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100 years of the Valley's best coaches

May 01, 2001|By TOM RONCO, (Special to this newspaper)


For the better part of the past century this paper was published, competitive sport has been reported. There has been professional baseball and boxing, car racing of almost every type, as well as competitive shooting and pigeon flying, all here in the Imperial Valley.

Always, at least since there have been two high schools to play each other, there has been prep sports coverage, and while players come and go, coaches stay and build reputations, both good and bad.

We're going to look the good ones; well, at least the ones whose names and/or teams have made the record books.


In addition to focusing on prep sports, the scope of this retrospective is "team" sports, those where an individual player's performance could only help a team in winning.

We chose not to attempt to include sports where individual performances, say four first-place finishes at a track meet or a pin by a wrestler, added with other individual performances to calculate a "team" score, or tennis, where there is both team and individual CIF competition.

Southern Section CIF (SS-CIF) — Boys

While information is sketchy on the early years, boys prep sports in the Valley started in the late 1920s and early 1930s with football, baseball, basketball and track, with coaches and players generally moving from one sport to another throughout the school year in shorter "seasons" with less travel than current teams.

The first recorded Southern Section CIF champion from the Imperial Valley was the 1937 Holtville Vikings football team under coach Noval Walker, an alumnus. Holtville defeated Needles in the championship.

To get an idea of how unorganized athletics were in those days, there were three SS-CIF football champions in '34, two in '35 and none in '36 or '38.

After World War II, SS-CIF was swept into the growth that would see Southern California's population explode. When Central lost the football championship game under coach Wes Bradshaw in '45, it was for the "southern" half of CIF.

The following year, Central returned to the championship game under coach Keith McDonald and defeated Grossmont 20-19.

In 1947 McDonald again led Central to a crown, a co-championship with San Luis Obispo because a championship game was never played.

Bradshaw had brought a young assistant with him in 1945 named Bob Farrell. Farrell followed his mentor because he was tired of the living in the cold in Flagstaff.

Farrell would stay when Bradshaw left the following year. He joined McDonald to "coach" everything.

McDonald was the "head" varsity football coach and Farrell his assistant and head JV coach. Farrell would coach basketball and then track while McDonald became the baseball coach.

In 1950, Farrell headed to Brawley, where he would win 13 Imperial Valley League championships and Southern Section CIF southern division titles in '51, '52 and '54. He also coached Brawley's track and field and basketball teams.

In 1953 the Valley came close to capturing another CIF football crown when Gus Heddington led Central to the finals only to fall to Chula Vista.

The '50 featured many outstanding local coaches, including John Finnan at Imperial, Walt Harvey at Holtville, Ed Covington, who coached both pre- and post-World War II at Calexico and Lee Vogel at Calexico.

Typical of the times was Calipatria's Toby Erickson. A WWII Marine veteran, he became a one-man P.E. and athletic department for the Hornets.

For 13 years he coached football and basketball and in the spring would alternate between baseball and track based on what his players wanted to do. He then became an administrator but has remained active in Calipatria's youth basketball program to this day.

By the 1960s, Heddington, Farrell, Erickson and others moved into administration where their successful coaching qualities of discipline, organization and motivation were desired.

By the 1960s, the Southern Section of CIF had grown to where the San Diego County schools would withdraw and organize their own section. Further, Southern Section CIF now staged championships in four divisions.

The Southern Section small schools football championship was won in 1961 by Holtville under coach Don Turner, who would later coach at the fledgling Imperial Valley College.

The Vikings continued to be the team of the '60s in the Valley, garnering their second and the Valley's only two CIF crowns of the decade when coach Bill Wilson led the Vikes past Needles High, the same team they defeated in '37.

The last SS-CIF football crown to be won by any Valley school was the 1973 title won by John Tyree's Imperial Tigers when they defeated Paso Robles 12-0.

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