Using his previous experience as a chemist, Nelson Tennis realized in the early 1970s he could apply the detail-oriented, research-driven concepts of science toward the collection of high school football data. When Nelson’s nephew, Mark, was himself attending high school in Sacramento in the mid-1970s, he would ask Mark to look up information for him at the state library.
Nelson’s initial interest in high school football centered on the success of his alma mater, Nevada Union High of Grass Valley. In order to compare the Miners to other top teams in Northern California, he began taking frequent trips to San Francisco and Sacramento libraries to look up as much information on high school football as he could. In 1974, Nelson sat at his desk and wrote up a list of the high schools in California history with the longest football winning streaks.
Nelson’s hobby soon spread to collecting information from other sports and then the entire state. He quickly realized that statewide coverage was almost non-existent. In 1975, he decided to write up a collection of state football rankings. He made up the name, “Cal-Hi Sports,” to go with those rankings.
With the aid of his nephew, a weekly newsletter was created and it’s now in its 35th year of existence. Mark and Nelson then worked to create the first Cal-Hi Sports state football record book in 1981. It was during this time that Mark also was completing his journalism degree work at San Jose State.
In the 1980s, Mark and Nelson continued to operate the weekly newsletter and published several more record books. At this time, Mark continued to pursue a sportswriting career with free-lance work and a two-year stint as sports editor of the Tracy Press.
One of Mark’s primary free-lance writing opportunities in those years was with California Football Magazine and California Basketball Magazine, which was published in Redondo Beach, Calif. This led to a partnership that began in 1989 with California Football Magazine publisher Andy Bark.
Soon after that, Cal-Hi Sports became successful on many other levels. With Bark as publisher, Mark was able to concentrate on editorial operations while Nelson was able to concentrate more on record book updating. Four separate California state record books were published under Bark’s leadership and in 1991 Cal-Hi Sports Magazine was morphed into Student Sports Magazine.
The Cal-Hi Sports brand was later incorporated into two popular high school sports TV shows. The first was “Inside Cal-Hi Sports” that ran on Fox Sports Net in the Southern California market for several years. The second was “Cal-Hi Sports Bay Area,” which is currently airing in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Student Sports, meanwhile, became the longest-running national high school sports magazine ever with an 11-year run. Mark was executive editor during all of those years and became known for choosing cover subjects before anyone else, including LeBron James, Tiger Woods, Kerri Walsh and many others.
Just before the 2003-04 school year, Cal-Hi Sports and Student Sports were purchased by SPARQ. More of a training element was emphasized in the coverage and the on-line content platform was switched to Rivals.com.
Nelson never got to see the fruition of those efforts. He began suffering from the complications of bladder cancer later during that school year and on May 23, 2004 in Sacramento he died. Nelson was 67 years old.
After four years with Rivals.com (in which CalHiSports.com rose to No. 2 on the network in subscriptions sold among all high school sites ), the assets of Student Sports and Cal-Hi Sports were purchased by ESPN.
From 2008 to 2012, Cal-Hi Sports and the domain name “CalHiSports.com” were part of the vast ESPN network. The high school initiative at ESPN, however, was discontinued in September of 2012.
It’s been a long road and the journey is headed in a new, exciting direction. Those continuing to work on Cal-Hi Sports and CalHiSports.com content are excited about making the brand stronger than ever in Nelson’s memory.
If you are a parent of a California athlete, a serious fan of California high school sports, or just a fan of California sports in general, then CalHiSports.com is for you! You can’t get exclusive video, state records, all-state teams, state rankings and our own one-of-a-kind outlook on California’s top teams and athletes on any other web site or from any other media source.
You can get all of our exclusive content by becoming a CalHiSports.com Gold Club member. Sign up for a year and the online state record book will be part of your membership!