Hogan Junior High where the team there also didn’t lose for two years and he had games in which he scored five and six touchdowns. As it was, Bass averaged more than 14 yards per carry and scored 68 TDs in just 18 games in high school. It’s fun to just think about what he would have done in a different system and with even 10-game regular seasons — easily more than 100 TDs and perhaps an even higher yards per carry average.

There were some other fun facts that I learned about that 1954 Vallejo team, including that it was the first one in the history of the North Bay League to have male cheerleaders.

I also liked some of the very short, very effective speeches from head coach Bob Patterson that were recalled. He stuck his head in the locker room at halftime of one game in 1955 in which the boys weren’t doing as well as expected and simply said: “Sorry ladies I must be in the wrong locker room.” Then at the start of the 1954 season, when there were more than 100 kids who showed up for tryouts, Patterson gathered the group together. He asked if any of them were there who were not on the team in 1953. Approximately 30 raised their hand. Patterson then just said: “Thank you for coming, but we will not be needing your services this season.”

For more information on the book or to order it, contact McCaa Books in Santa Rosa (

CIF Responds To Illegal OC FB Games

There was much surprise last weekend when head football coach Eric Preszler at Capistrano Valley Christian in Orange County posted a photo with his team (shown in full pads and helmets) after it had won a game played against Calvary Chapel of Santa Ana. CIF Southern Section commissioner Rob Wigod then said Tuesday that there was a second game between two private schools that also had been played. Later Tuesday, the CIF issued a memo to its member schools about the two games.

Here is the text of that memo:

The California Legislature has charged the California Interscholastic Federation (“CIF”) with the responsibility for governing and administering interscholastic athletic activities for secondary schools in the state of California. (Education Code §33353). The CIF takes this role and responsibility seriously. As such, the CIF Federated Council, which represents the 1,605 school membership of the CIF, has enacted mandatory rules regulating the conduct of interscholastic competition.

On March 4, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom proclaimed a State of Emergency and issued multiple Executive Orders directing the citizens of California to adhere to specific health and safety requirements. Executive Order N-25-20 required all Californians to follow the directives of the California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”), which includes the CDPH’s COVID-19 Interim Guidance: Youth Sports issued on August 3, 2020 and the UPDATED COVID-19 Interim Guidance: Youth Sports issued on December 14, 2020.

The CIF and its Sections are bound by the orders, regulations, and guidance of the Governor’s Office, CDPH and the California Department of Education (“CDE”). The CIF and its Sections require and expect all of its member leagues, school districts, and schools to comply with the orders, regulations, and guidance of the Governor’s Office, CDPH, and CDE.

The vast majority of our members schools have complied with the State’s orders pertaining to high school sports, however, the CIF has recently become aware that several member schools have competed in interscholastic contests in contravention of the guidance of the CDPH and CIF rules. Any school determined to have participated in or to be conducting interscholastic athletics events in violation of the State’s orders or CIF rules may be subject to CIF Article 22 sanctions including, but not limited to, fines, suspension or dismissal from membership.

While the CIF understands that the postponement of interscholastic athletics due to the COVID-19 pandemic has had an adverse impact on all of our member schools and student athletes, the intentional violation of the orders, regulations, and guidance of the Governor’s Office, CDPH, CDE and CIF will not be permitted. Compliance by our member schools with the CDPH’s guidance regarding youth sports is mandatory, not discretionary.

State’s Best Prep Sports Archives Expand Once Again

This is the cover illustration from the seventh edition of the Cal-Hi Sports State Record Book.

As the Coronavirus pandemic has worsened exponentially in the state with high school sports on hold likely until March at the earliest (with some teams practicing in mid-February), we’re continuing our focus on the website to add as much historical context, state records, all-state teams and more into our archives section.

As it relates to the five sports we cover closely on this site (football, boys basketball, girls basketball, baseball and softball), here’s where things stand:

*All football, boys hoops, girls hoops and baseball state records are updated through the 2019-20 school year. Softball is still being worked on and should be completed for all categories in January 2021. All of those records can be quickly accessed through menus at the top of the site’s home page.

*The latest historical features we’re doing are for State Schools of the Century (So Far) and all-time, all-section, all-county teams. We have completed the overall State Schools of the Century rankings (based on a scoring system) for overall school excellence, girls basketball and baseball. Boys basketball, softball and football are still to come. For the all-time teams, we’re done with football, baseball was updated last summer from a previous list compiled for an e-book we did in 2014 and boys basketball will be next.

*Thanks to managing editor Ronnie Flores, the baseball and softball state rankings archives are now complete. The 2012 overall for baseball took some extra time, but was finished earlier this week. All of those rankings archives also can be accessed easily through menus at the top of the home page.

*Every final baseball and softball ranking is now up along with FB, BB, and Girls BB. We’re missing a couple of years in football for 1978 and 1979 that were done prior to weekly newsletters, but will continue to search through everything.

*Every all-state team for boys basketball that had a blurb written for every player is also now on the site. That’s significant because some of those players — like Oakland’s Damian Lillard and Lawndale Leuzinger’s Russell Westbrook — are now on Hall of Fame projectable careers in the NBA.

How To Get Started With Sports Betting

If you are thinking about getting into online sports betting for the first time, you are certainly not alone. Millions of Americans are waking up to this new avenue of entertainment. Sure, sports betting as a concept is not new, but people in many states across the country have had no legal access to sportsbooks for decades, aside from a trip to Las Vegas.

Thanks to legal doors opening to the sports betting market, more people are seeing sportsbooks as a form of entertainment. Long gone are the days when sports betting was seen as the preserve of the dedicated gambler. In the modern era, casual bettors are taking sportsbooks as a pastime and spending small amounts of money for the pure enjoyment.

As sports betting becomes more popular online, Americans are looking for the best possible websites and deals to wager on. A good starting point is to find some excellent promotions. By using deals like the pointsbet sign up code, customers can get more from their sports betting experience. In the following article, we will show you how to create the best sports betting environment.

Avoid Untrusted Sportsbooks

You may come across a bet that looks too good to pass up, or a bonus promotion that you simply must grab. Sometimes, those deals and stunning betting odds are just too good to be true. Like all types of business, there are some nefarious sportsbooks who prey on unwitting customers. The good news is there are many more venues that are reputable and handle your information and financial details with care. They also work on a fair system of gaming.

Picking the Best Bets

At the very core of the sports betting world is the bets themselves. As mentioned above, you need to avoid looking for just the best odds. Let’s clarify that… you do want the best possible odds, but you need to ensure they are genuine bets. An effective way is to read some reviews and choose a sportsbook that is fully legal and compliant with regulations. When browsing betting markets, look for sportsbooks that deliver the widest selection of bets with leading odds, giving you more to choose from and the potential for bigger wins.

Avoid Choosing a Sportsbook Based on Bonuses

Everyone loves a freebie, and sportsbook bonuses have a wonderful trick of making you think you are getting something free. That’s never the case and even the most generous promotions will have some kind of requirement you must fulfil. Usually, it’s making a set number of bets before the bonus is triggered. That does not mean bonuses are a scam, they do give you something… eventually. It’s important to not choose a sportsbook based solely on the welcome promotion or other bonuses.

Customer Care

Instead, you should choose a venue based on the things that matter, safety, security, ease of use, available bets, and customer care. That latter one is extremely important to the overall betting experience. Remember, you are handing over your personal and financial details to sportsbooks, as well as trusting them with your money. Being able to easily access customer service when you need to is something essential, and then being treated with respect when you are connected is equally as important. Look for venues that deliver informative and polite customer teams who are available on phone, email, and if possible, via live chat.

Two MVPs Who Were Calif Teammates

All high schools can boast of a legendary athlete, the one who made it all the way to the big leagues in their chosen sport. Every so often, however, a school produces that player who ascends to the elite level of superstardom, to be ranked among the best of the best.

Bill Russell would still have to be known as the greatest player ever from a California school. Will any of the current NBA superstars from the state one day catch up to him? Photo:

McClymonds High School of Oakland can boast of a feat that certainly stands out in the crowd. From 1950-52, the Oakland school boasted of two sensational athletes who would go on to history-making, Hall of Fame careers in their chosen sports. Their list of accomplishments included earning multiple MVPs in their fields.

From 1949-52, Bill Russell was part of the McClymonds basketball team. Moving on to play NCAA basketball at San Francisco and later to the NBA’s Boston Celtics, Russell would be selected five times as the NBA’s MVP. He’d also lead the Celtics to an astonishing 11 league titles. When Russell was with the Celtics, when it came to NBA betting, Boston was always the favorite.

Russell’s No. 15 jersey hangs proudly in a place of honor on the Wall of Fame in the McClymonds gym. The year after he graduated, a senior who would also go on to reach great accomplishments on America’s playing fields stepped up as team leader for McClymonds.
The scoring leader for the McClymonds basketball team during the 1952-53 season was Frank Robinson. Yes, that Frank Robinson, the only man to have been recognized as MVP in both of baseball’s major leagues, the National and American.

Russell Fondly Remembers McClymonds

Along with his 11 NBA titles, Russell also earned a pair of NCAA championships with the Dons and an Olympic gold medal for the United States at the 1960 Summer Olympics.

Among a stellar list of California high school basketball stars who reached the NBA, a group that includes Kawhi Leonard, Paul Pierce, Bill Walton, Russell Westbrook, Reggie Miller, James Harden and Jason Kidd, Russell is considered to be the best that the state ever produced.

He’s never forgotten the lessons that were learned playing under coach George Powles at McClymonds.

“The key to all my success was the friendship of my teammates,” Russell told “We looked out for each other, and that’s what you have to do in school. Look out for each other, because no one from the outside is going to look out for you.”

In 2008, when the Warriors won a state championship, Russell returned to his alma mater to personally congratulate the members of that title-winning squad.

“I was really lucky when I was at McClymonds, because not only did we have some really great athletes, but good, intelligent people,” Russell told the players, according to the East Bay Times. “I feel just as honored meeting you guys, because of the way you conduct yourself and because we come from the same place.”

Frank Robinson (right) played with McClymonds teammate Vada Pinson with the Cincinnati Reds. Photo:

Robinson Was Baseball, Basketball Star

The parallels between Robinson and Russell are remarkable and they all started at McClymonds. Russell was the first African-American head coach in the NBA. Robinson was the first African-American manager in MLB.

Robinson was a 14-time MLB All-Star. Russell was a 12-time NBA All-Star. In 1961, Robinson was named NL MVP playing for the Cincinnati Reds. Traded to the Baltimore Orioles in 1966, Robinson helped the Birds win the World Series that year and was selected AL MVP. He clouted 586 homers during his big-league career.

With a movement afoot among the Baseball Writers Association of America to remove the name of former MLB Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis from the MVP trophy due to his tacit support of segregation in baseball, Robinson’s name has been put forth as a logical replacement.

McClymonds was also a baseball powerhouse when Robinson was there. Powles coached that team as well and Robinson’s teammates on the diamond included future MLB stars Curt Flood and Vada Pinson.

On the hardwood, there were those in places of prominence in basketball circles who believed had Robinson pursued basketball as his chosen sport, he not only would’ve made the NBA, he would’ve been a star.

Frank Robinson could do it all,” former NBA coach Charlie Eckman once said. “He was All-NBA as a high schooler.
“Russell could play defense, but Robinson could do everything.”

Frank Robinson died on Feb. 7, 2019 at age 83 in Los Angeles. Bill Russell will turn 87 in February of 2021.

Salute to Rafer Johnson (1935-2020)

Photo: Southern California Special Olympics.

In the 40-plus years of following and covering California high school sports, we’ve met a lot of great people. The greatest athlete we’ve ever met so far (including late Uncle Nelson in that statement) would be Olympic legend Rafer Johnson, who died this week at age 86.

There’s a good reason why the only two Olympic decathlon Gold Medal winners from California are from the Central Valley towns of Tulare and Kingsburg. One was an inspiration to the other.

The first was Tulare High graduate Bob Mathias, who won the gold medal at the London Olympics in 1948 (the first one held after World War II). Mathias wasn’t just a grad of Tulare High, but literally went from high school to Olympic champion in a matter of months.

Mathias then went to Stanford and four years later in 1952 he repeated as Olympic gold medal champion in the decathlon at Helsinki, Finland.

Johnson was growing up in Kingsburg not far away from Mathias’ hometown and went to at least one of Mathias’ victory parades in Tulare. Johnson, like his brother Jimmy (an NFL Hall of Fame defensive back), was a multi-sport standout at Kingsburg High.

Johnson began to gain notice for his own decathlon potential in just his fourth competition in the event as a freshman at UCLA in 1954. By the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, Rafer had earned spots on the U.S. team the decathlon and long jump. An injury knocked him out of the long jump, but he still finished second in the decathlon for a silver medal.

At the 1960 Olympics in Rome (which also featured boxer Cassius Clay and basketball player Bill Russell), Johnson achieved his greatest athletic victory with a close gold medal win over his UCLA training partner and great friend C.K. Yang of Taiwan. Their mutual respect after that competition should go down as the definition of great sportsmanship.

Johnson’s Olympic connection wasn’t done, either. He was selected to light the Olympic torch at the L.A. Coliseum to start the 1984 games.

Later, off the track, Johnson had some minor success in movie acting, but his most lasting legacy was being one of the founders of Special Olympics and he remained heavily involved in Special Olympics for many years.

Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver was the sister of President John F. Kennedy and U.S. Senator Bobby Kennedy. Johnson was working with the presidential campaign of Bobby Kennedy in 1968 and was shuffling through a crowd at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after the California primary when Kennedy was shot. Johnson helped wrestle the shooter, Sirhan Sirhan, immediately after seeing his friend fall. He later found the gun used in the shooting in his jacket pocket.

Details of the Bobby Kennedy assassination (he died the following day) were recounted by Johnson in his 1998 autobiography “The Best That I Can Be: An Autobiography.”

We at Cal-Hi Sports were sent a copy of that book with a note from Rafer since I was able to meet him several times in the early 1990s. That was when he was working for the Reebok shoe company and would come to CIF state championship events as part of Reebok’s sponsorship of those events.

Each meeting with Rafer was a thrill not just because of who he was, but because he always asked at least one question about how we were doing. I saw him at the Oakland airport once for CIF basketball and shared a cab ride with him to the hotel. I introduced him to my wife, Kathleen Moody, once at CIF wrestling in Stockton, and at least two CIF cross country meets, Rafer, CIF Central Section historian Bob Barnett and my uncle Nelson Tennis were able to visit for several minutes. Nelson was genuinely thrilled to be able to meet someone like Rafer Johnson through the state record book he began. He told me once he never thought something like that could happen.

Johnson is survived by his wife Betsy and his children, Jennifer Johnson and Josh Johnson.

For anyone wishing to make a donation to Special Olympics in honor of Rafer’s life, CLICK HERE.

Good Idea: Personalized Baseball Gifts

Baseball is a very popular sport in North America. Therefore, if you’re thinking of finding the perfect gift for a sports fan, a personalized gift is undoubtedly the way to go. This is because, with personalization, a gift becomes a lot more memorable. The best part is that you can gift the sports fan in your life a personalized baseball gift for any occasion.

Are you still not sure whether a personalized baseball gift is the ideal pick for a sports fan? If that’s the case, here’s an in-depth look at why you can never go wrong with personalized baseball gifts:

They’re Unique

When looking for the perfect gift, one of your main goals should be getting a product that stands out. This is why a customized baseball gift allows you to achieve the pleasure of the recipient as they’re designed exclusively for a specific individual. When your loved one gets to see the gift, they’ll realize that you took your time to find the perfect gift and understand their tastes and preferences.

Show How Much You Care

Personalized baseball gifts are truly a personal way to show someone how much you care. This is because it shows you’re willing to go the extra mile to find the perfect gift. It also shows that you know and accept your loved ones for who they are and what they enjoy. As a result, this will help promote the development of a stronger bond.

With personalized gifts, you’ll be able to truly express your love that will last for years to come. If you have someone special who’s into baseball, getting them a personalized baseball gift could be what they need to show how much they mean to you. This makes it the perfect gift for your romantic partner who loves baseball as they’ll always feel your presence whenever they see or use the customized gift.

The Gift Will Be Appreciated and Treasured Forever

Personalized baseball gifts will always be appreciated and treasured by the recipient. Some of the best gifts are the ones that are personalized with the names of those who give them. You can also choose personalized gifts to come engraved and designed with special dates and special events.

You should always take the time to think about buying a personalized gift because they’re very appreciated by the recipient. They appreciate your efforts to search for a gift that stands out and shows you understand their preferences.

Sense of Ownership

Unlike other gifts that lack a personal touch, personalized baseball presents to give you a sense of ownership. This is because it either has your picture or your name, meaning that’s it’s obvious to everyone that you’re the owner. Your recipient wouldn’t experience such a feeling had you opted to get them just an ordinary gift instead of a personalized baseball item.

You Don’t Have to Spend Much

If you’re looking for the perfect gift for a sports fan and are on a budget, consider getting a personalized baseball gift. These gifts ensure your loved one gets something that they love—but at an affordable and reasonable price. It goes to show that you need not spend lots of money to find a gift that will be memorable and highly appreciated, something that a personalized baseball gift allows you to achieve.

Promotes the Growth of Relationships

A great present is one that would strengthen your relationship with your loved one. This can be anything from a baseball player ornament, a personalized bat, a baseball memory keepsake box, or personalized baseballs, league balls, and T-balls.

You can never go wrong by buying your loved one a personalized gift. This is because your loved one gets to see that, despite your busy schedule, you’re open to spending your time to try and find the perfect present for them. There’s no better way of proving your love for someone.

They’re Memorable

If you want a memorable gift for a friend or family who loves baseball, getting them a customized baseball gift is a perfect choice. This is because the individual will always remember that it’s you who gave them the present, even many years later. You should thus opt to get a personalized gift if your goal is finding a present that will be appreciated forever.


When looking for the perfect gift for a baseball enthusiast, you can never go wrong with a personalized baseball gift. The customizations in these gifts make them stand out and, as a result, are highly appreciated by the recipient.

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