1916: San Diego Hilltoppers Are National Champions

Follow the 12-0 San Diego High team, which won the Southern California title and was declared No. 1 in the U.S. by the National Sports News Service, as covered by Jack Darroch, “beat writer” for The San Diego Union.

Darroch’s view took in the inner workings of the country’s outstanding high school program and was witness to some surprising (in 21st century football dynamics) and interesting intramural politics that were part of the Hilltoppers’ memorable season.

Darroch saw it all and wrote about most of it.

Virtually forgotten but noted here were the  five other  football-playing squads in the County: Escondido, National City (Sweetwater), Coronado, Army-Navy, and the  San Diego High reserves, known as the “Seconds.”

Fallbrook, Ramona, and Julian did not field teams.

Aug. 28—On the first day of school and of practice (San Diego High opened two to three weeks ahead of other highs in Southern California) Hilltoppers coach Clarence (Nibs) Price revealed that he would “probably play in the style used by Harvard University” in 1915.

“Harvard’s offense began with the kicking formation, which forced the defense to draw back in preparation for the kick and that opened possibilities for the end run or forward pass,” Darroch wrote.

The 26-year-old Price built a winner at San Diego and went with the Harvard offense.

Price utilized Harvard offense.

Price finished the initial workout by sending the team on a short run around the City Stadium field and then through a session of “falling on the ball”.  The runways and landing pits for track and field were full of sawdust and useful for this exercise.

The team will be much lighter than last year, but faster, said manager Ralph Noisat, a student at the school.

Sept. 4—Awaiting purchase of a tackling dummy, Price planned to work the team in “signal practice, calling of the plays, and falling on the ball.”

Sept. 5—With graduates helping, five coaches were assisting Price.

Manager Noisat was awaiting approval by the school executive committee to purchase a blocking dummy and bucking machine.

Sept. 6—Additional candidates brought the number at practice to 48.  Perhaps the increase in numbers was due to a rally in the auditorium yesterday.

Sept. 7—Coronado’s Ed Suggett averaged about 35 yards a carry in an intrasquad scrimmage at the Coronado Polo Grounds, home field for the Islanders.

“The boys are showing more enthusiasm than in former years, “said captain and kicker Albert (Dabs) Madden, who predicted the Islanders would field a “crack team.”

San Diego was attempting to sign rival Santa Ana for a Thanksgiving Day game, but the Saints said they wouldn’t come unless they received a percentage of the gate receipts, plus a guarantee.

Sept. 9—The executive committee turned down an offer from East High in Salt Lake City.  The Utah school wanted San Diego to foot all travel expenses.

Turnout at San Diego jumped to 68 boys, with others turned away because of lack of uniforms.  No more than 38 had reported in 1915.

Sept. 12—Lincoln High of Portland proposed a Thanksgiving Day game in San Diego but projected expenses of $800 made the game unlikely.

Manager Ralph Noisat reported that he worked all weekend constructing a bucking machine and installed a rubdown table in the gym.

Sept. 13—Finally, a game.  Los Angeles Manual Arts agreed to a $50 guarantee and 10 per cent of the gate receipts to play  in the new City Stadium.

Admission was set at 10 cents and a game with Coronado also was scheduled.

Sept. 20—William Buck sustained a broken nose in an intrasquad scrimmage.

The executive committee allowed yell leader Bert Picketts $4 to purchase a blue and white sweater so he would be “all dolled up” for the opening game with Coronado.

Sept. 21—A game with the USC freshman was scheduled.  The Hilltoppers covered travel expenses but would keep  gate receipts.

Sept. 22–San Diego High spent today on ”blackboard practice”, following a tough Thursday practice that was its last before the Coronado game.

Discontent was reported to be “rampant” on campus.

A game with Santa Ana was agreed to without the consent of coach Price. It was not until two days after  final arrangements were made that Price was informed of the game and then only indirectly.

Santa Ana played only for expenses in 1915.  “Weaker” thus year, the Saints wrangled a 20 per cent take of the gate, a sum of about $300.

When the 1916 game was proposed it was accepted by the executive committee with one dissenting vote.

End Brick Muller, a sophomore student representative on the committee, was among those who voted for the game.

Football star Bryan (Pesky) Sprott was elected captain of the swimming team.  Sprott also played basketball and would be the player-manager of the baseball team.

Sept. 23—San Diego’s starting lineup averaged 153 pounds to Coronado’s 142, but the Hilltoppers were without Brick Muller who injured his nose in practice.

Coronado advanced to San Diego’s 1 and 4-yard lines but couldn’t score as the Hilltoppers won, 19-0, in the City Stadium.

Sept. 25—Officials from the County Conference met to discuss a constitution and set up a schedule.  Teams were Army-Navy, National City, Coronado, Escondido, and the San Diego “Seconds”.

Most of the essential players posed for photo on steps leading to a campus building. Coach Price is rear, left. Sprott is third from right in front row.

Most of the essential players posed for photo on steps leading to a campus building, with four others in the insets. Coach Price is rear, left. Sprott is third from right in front row.

Sept. 29—Price gave each player a rule book and said he would  periodically quiz them on the different rules and plays.

Every play to be used tomorrow against Manual Arts will be diagrammed on the blackboard this afternoon.

Word from Los Angeles was that Manual Arts players had not been attending class, but were “living” at school and taking all of their meals there.

The Toilers toiled from 6 to 8 each morning and from 4-6 in the afternoon.

The executive committee  voted $15 for Noisat and Price to tour northern schools in  an attempt to schedule more games.

Sept. 30—A squad of 17 Manual Arts players arrived and were met by a delegation of Hilltoppers rooters.

Price put his players through a “mental drill and worked out every play in theory.”

Oct. 1–San Diego scored a 6-3 victory over the team from Los Angeles.

Oct. 3—Price announced he would work more with the Seconds team in preparation for its County Conference opener with Coronado and called off practice because of rain.

Noisat traveled North by “machine” with Frank Rudolph, manager of the Los Angeles High team.  Rudolph had visited the Hilltop in hopes of finalizing a game contract.

The Hilltoppers turned down a game with the University of Redlands since they had scheduled the USC Frosh.

The “Midgets” team  played to a scoreless tie with a squad from University Heights playground.

Oct. 6—Noisat signed a two-year, home-and-home contract with Long Beach. A  game at Pasadena also would be scheduled if the Bullpups would provide a minimum guarantee.

Oct. 7—County Conference play began with Coronado beating the Seconds, 27-0, and Escondido topping National City, 6-0, on Barr’s eight-yard run.

Oct. 9—Price kept the team practicing until darkness in preparation for the recently signed Orange squad, reputed to be the largest in Southern California and averaging 164 pounds.

Elmer Weitekamp and Werner Shurr, members of the Seconds, were promoted to the varsity, meaning they no longer could play in County Conference games.

Bob Frick, back in school, was declared academically ineligible by the faculty and would miss at least two weeks.

Oct. 10–Noisat wired $90 to Orange for expenses.  The Panthers were to arrive Friday evening.

Officers of the junior class announced that a Saturday postgame dance would be held in honor of the visitors.

Oct. 12—The Hilltoppers scrimmaged a team representing the Mission Hills community.

Oct. 13–A ticket, in the color of and shaped like an orange, was produced by the graphic arts department and was used for admission.

Walter (Dutch) Eells scored touchdown in championship game against Manual Arts.

Walter (Dutch) Eels scored touchdown in championship game against Manual Arts.

San Diego students did the traditional pregame, serpentine dance down city streets before arriving back at campus.

Noisat was allowed to spend $6 to replace the worn and  recently purchased tackling dummy.

Oct. 14—The question was, how good are the Hilltoppers, now 3-0 after an 84-6 rout of Orange?

Pesky Sprott scored 5 of the 13 touchdowns.  Bill Garber scored a touchdown and drop-kicked a field goal.

Oct. 17—A final account showed that San Diego barely made expenses for the Orange contest.  An estimated crowd of only 300 was on hand, including just 4 of the 96-member faculty.

A turnout of at least 580 persons was necessary for the school to cover the expected $145 in travel and advertising expense for the game with the USC Frosh.

Hilltoppers principal Arthur Gould switched the USC contest from Saturday to Friday so that many students, who claimed to having to work on Saturday, could attend the game.

Oct. 21—The Hilltoppers were outweighed, 170 pounds to 155 per man, but defeated the first-year collegians, 10-7, as Lincoln (Abe) Frick scored their only touchdown with a 24-yard pass interception return.

Coronado smashed Army-Navy, 87-0, before a “hilarious crowd that capered along the sidelines” at the Polo Grounds.

Ed Suggett scored 7 touchdowns.

Oct. 23–Frick was officially declared ineligible for the season.  Frick had given “insufficient statements” as to why he previously dropped out of school.

Oct. 24—Coronado coach George Perry was looking for a new quarterback.  His starter, Lyons, quit school yesterday to go to work in a local bank.

Oct. 28—Principal  Gould heard that many students were preparing to “ditch” school and take a special railroad car to Pasadena on Nov. 3.

Gould declared that any student going to the game would be required to remain in school after hours and double the time lost.

The principal then  switched gears after receiving permission from his Pasadena counterpart to play the game a day later on Saturday.

Some students reportedly “pouted” and were upset that Gould didn’t “consult” student manager Noisat about a change in the game’s date.

Oct. 28—San Diego Junior College, also coached by Price and located on the high school campus, defeated Fullerton JC, 7-6, in the first intercollegiate game ever played in San Diego.

Backup halfback Preston Perrenot, who also wrote about the team in the San Diego Sun, scored Hilltoppers touchdown against Whittier State School.

Preston Perrenot (left), who also wrote about the team in the San Diego Sun, scored a touchdown against Whittier.

On the same day San Diego High whipped Fullerton, 40-0, before an announced attendance of 800.

Bryan (Pesky) Sprott returned the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown for the Hilltoppers, who lost Karl Deeds during the game.

Deeds and Fullerton’s Johnson were ejected, Deeds for holding Johnson and Johnson  for punching Deeds.

Oct. 31—Two “female members” of the faculty voted against the eligibility of Jackson Draine, who transferred from a school in Chicago and had to repeat a class at San Diego.

Students repeating classes were not to receive credit, but school administrators determined that San Diego High came under a rule affecting all  California schools.

The rule was that a student had to pass only nine units of credit to play.

Nov. 3–Seventeen players, coach Price, manager Noisat, a writer from each of San Diego’s three daily newspapers, and a group of boosters rode on the “High School Special” to Pasadena.

Price entertained, playing ragtime tunes on his ukelele.

Passing through Oceanside the squad led out a yell for Les Gould, a “seaside Hilltop booster”, who waved as the train went by.

The train stopped in Santa Ana and team members awakened the city with a war whoop. The travelers then made their way to an overnight stop in Los Angeles.

Nov. 4—The Hilltoppers rolled past Pasadena, considered the strongest team in Southern California, 26-0, as Karl Deeds set the victory in motion with a 55-yard touchdown return of an intercepted pass.

Price’s team now was 6-0 and had outscored its opponents, 185-16.

Coronado  followed up its rout of Army-Navy with a 74-0 victory over National City. Ed Suggett’s scoring totals were not included in the game summary in the city’s three newspapers.

Nov. 11—Attendance was picking up.  About 1,000 were on hand in City Stadium as Sprott scored three touchdowns and Garber and Deeds 2 each in a 62-0 victory over Long Beach.

Nov. 14—Ralph Noisat was ousted as team manager for scholastic deficiencies.  Renwick Thompson, 1915 manager, took over.

Ed Suggett scored 4 touchdowns and ran for five points after in Coronado’s 53-0 win over the 21st Infantry team, which was part of an Army Regiment that protected the borders of California and Arizona and was stationed in San Diego.

Nov. 15—Noisat was reinstated.  Principal Gould cited an error by the committee on eligibility.

Nov. 18—Noisat was part of the game officiating crew, serving as head linesman as San Diego defeated the Whittier State School, 47-10.  State was a correctional facility for boys.

Nov. 28—Plans for the Thanksgiving Day game with Los Angeles Poly included marching in serpentine formation around the stadium and through  city streets, followed by a bonfire.

Students were seen bringing boxes to schools instead of textbooks.

San Diego's Pesky Sprott scores first touchdown in 41-0 victory over L.A. Poly. Players were issued jersey numbers for first time.

Pesky Sprott scored first touchdown in 41-0 victory over L.A. Poly. Players were issued jersey numbers for first time.

Nov. 30—The Hilltoppers’ 41-0 victory over L.A. Poly, before a Thanksgiving Day gathering of almost 6,000 persons at City Stadium guaranteed that Ontario Chaffey would be their opponent in quarterfinals of the Southern California playoffs.

Other quarterfinals matchups paired Manual Arts against Pasadena and Fullerton against Glendora Citrus.  The six teams led their respective “leagues”, which actually were districts based on geography.

Dec. 4—Price announced that the team would scrimmage only once a week through the end of the season.

Dec. 7—Price had a painted, white football for practice and kept the team on the field until “long after the moon rose over the hills.”

The executive committee voted to pay yell leader Bert Pickett’s expenses to Los Angeles for the Chaffey game, which would be played at the neutral Manual Arts field.

If at least 100 students go, Santa Fe Railways agreed to provide a special coach.

Dec. 8—Price installed an 8 p.m. curfew at the well-appointed, two-year-old Clark Hotel, located at 4th and Hill streets in downtown L.A.

San Diego High and Manual Arts players were on Jack Darroch's All-Southern California 11. Clockwise from lower left: Guard Cortis Majors, left halfback Bryan (Pesky) Sprott, right end Brick Muller, and quarterback Karl Deeds of San Diego. Fullback Jim Blewett and left tackle Brockman of Manual Arts.

San Diego High and Manual Arts players were on Otto Frisch’s Spalding Sporting Goods Company All-Southern California 11. Clockwise from lower left: Guard Cortis Majors, left halfback Bryan (Pesky) Sprott, right end Brick Muller, and quarterback Karl Deeds of San Diego. Fullback Jim Blewett and left tackle Brockman of Manual Arts.

“The boys are in fine shape,” said Price.  “They are hard and trained to the minute and have plenty of confidence.”

Dec. 9—Playing what writer Darroch described as its best game of the year, San Diego defeated Chaffey, 21-7, before a crowd generously estimated at 7,000.

Pesky Sprott caught two touchdown passes from Brick Muller and Bill Garber drop-kicked a 44-yard field goal.

Telephone operators at The San Diego Union estimated they received at least, 1,500 calls from fans wanting the game score after the result was received in the Union newsroom at 5 p.m.

Dec. 12—Calexico was offered $200 in expenses, a larger-than-usual sum, to come to San Diego for a semifinals playoff.

Price wanted no part of a game in the Imperial Valley.  San Diego would have to leave two days later for a championship game in Los Angeles. The coach said it took a week to recover from a road game.

Sprott sustained  a sore neck against Chaffey and would not play against the Bulldogs.

Money was taken from the football budget to pay for a Los Angeles physician, who was on duty at the Chaffey game.

Allan Sampson kept Manual Arts off scoreboard.

Allan Sampson kept Manual Arts off scoreboard.

Dec. 15—Calexico was averaging 25 points a game and was undefeated, but had played only four games.

Dec. 16—San Diego “easily outclassed the ‘desert rats,’” Darroch wrote of the 55-0 victory.

The Hilltoppers advanced to play Manual Arts, 47-7 winner over Pasadena and 52-0 conqueror of Fullerton,  in a Wednesday championship game at Washington Park, home of the baseball Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League.

Dec. 18—Sprott, idled about 10 days with a sore neck, retired for the day after an end run in practice, coming down with a bruised foot.

Manual Arts’ star player, Jim Blewett, was slowed by what was described as torn ligaments in his knee.

Dec. 19—Twenty-two Hilltoppers arrived on the noon train in Los Angeles and worked out on the turf, Washington Park field.  Sprott may play but would not start, said Price.

Blewett was said to be out of a hospital and would play with a brace on his leg.

Price established a 9 p.m. curfew for the team, which again was quartered at the Clark Hotel.

Local San Diego sportsman Mouney Pfeffercorn wrote an op-ed piece in the Union that was critical of the Hilltoppers’ football administration.

“San Diego already has beaten Manual Arts and should not have to play the game in Los Angeles,” said Pfeffercorn.

“The high school needs a graduate manager trained in different tricks of arranging games and selecting officials, etc.”

In closing, Pfeffercorn seemed to exonerate Ralph Noisat.

“Unfortunately, they had too many managers (on) the ‘High’ grounds this season and had they left Noisat alone he would have done his best to come out ahead of the game.”

Manual Arts quarterback Harold Galloway looks for receiver as San Diego defenders battle it out with Manual Arts in championship game.

Quarterback Harold Galloway looks for receiver as San Diego defenders battle  Manual Arts in championship game.

Dec. 20—Sprott did not make an appearance until the third quarter, with the score deadlocked at 0-0.

When Sprott took the field “the band of rooters (approximately 300 made the trip) accompanying the team from the Southern City let forth a battle yell,” wrote Darroch. “The din could have been heard from La Jolla to Dulzura.”

Sprott’s arrival “acted like an electric charge on the tired San Diego players,” wrote Howard Angus of the Los Angeles Times.

Sprott gained 23 yards in six carries, positioning Garber’s 25-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead after a drive that started at Manual’s 37-yard line.

Walter (Dutch) Eels’ 36-yard run in the fourth quarter sealed the Hilltoppers’ 9-0 victory before about 5,000 persons.

Sprott played enough to gain 53 yards in 12 carries.

Blewett was 3-for-3 for 26 yards passing, which gave the Toilers a first down on the Hilltoppers’ 13, where a field goal attempt was blocked on fourth down in the first quarter by San Diego’s Allan Sampson.

Blewett took a shot in the second quarter and did not reenter the game until the fourth quarter and, after a sack of six yards, was carried off the field.

Price nixed Noisat’s challenge to Kern County Union (Bakersfield) to play a state championship game on New Year’s Day and the Hilltoppers returned home and turned in their uniforms.



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