Two young coaches destined to become legendary in San Diego basketball lore arrived as varsity mentors at the city’s two prep powerhouses.
Rickey Wilson, a former San Diego High player, succeeded Lawrence Carr at Hoover and Merrill Douglas, a transplanted Montanan, took over for Bill Schutte at San Diego High.
The schools continued to be San Diego’s prime representatives, the Hilltoppers going 15-3 under Douglas and Hoover 10-4 under Wilson, but teams in the Metropolitan and Southern Prep Leagues commanded their shares of attention, although headlines were reserved for the war clouds that loomed in the West and the “The Battle of Britain”, being fought between the British and Germans in the skies above London.
San Diego and Hoover would join a 17-team super conference beginning in 1941-42 as the CIF attempted to separate large schools from small schools. San Diego, Hoover, and Long Beach Poly, were the only members of the Coast League.
Down to three teams since Santa Ana bailed after the 1935-36 school year and Alhambra after 1938-39, the Coast basketball season was shortened. The Hilltoppers and Hoover seasons ended this year in late January. The Metropolitan and Southern Prep were active through the end of February.
CIF commissioner Seth Van Patten often had to hustle to fill playoff brackets. Some leagues, notably the Metro, at the geographical bottom of the Federation, just didn’t want to be bothered. Records in the CIF archives showed only a four-team field this year.
Poly won the Coast, taking three out of four from San Diego and Hoover, but the Jackrabbits were beaten in the CIF finals by Glendale Hoover, 23-20.
A spirited, six-game Metropolitan League race ended with Coronado, Escondido, and Grossmont, each 5-1, tying for first place. Ramona ran the table with a 12-0 record to win its fifth consecutive Southern Prep championship.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
It took the San Diego news corps awhile to get it right with Ermer Robinson, the San Diego High star and future Harlem Globetrotter. He was known as “Irma” Robinson for the first month of this, his junior season.
Martin Payne, the sports editor of The Russ, San Diego High’s weekly newspaper, covered several games for The San Diego Union and was the first to ensure that Robinson was correctly identified, when Payne covered the Hilltoppers’ 25-19 league victory over Long Beach Poly.
–Known as the County Interscholastic Tournament, an eight-team event took place with games at San Diego High, Hoover, Municipal Gym, and San Diego State. Grossmont defeated Point Loma, 30-12, for the championship.
–San Diego and Hoover at the same time were in the Huntington Beach Tournament, which also included Coronado. The Islanders opened with a 46-7 victory over Laguna Beach as Bud Ingle scored 20 points. They were eliminated the next day by Ontario Chaffey, 22-17.
San Diego defeated Hoover, 24-15, for the Huntington Beach title after advancing with wins of 28-20 over defending champ Chaffey and 29-23 over Long Beach Wilson. Hoover was in the finals after defeating Whittier, 36-26, and Santa Barbara, 20-19.
San Diego was forced to give up the Huntington Beach trophy when Bob (Lefty) Felthaus was declared ineligible by the CIF a few days later for having signed a professional baseball contract in 1939, days before his 17th birthday.
Brooklyn Dodgers scout Tom Downey, under heavy criticism from local prep officials, said that he signed Felthaus after the player stopped attending school, his having dropped out of Hoover. Felthaus became a student again at San Diego and had turned out for basketball.
–“Irma” Robinson scored 10 points as San Diego, playing for the first time without Felthaus, opened the post-Christmas Chino Tournament with a 42-9 win over San Juan Capistrano. The Hilltoppers buried Huntington Beach, 38-13, but lost to Burbank, 30-20, in the semifinals. Poly won its second straight title, 34-24, over Burbank.
–St. Augustine lost to St. Mary’s of Phoenix, 36-27 in the Los Angeles Catholic League tournament. Hoover defeated Grossmont, 11-7, and Point Loma topped Hoover, 26-8, in finals of the San Diego High invitational for Class C and D teams, respectively.
WE’LL PLAY ANYONE ANYTIME
Army-Navy’s 34-33 victory clinched a best, two-of-three series against the Oceanside chapter of the Knights of Pythias. The cadets were not as fortunate against the so-named Vista Outlaws, who prevailed, 21-15.
Ramona’s 59-17 victory over Fallbrook represented the single-game scoring high for the season. The Bulldogs also defeated Julian, 53-26.
Julian’s Bud Farmer had the top individual performance with 24 in a 38-31 victory over Army-Navy and added 22 in a 30-24 win over San Dieguito. Julian’s 51-6 rout of Fallbrook, with Farmer scoring one point, represented the third, 50-plus game in the county.
San Diego’s season was over but Coach Merrill Douglas enticed Chino to come south a couple weeks a couple weeks later. Douglas employed only players who would return for the 1941-42 season, opening with a starting lineup of Ermer Robinson, Jim Warner, Ron Maley, Denzil Walden, and Gerald Patrick.
The underclassmen delivered a 32-15 victory but Douglas would never see them play together again. He would respond to a call from Uncle Sam before the next season and not return until the 1946-47 campaign.
ANYTHING FOR THE TEAM
Hoover’s Willie Steele set a record of 24 feet, ¾ inch, in the broad jump at the Southern Section track finals in Glendale in May, a few months after Steele served as student manager of the varsity basketball squad. Steele was awarded a letter by coach Rickey Wilson, as was B squad manager Monroe (Bookie) Clark.
Steele, who played class B basketball the season before, went on to win the national collegiate broad jump championship at San Diego State and was the 1948 Olympic gold medalist in the event, with an all-time best of 26 feet, 6 ½ inches.
BE IT EVER SO HUMBLE
St. Augustine principal the Very Rev. W.B. Kirk announced that the Saints had found a home and would join the Southern Prep League in the next school year, after free-lancing and scuffling as an independent since the school opened in 1922. The agreement was for one year, depending on the circuit’s ability to develop a schedule for eight teams.
Ramona, Julian, Fallbrook, Brown Military, Army-Navy, San Dieguito, and Vista were the other SPL members. St. Augustine’s games would not count in the standings and the Saints eventually joined the Southland Catholic League of the Los Angeles area in 1945.
SIGNS OF THE TIME
The U.S. census for 1940 reported San Diego County’s population at 289,348, including 203,737 in the city. Other “township” totals: Borrego, 90; El Cajon, 20,160; Encinitas, 4,473; Escondido, 9,487; Fallbrook, 2,308; Jacumba, 1,214; National City, 32,213; Oceanside, 8,191; Ramona, 3,384, and Vista, 4,091.
San Diego State, which would win the 1941 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics championship, drew a record 19,256 persons to 17 home games in the 1,800-capacity Men’s Gym. The largest turnout was 1,713 for Santa Barbara State, although the record was 1,907 for a 1939 game against the Broadway Clowns.
The San Diego High gym was packed to the rafters with an estimated 1,900 persons when Hoover upended the Hilltoppers, 32-17…seven days later San Diego won at Hoover, 32-17…Coronado’s Metro League co-championship was achieved despite Coach Hal Niedermeyer’s suspension of Bud Ingle, the Metro’s leading scorer in 1939-40; Bill Hakes, and Al Galpin, early in the season…the three-team Coast’s all-league squad featured San Diego’s Bob (Lefty) Felthaus, Bob Carson, and Jack Maupin…Felthaus’ selection apparently was made on his reputation; he didn’t participate in league play…Hoover’s Rupert Crosthwaite, later well-known in San Diego circles for his ownership of a local sporting goods store, made second team….