1935-36: Hilltoppers Win, Cardinals Feathers Ruffled

It was an unlikely season with some unlikely conclusions.

–A rare playoff run by San Diego teams in the Southern California playoffs.

–San Diego High’s march through four rounds to win its only CIF Southern Section championship, along the way setting a school single-game scoring record…maybe.

–Hoover’s blitz of  Class B opponents in a sequel to championships in 1931-32, 1933-34, and 1934-35 but with no hardware and no satisfaction.


San Diego entered the season with four lettermen starters, Ernie Mallory, Melvin Hendry, Vance Randolph, and Lowell Lee, and picked up a fifth, Bill Patterson, who transferred in from Frankford, Indiana.

Alhambra and Long Beach Poly were favored to fight it out for Coast League laurels.  The Hillers were 6-8 overall the previous year, 3-7 in league play, and 0-4 against the Moors and Jackrabbits.

San Diego made it clear early  that it was vastly improved, sweeping Class A (a more preferred nomenclature than “varsity”) competition in the annual San Diego County Interscholastic Tournament that opened the season in December.

With Mallory leading, Coach Mike Morrow’s squad whipped through Grossmont, 48-13, Point Loma, 36-14, and Ramona, 54-15.

Alhambra was the visitor in the league opener and went home a stunned, 31-28 loser after trailing, 15-9, at halftime.  Mallory led the winners with 13 points.

The San Diego-Alhambra contest was played on a Friday afternoon at 3:30 instead of at the usual 7:30 p.m. because the Moors didn’t want to be headed home late at night on the Coast Highway with the threat of fog.

The 1935-36 Southern California champions pose in front of the Stadium peristyle, front row (from left): Ernie Mallory, Paul Shea, Roy Cleator, Vance Randolph, Billy Cesena. Middle row, from left: Coach Dewey (Mike) Morrow, Roy Rollins, Judson Starr, Melvin Hendry, Lowell Lee. Top row, from left: Bill Patterson, Bob Barth, Homer Peabody, manager Erickson.  Missing, Eddie Priesler, Herman Gatewood.


Travel and its various inconveniences always was a nemesis for the far-flung Coast League squads.


The visiting Hilltoppers led Long Beach Poly, 18-17, at the end of three quarters in their next game but couldn’t hold on and dropped a 21-19 decision.  It was the Jackrabbits’ 17th victory in the 19 games between the teams since they first met in the 1920-21 season but it also was San Diego’s last loss in the 15-1 season.

A 40-18 victory at Santa Ana was followed by a 29-23 win at Alhambra, setting up another big game with Poly at San Diego.  The Hillers prevailed, 29-25, as Vance Randolph, who would be lost to the team at midterm graduation, scored 11 points.

Randolph and acting captain Eddie Preisler were scheduled to participate in cap and gown ceremonies but opted to stay with the team and make their final appearances at Santa Ana.  A 37-29 victory over the Saints clinched the Hilltoppers’ first outright league championship.  They had tied for first with Poly in 1932-33.

With time before the beginning of the playoffs, the Hillers took on the touring Knapps Grocery Stores squad from Oakland.  The 51-25 rout was part of a doubleheader in which Coach Ed Ruffa’s B team, playing an independent schedule, defeated the Markel-Johnson Poultry House, 31-28.


Point Loma, 7-0 and Metropolitan League champion after a 24-16 victory over 6-1 Escondido, was the Hiller’s’ first playoff opponent.

The Pointers did not have a gymnasium (one newspaper reported the Pointers defeated their alumni, 38-28, “on an outdoor court made soggy by the rains”) and even used the Hillers’ gym in preparation for the game.

San Diegio’s Riy Cleator attempts tgo block shot of Point Loma’s Joaquin Qualin, while Hillers’ Lowell Lee (13) and Vance Randolph l(16) look on, with Pointers’ Moxon Mixon (40).

Pointers coach Joe Beerkle also bemoaned the fact that he had players who were “on call” to the tuna industry.

Beerkle said that if a fishing vessel came in, starters Gil Gonsalves and Joaquin Qualin would have to forego the playoff encounter and help off-load  the boat.

There apparently were no arrivals at the Embarcadero, but the Pointers still were outmanned and lost, 32-18.  San Diego the next night took on barnstorming Phoenix Union and beat the Coyotes, 45-35.


Morrow’s club met visiting Huntington Beach in the quarterfinals and scored a 73-45 victory.  Or was it 82-45?

The San Diego Union noted the upcoming game early in the week but then ignored the usual day-of-game advance and did not report on the Saturday night contest.

The rival Evening Tribune printed a very short Monday afternoon story that San Diego had won, 73-45. That score also was corroborated by Don King’s Caver Conquest, with attribution to The Russ, San Diego High’s newspaper.

Ernie Mallory’s 18 points represented the only individual total in the Tribune.

The account seemed all well and good until the Los Angeles Times’ result showed a Huntington Beach dateline and a different score.

The unbeaten Hoover Cardinals Class B squad. Kneeling, from left: Don DeLauer, McNeal, Milky Phelps. Johnson, Moore. Standing, from left: Coach Bruce Maxwell, White, Yapp, Dick Mitchell, Monseca, Shepard, manager Kahan.

The Times’ story presented an editorial slant toward the losing team and essentially was a wrap of the Oilers’ Orange League championship season, but the text was accompanied by a comprehensive box score, which showed that San Diego exploded for 53 points in the second half and won, 82-45.

Mallory was credited with 18 points, followed by 15 each from Bill Patterson and Melvin Hendry, 2 by Lowell Lee, and 9 by the fifth starter Roy Cleator.  Substitutes included Billy Cesena (2), Herman Gatewood (6), Mike Shea (4),  and Bob Barth (2).

A player named “Peder” also was credited with 9 points, but there was no record of such human.  There was a Homer Peabody on the squad.

CIF Southern Section playoff results for the season also honored the 82-45 score.

The Times’ box score still begged the question.  Why no definitive story and complete box score in the San Diego publications?

We’ll have to go with the locals’ 73-45 count until hearing otherwise and with their subsequent 34-32 win over Santa Barbara and 47-35 championship gme victory over Bonita.  Semifinals and finals were played at La Verne College


What makes theSan Diego-Huntington Beach score enticing is that San Diego’s point total, 73 or 82, was 40 to 50 points above normal for the era. Basketball was a slow-moving, low-scoring, and slowly evolving game offensively, although San Diego somehow scored 75 points in 1917-18 against Escondido.

If 82 was correct in San Diego’s progression of high-point totals, the 80 against Grossmont in 1952-53 would be invalid.  The issue became moot in 1957-58, when San Diego outscored La Jolla, 86-40.


“Though coaches and principals of both schools are anxious for the series to continue, it now appears that students of San Diego and Hoover Highs will be without their annual Hilltop-Cardinal cage titanics, yearly the high spot of the basketball programs of the rival city schools,” was the lead on an article in The San Diego Union on Jan. 15, 1936.

Hoover had become a member of the Bay League and played league games on Friday.  San Diego played Coast League games on Tuesdays and Fridays.  Coaches Mike Morrow of San Diego and Bruce Maxwell of Hoover looked for loopholes in their schedules.

The series could be played on Wednesday or Thursday, but this would have put Morrow’s players at the disadvantage of two league and one bragging rights game in one week.

The Cardinals and Hillers, who first played in 1933-34, would resume their rivalry in 1936-37 and played at least once a season until 1976-77.


Hoover’s powerful Class B team, won the County tournament by defeating Grossmont, 37-4, San Diego, 30-26, and Sweetwater, 37-7, and, led  by future San Diego State legend Milton (Milky) Phelps, left their new Bay League rivals reeling.

The Cardinals won league games by scores of 61-24, 49-7, 43-25, 59-27, and 51-14.  Santa Monica came closest but still was a well-beaten 35-19.  The Cardinals rolled in the playoffs, running Carpinteria off the court, 60-12, and swarming San Luis Obispo, 66-30.

The B playoff semifinals and final rounds were at El Monte High.

Hoover’s opponent in the finals was well regarded South Pasadena, a 32-31 winner over El Monte and the team the Cardinals defeated at San Diego State, 36-22, in the 1934-35 championship.

The venue essentially represented a home game for the Tigers. The distance of about 14 ½ miles from South Pas to El Monte was in contrast to the 120 miles that Hoover had traveled to get to the final four site.

Ernie Mallory (top) and Bill Patterson propelled Hilltoppers’ attack.


The dispatch from El Monte following the semifinals was curious:  “Some doubt remains as to where the final game will be played, although Coach Bruce Maxwell has been advised to report to the El Monte gym here tomorrow afternoon with his Hoover team for the finale.”

Maxwell and his team arrived on time and had his team on the court, but South Pasadena didn’t show, announcing that it would play only on its home court.

No forfeit.

The CIF bulletin of April, 1936, announced that the executive committee unanimously voted that no champion be declared since “A disagreement had developed over the place of playing the final game in Class B basketball.”

The committee also passed a resolution ending existing playoffs arrangements in Classes B, C, and D and allowing league champions to host at least one interleague championship game.


Competing as an independent team and holding wins over Long Beach Poly and Santa Ana, Coach Ed Ruffa’s San Diego High B team was rebuffed in its attempt to gain a playoff berth.

CIF boss Seth Van Patten suggested that the Hillers’ B squad take on Hoover’s super team in a best, two-of-three series, with the winners being admitted to the postseason.  Since Hoover already had won its league and was in the playoffs, the idea died a quiet death.


The San Diego High gymnasium, when not used for practice by the Hilltoppers’ teams, was in use virtually every day of the week.

Point Loma and Sweetwater moved their Metropolitan League opener up one day in order to play on the San Diego floor.  The teams didn’t want to use Sweetwater’s outdoor court.

San Diego’s playoff with Point Loma was rescheduled for the afternoon.  Hoover had quested the San Diego gym for that night.

Metropolitan League teams came from long distances to play games at San Diego.  Army-Navy, Coronado, and Escondido were the only other schools to have gyms.  Oceanside’s building was almost complete.


Ernie Mallory, one  of the  top players of the first half-century in the County, and Vance Randolph of San Diego were on the all-Southern California first team…a second-team guard was Pasadena Muir Technical’s Jackie Robinson…Point Loma coach Joe Beerkle, short of players, moved varsity standout Joaquin Qualin to Class B and Qualin scored 12 points in a 40-12 win over Army-Navy…Ramona won the Southern Prep League championship by defeating runner-up Julian, 43-8…Hoover fielded five teams, Varsity, Class B and C, junior varsity and junior varsity B…Hoover’s Class C squad nosed out Memorial Junior High 15-13…after players had dressed and departed for home it was discovered that Memorial had scored an additional two points…the teams agreed to play another game the next week…Dick Tazalaar scored 16 as Hover prevailed, 30-24….


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