Coaches big key in success of women's sports

May 05, 2001|By TOM RONCO, (Special to this newspaper)

ne hundred years of a newspaper does not mean 100 years spent covering a subject … for example, women's sports.

While it may seem women's sports and coaches have been around a long time, it wasn't until the mid-1970s that women's sports competed against other teams from across either the San Diego or Southern sections of CIF.

GAA teams were just high school clubs for girls interested in sports. They did fund-raisers, held meetings; some even sang Christmas carols at retirement homes.

And they played.

The advisers, Anne Wilson in Brawley, Shirley Parks and Ruth Boyd in Calipatria, Dorothy Varner in Calexico, Madeline Magin in Holtville, Geri Pittman, Joanne Lepere and Evelyn Moore in El Centro and others were girls physical education teachers willing to organize teams on a friendly basis to play other schools in volleyball, basketball and tennis.


There were no uniforms, no coaches' pay, and the loosely organized schools never considered themselves a league or played for any "championships."

Near the end of the 1950s and early '60s, some of the schools were growing and more competitive activities came into being. Drill teams, such as the Sparteens of Central Union High, under the longtime direction of Judy Lowe, emerged.

Also at this time, Ben Crotch appeared at the county Office of Education and encouraged what was then known as "the countywide fitness program" but in reality it was competition between schools in events resembling a track and field meet.

It was not until the passage of legislation known as Title IX that law guaranteed women equal access to sport.

Suddenly there was equal use of facilities; uniforms and coaches pay … but not right away.

Valley teams played in whichever league their male counterparts did. Locally it is important to remember Calipatria, Imperial and Holtville girls and boys competed until 1980 in the old Desert Mountain League with Eagle Mountain High, which closed in the mid-1980s and Needles High, and were members of the Southern Section of CIF, which started playoffs for girls in 1974.

Basketball has been one of the areas where Valley girls established themselves early. In fact, the first CIF-Southern Section Division 2A women's basketball championship game in 1976 featured not one but two local teams when John Dormann's Central Spartans defeated Nadine Grass' Brawley High Wildcats 45-39 for that first crown.

In those days there wasn't the big emphasis on moneymaking quadruple-headers at huge arenas for section championships, so CIF's only request was the game be played at a neutral site. Dormann and Grass agreed to play it at IVC before a huge crowd.

Grass would lead the Wildcats back to the championship game in '79 only to lose to Gahr on the road 50-48.

While no Valley team has since returned to a Southern Section-CIF basketball championship game, once the San Diego Section established Division IV in the mid-'80s the Holtville Vikings made five appearances in the first seven championship games.

Coach Mike Pacheco led his alma mater to three consecutive CIF titles in '88, '89, and '90 as the Vikes became the only Valley team to ever win a San Diego CIF women's basketball crown.

Pacheco would go on to win league titles with Central, Holtville again, and the past two seasons with Brawley. He may be the only coach to win titles in the Desert Mountain, Desert Valleys and Imperial Valley Leagues.

Tom Peckham would lead the Vikes, who won a section-record 13 consecutive league titles from '84 to '96, back to the SD-CIF championship game in '94 and '95, losing the latter game by two points in overtime.

Peckham was frustrated in two attempts at winning a San Diego CIF softball crown. With daughter Allison, the Division 1A player of the year, on the mound, Holtville lost the '92 championship game in eight innings 1-0 to Bishop's; he would lead the Vikes back in '95, only to lose to Francis Parker.

While Holtville made softball championship appearances in '84 under Sam Faulk, '85 under Paula Congelton and '99 under Mike Wahlstrom, the only section crown belongs to the Imperial Tigers.

In 1981, Abdul Mohammed's Tigers defeated La Jolla Country Day 1-0 for title. The next season, Imperial lost to LJCD in the title game under a coach more noted for his football than softball coaching, Dave Gross.

While the San Diego CIF record book is filled with local teams, only one Valley softball and volleyball team ever made it to a Southern Section CIF title game. And both of the coaches are now local administrators.

Emma Jones' 1976 Central Spartan softball team made the most of their appearance, defeating Miraleste High 6-4 on a hot, muggy night in Brawley, which served as the neutral site.

While Brawley has had arguably the most successful local volleyball program, the Wildcats only CIF crown came in 1979 in a wild final match. Barbara Henderson Layaye's team lost the first game of that match to Redondo High 10-15, then came back to win the next two games in overtime 16-14 to take the match two games to one.

Jones is now principal at Central and Layaye is superintendent of the Imperial Unified School District.

Yet when it comes to Valley volleyball coaching, no one dominated for a longer time than Calipatria's Sandy George. When the Hornets were in the Desert Valleys League in the '70s, with a student body 3,000 members smaller than the likes of Indio, George's teams still made the Southern Section CIF playoffs.

When the Hornets moved to the San Diego Section, they did so with a vengeance. The 1980s saw the Hornets reach the championship volleyball match seven times … yet the Hornets never won a crown. Ironically, once Holtville broke the Hornets' stranglehold on the playoffs, the Vikes would make four consecutive appearances and win three — two under coach Angie Guardado in '91 and '92 and in '93 under coach Patsy Gross. They were the last championship matches a Valley team has been in.

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