For most individuals, it’s impossible to grasp all that they’ve done in their lives. For Nelson Tennis, who lived from 1936 until he died due to complications of cancer in 2004, it’s much easier.
Nelson never married and did not have children. He was close to his brother and sister and to his nephews (one was current Cal-Hi Sports Publisher Mark Tennis) and niece, but it is not a large family by any definition.
For more than 30 years, Nelson’s life was dominated by compiling California high school sports record lists. He did much more than that, such as found Cal-Hi Sports, which eventually became Student Sports, which was eventually bought by ESPN. But it was our state record book that was his true pride and joy. It was the major impact of his 67 years of life.
During the first 10 to 15 years he worked on the lists you can find here on CalHiSports.com, believe it or not, Nelson was not paid a cent for his efforts. It was clearly never about money for him. He even went homeless in the streets of San Francisco for six months in the early 1980s. In those months, though, he still went to the city library to do research.
Nelson’s California state high school record book, which was published for the first time in 1986, is arguably the best of its kind in the nation. There’s several reasons for this:
1. ATTENTION TO DETAIL
From the beginning, Nelson viewed himself as a collector of information and not someone who would necessarily edit that information. He felt interpretation of record lists was up to the public. This is why he always added as many details to a record list that he could find, such as number of games each athlete or team played. He’d list people with unknown totals in notes and sometimes would include estimated totals.
Remember that famous Roger Maris vs. Babe Ruth home run list, in which an asterisk was placed next to Maris’ name? That would never happen with Nelson’s lists because every player would have number of games included. And any talk of expunging someone from a record list because they did something wrong would be completely alien to Nelson. That’s not the job of a record book compiler. That’s for the public to evaluate and debate. He did use asterisks and we still use them today, but that’s more for adding details about a record total and not adding any type of evaluation.
2. ADDING CATEGORIES
This isn’t just about including fumble recoveries in football or slugging percentages in baseball. Nelson was constantly looking for innovative, new categories, such as combo records for boys-girls basketball as well as baseball-softball.
It’s also about a category such as “Most All of Team’s Points in a Game” for boys basketball. Did Nelson know for sure whether 39 is the record? No, but he was pretty confident, based on all of his experience as a record book compiler, so he added the category, knowing that if there was indeed a total higher that it would be sent in by someone.
3. DEEP, DEEP LISTS
Nelson always strived to compile lists that would go 20 or 30 players in depth. To him, just going with a top five or top 10 wasn’t enough. He knew that some of these totals represented in many cases the athletic highlight of that person’s life. Cutting that person’s name just wasn’t right.
Nelson also knew that, other than the CIF Southern Section and CIF San Diego Section, no section record books existed. By doing deep lists, it becomes possible in many cases for fans or prep sports journalists to figure out those types of section or regional records.
A few years after starting this book, Nelson became good friends with hobbyists Bruce McIntosh of Rio Vista and Bob Barnett of Fresno. Bruce’s work will be the base of an upcoming L.A. City Section record book compiled by current Cal-Hi Sports Managing Editor Ronnie Flores, while Bob has published several sports-specific Central Section books.
As we were putting together the third edition of this book in 1993, Nelson did want to begin to pare down some of the lists as they were growing to 40 or 50 entries. Publisher Andy Bark disagreed, saying that every name was a potential customer, a person with whom Cal-Hi Sports could connect with. No name has ever been cut completely from the book.
Today, of course, with the proliferation of the spread offense in football, some of our passing lists are indeed getting almost comically long. We will eventually have to cut from the published version, but here online right on this website, we’ll continue our policy of never cutting out a name once it makes the Cal-Hi Sports State Record Book.
Become a Gold Club Member now and getting state record updates as they happen will be part of your exclusive membership. We also are working on getting all of the state record files eventually added to the site.