1955-56: Islanders Square Account

Coronado paid off an old debt.

Hoover’s playoff advance was halted at the foul line.

Merrill Douglas ended a great run at San Diego High.

Lincoln showed that patience pays off.

–John Kovac was a football coach who happened to come along at the right basketball time at Coronado.

The dour Kovac without prompting often recalled that he coached future professional stars Lenny Moore and Roosevelt Grier when Kovac guided the Penn State freshman team.

Relocating to San Diego’s trans-bay community in the early ‘fifties, Kovac still saw football in his future but found himself directing the Islanders’ basketball program, with stunning success.

Kovac’s teams posted a three-season, 63-13 record with players who weren’t very tall but had roadrunner speed and hounded opponents with swarming defense.

Despite starters Charlie Love, Willie Dickey, and Roger Nix returning from the 21-4 squad in ’54-55, Kovac’s preseason appraisal was loaded with typical coach speak:

“We will be very short and not nearly as fast or sharp as last year.  We hope we’re not in for a long year.”

Coronado raced through the Metropolitan League schedule, finishing 12-0 and winning by an average score of 65-40.  They were 27-1 overall, losing only to Hoover, 49-45, in an early December game.

Love, Dickey, Nix, Jon Crawford, Steve Solier, and Dennis (Swede) Grimaud, none taller than Nix’s 6-feet, 1 inch, were the principals as the Islanders won their last 25 and the CIF Southern Section Southern Group (small schools) championship.

As one of the top seeds, the Islanders had a first-round bye in the playoffs, and then blew out Tustin, 75-55, with a 28-13 fourth quarter on the neutral Sweetwater floor.

Islanders and Kovac reached heights.

They sweated out  a 55-50, semifinals victory over San Jacinto, after having  built a 34-19 halftime lead at neutral Hemet High and then seeing top scorer Roger Nix foul out midway through the second half.

(“Neutral” courts, as mandated by the CIF, meant that host teams usually played at venues close to home.  Hemet was less than three-and-a-half miles from the Tigers’ facility.)

Nix and his teammates then surprised and silenced most of the 2,300 persons in attendance at Azusa College with a 60-54, championship game victory over Citrus and high scoring Billy Kilmer.

Winning on the road was the sweetener.  Citrus had beaten Coronado, 63-58, in the finals the year before as the visiting team at Point Loma High.

Kovac left Coronado and moved to Hoover as an assistant football coach in 1956.

Two years later the transplanted Pennsylvanian joined the staff at San Diego Junior College and became the Knights’ head coach in 1961.  Kovac started the new Mesa College program and posted a 30-14-2 record from 1964-68.

–Hoover won the postseason Beverly Hills Tournament title in 1944-45 when there were no CIF playoffs because of World War II.  The East San Diego squad had not gotten this far before or since.

Three days prior to their win over Coronado, the Cardinals came from behind in the fourth quarter for a  41-39 win at Long Beach Poly, giving them victories over two of the three eventual Southern Section champions in less than a week.

Poly won the Central Group (large) playoff championship, defeating Montebello, 74-63, after the Oilers had beaten Hoover, 69-57, in the semifinals.

Hoover was 11-1 in the City Prep League and opened the postseason with a 63-52 win at Point Loma over Newport Beach Newport Harbor, which had knocked out Helix, 66-60, in the first round.

Hampton (lower right) in fourth season as coach, had 25-game winners with this group.

Next was a quarterfinals test at Manhattan Beach Mira Costa against nearby Redondo Beach Redondo.

Hoover led, 54-47, with 2:45 remaining.  Redondo went into a press.  Rex Hughes scored with 46 seconds left to forge a tie at 54.

The Seahawks stole a pass as Hoover attempted to get the ball down court after Hughes’ basket.  Traveling was called on Redondo.  Hoover inbounded again and Bill Landry saved the San Diegans with a 25-foot set shot with 15 seconds remaining for a 56-54 win.

The Cardinals were eliminated in the semifinals before an overflow crowd at Long Beach City College by Montebello and jump-shooting Jerry Pimm, whose lovely floaters and 28 points kept the Cardinals at a distance and in foul trouble.

Pimm found the range firing behind screens as Hoover’s man-to-man defenders, trying to keep up with Pimm, constantly bumped into one of Pimm’s teammates, usually center Bill Doner.

The Cardinals outscored the Oilers, 46-40, from the field, but the winners, had an 18-point advantage at the free throw line, converting 29 of 39 attempts, 10 by Pimm, and 13 by Doner.  Hoover was 11 of 23.

Larry Elliot, Hoover’s all-City forward and second-team all-Southern California selection, scored 22 points, 14 in the second half, but Elliot fouled out, as did guards Bill Landry and Walt Baranski.

Landry actually held Pimm scoreless for the game’s first seven minutes, but acquired four personals during that time.

Hoover defeated Glendale Hoover, 57-53, the following evening for third place and a final, 25-5 record.

–Lincoln, 2-18 and 6-16 with virtually the same squad in its first two seasons, reaped the fruits of their sometimes painful development, which originated with games on the Hornets’ outdoor, asphalt court and in Municipal Gym.

Coach Don Smith’s club, with City League player of the year and three-year starter Bob Mendoza leading the way, were 10-2 in the league and 20-4 overall.

A 62-46 loss to Hoover in the first round of play was erased with a 56-43 victory before a packed house in Lincoln’s new gymnasium in the second round of CPL play.

The Hornets’ foray into the playoffs started with a 62-54 win over Grossmont.

The postseason ended quickly and with finality in a 71-52 loss to Long Beach Poly, led by the  Southern California player of the year, 6-foot, 7-inch Jim Hannah.

Two busloads of Lincoln students arrived at Long Beach Jordan at halftime of the second-round contest.  Poly led, 36-23.

The seemingly awestruck Hornets were outnumbered everywhere. Poly had more cheerleaders than Lincoln had players and the Jackrabbits’ bench was a long, green and gold line.

“We were like a bunch of elementary school kids (in that environment),” said Hornets guard Brad Griffith.

–Merrill Douglas, who succeeded Bill Schutte as head coach in 1940, stepped down at San Diego High and moved across Russ Boulevard to San Diego Junior College.

Douglas, who missed three seasons serving in the military in World War II guided teams that averaged 19 wins and posted a 223-86 (.722) record in 12 seasons.

The San Diego JC Knights won the Metropolitan Conference championship in Douglas’ first season.  He also served as the school’s athletics director and took the same position when Mesa College opened in 1964.

Olympians teams and high schools eventually would play football and compete in track and field and soccer in the Merrill Douglas Stadium on campus.

–Lincoln, 2-18 and 6-16 with virtually the same squad in its first two seasons, reaped the fruits of its sometimes painful development, which originated  in 1953 when the school had no senior class and games sometimes were played  on the Hornets’ outdoor court and in Municipal Gym.

Coach Don Smith’s club, with City League player of the year and three-year starter Bob Mendoza leading the way, were 10-2 in the league and 20-4 overall.

A 62-46 loss to Hoover in the first round of play was erased with a 56-43 victory before a packed house in Lincoln’s new gymnasium in the second round of CPL play.

David Washington, rebounding against Chula Vista, and Bob Mendoza (37) were veterans enjoying success at Lincoln.

The Hornets’ foray into the playoffs started with a 62-54 win over Grossmont.

The postseason ended quickly and with finality in a 71-52 loss to Long Beach Poly, led by the  Southern California player of the year, 6-foot, 7-inch Jim Hannah.

Two busloads of Lincoln students arrived at Long Beach Jordan at halftime of the second-round contest.  Poly led, 36-23.

The seemingly awestruck Hornets were outnumbered everywhere. Poly had more cheerleaders than Lincoln had players and the Jackrabbits’ bench was a long, green and gold line.

“We looked like a bunch of elementary school kids (in that environment),” said Hornets guard Brad Griffith.

DAVEY, DAVEY…?

No, not Davey Crockett, but La Jolla had a couple sharpshooters by the same name. Clyde Crockett led City Prep League scores with 209 points in 12 games, a 17.4 average. Crockett’s younger brother, Doug, had 94 points and a 7.8 average.

Mission Bay’s Leroy Brandt (15.2) was runner-up to Clyde in league scoring, followed by Jim Gilchrist (14.0) of San Diego, Lincoln’s Bob Mendoza (13.6),  Willie West (13.2) of San Diego, Bill Landry (11.7) and Larry Elliot (11.3) of Hoover, and Brad Griffith (10.8) of Lincoln.

Helix’ Gael Barsotti led Metropolitan League scorers with an 18.4 average in eight games. Chula Vista’s Bill Collins (15.8), Helix’ Ronnie Mulder (15.4), and Grossnont’s Lowell Raper  (12.5)  followed.

Doug (left) and Clyde Crockett carried La Jolla banner.

Prep writers of the day did not list scoring beyond league play and Avocado and Southern League scorers, such as Coronado’s Roger Nix and others, were not listed at all.

NORMANS DEFEND

Beverly Hills defeated Hoover, 45-42, for its second consecutive Kiwanis Tournament Unlimited Division title.

San Diego, waiting on several players still playing football, surprised Inglewood Morningside, 51-46, in the first round. Months later Morningside scored a 64-62 win over Beverly Hills for the CIF Northern Group (small) playoff title.

Mar Vista’s Larry Boyd, who earned all-Southern California second-team honors in 1954-55, scored 99 points in four games to break the tournament scoring record of 96 set the year before by Morningside’s John Arrillaga.

Boyd scored 25, but the Mariners couldn’t overcome the 19 each by Jon Crawford and Willie Dickey, who led Coronado to a 53-49 triumph in the Limited final.

ABOVE THE TREE LINE

Helix reportedly had 14 players on varsity and JV, standing at least 6-3.  The varsity measured 6-6 Bill Turpin, 6-5 Ronnie Mulder, and 6-5 Mel Robinson.

Tallest Metro Leaguer was Grossmont’s Lee Carick, a 6-9 reserve center.

Andy Dunn, a reserve forward at Point Loma, and Lincoln backup center Bill Beatty stood highest in the City League, each at 6-5.

JUMP SHOTS

Grossmont won a coin flip with Helix to determine playoff pairings after the teams tied for the Metropolitan League title…Lincoln topped the Foothillers at Hoover behind 20 points by Bob Mendoza and 14 by Brad Griffith…Helix led Newport Harbor, 17-12, after one quarter at Garden Grove High, but Ronnie Mulder was sidelined for long periods with 4 fouls…Lincoln’s first victory over San Diego in football or basketball was a 55-53 thriller in which the Hornets overcame a six-point San Diego lead in the fourth quarter…Mendoza’s two free throws, after a layup by Griffith, put Lincoln in front, 54-51, in the final minute…San Diego coach Merrill Douglas surprised Lincoln in the league opener with a zone defense that stymied the Hornets, 35-30…late-arriving football stars Willie West (guard) and Deron Johnson (center) were starters for the Cavemen…Escondido made 29 of 44 free throw attempts in a 65-59 win over Vista…the Cougars and Panthers committed 46 fouls in the 32-minute game …Coronado set an Avocado League points record in an 81-55 victory over Escondido…Helix posted the highest total in the Metropolitan League in a 79-50 conquest of Sweetwater…Coronado’s starters played all but two minutes in a 71-32 rout of Escondido…La Jolla’s George Graham set a City League Class B record with 33 points in a 68-46 win over Kearny…San Diego’s sophomore team, paced by Edward Lee Johnson’s 17.2 average, was 20-0…Vista played in the post-Christmas Banning tournament and Helix was in the Fillmore event…Chula Vista topped Bell Gardens, 50-46, for the consolation title at Chino…

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2 Responses to 1955-56: Islanders Square Account

  1. John Harper says:

    Noticed Billy Kilmer mentioned. Took a look at his Wikipedia and saw an interesting stat. Kilmer was born in Topeka KS and Azusa CA. AT & SFRR must’ve had an experimental high speed rail in operation or perhaps it was accomplished by using a Kansas built LearJet.

    • Rick says:

      Well, Citrus High was located in Azusa, so i guess the Atchison-Topeka and Santa Fe traveled along the U.S. 66 route (Azusa’s there between Monrovia and Upland, I think) and made a quick stop in one of those locales.

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