1939: Pointer Coach’s Scary Exit From Europe

War clouds across the Atlantic  and a scary moment on the high seas are what Charlie Wilson remembered most about 1939, when he was about to begin his second season as head coach at Point Loma.

Wilson toured Scandinavian countries with his wife and friends in the summer and sailed home from the port of Southampton, England, on Aug. 31.  Germany advanced into Poland on Sept. 1, effectively starting World War II.

Wilson  and his party were relieved when  they learned that their cruise ship had passed through the Atlantic Ocean submarine zone in the days after war was declared, but not before a fearful reminder of what could have happened in the presence of a German war ship.

“I  can tell you how it feels to have a darkened, unidentified vessel sweep down on your ship on at  night,” Wilson told Charles Byrne of The San Diego Union. “Fortunately, it was a British destroyer and we continued on.”

Wilson made light of the incident, claiming that upon arrival home his first act was to sign a “non-aggression pact” with La Jolla coach Marvin Clark, whose team tied the Pointers for the 1938 Metropolitan League championship.


Wilson had a quick response to the question of whether Point Loma should move up from the Metropolitan League and join San Diego and Hoover in the three-team Coast League with Long Beach Poly.

Point Loma was 17-1 in league play since 1936 and 22-0-1 overall, but Wilson and assistant Bill Bailey did not embrace the idea.

The coaches pointed out that, while Point Loma had a student enrollment of about 1,400, the total included grades 7, 8, and 9, and that there were only 624 students in grades 10-12, far less than the big schools downtown and in East San Diego, not to mention the populous Poly.

Point Loma success started with Wilson (right) and Bailey.

Lomans’ honchos were Wilson (right) and Bailey.

The Metropolitan ride continued for the Pointers as they posted a 7-0 record, but was something missing?

A 6-0 roll through league play had been accompanied by a 13-0 win over Hemet, the defending Western Division champion of the Riverside County League.

The Pointers were invited to play a Southern California lower division playoff against an Imperial Valley school or Vista, which finished 6-1 and won the Southern Prep League.

But Vista was not in school session the week of a potential game and Imperial Valley schools had not completed their seasons. Point Loma would terminate its season after the first annual football carnival.


President Franklin Roosevelt had a depression and poor economy and war in Europe on his plate.

What did the Prez do?  He changed the date of Thanksgiving…and threw traditional football schedules and the country and its calendars into a dither.

Prominent, beleaguered U.S. retailers had come to Roosevelt and practically begged him to move the Turkey Day holiday up one week to increase the number of shopping days before Christmas.

Roosevelt did not have football games on his mind and probably did not give the decision much thought when he issued his Thanksgiving Proclamation with the new date of Nov. 23.

As historians have noted, the first Thanksgiving between Pilgrims and Native Americans was between Sept. 21 and Nov. 11, 1621.

Thanksgiving as a holiday did not occur until Abraham Lincoln, hoping to unite the country during the Civil War,  declared the last Thursday in November to be a day of “thanksgiving and praise”.

That tradition continued for 75 years, until Roosevelt’s fiat.  Eventually the day would be celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November.


Once Thanksgiving was set, Hoover principal Floyd Johnson announced the first annual City Schools carnival, featuring San Diego and Point Loma of the “South” meeting Hoover and La Jolla of the “North”.

San Diego High backs Joe Matthews, Mike Luizzi, Bob Estavillo, and Jim Hodge (from left), lined up for the first annual City Schools' carnival.

San Diego High backs Joe Matthews, Mike Luizzi, Bob Estavillo, and Jim Hodge (from left), lined up for the first annual City Schools’ carnival.

The date was Wednesday night,  Nov. 22, 1939.

The Wednesday selection represented  an accommodation by the schools because San Diego’s Marine Corps Recruit Depot team and Tempe State of Arizona were using the Balboa Stadium facility on Nov. 23, the new date for Thanksgiving, and the schools did not like a suggested date of Saturday night, Nov. 25.

Hoover was host school, charged with gate receipts, a percentage of which went to the local Red Cross, with the rest divided among the schools. The host honor would be rotated annually.

Attendance was about 5,000 persons and this was the only year the event was held at the end of the season.  It would be the kickoff to the season beginning in 1940.

The four teams grappled to a 7-7 tie.  La Jolla missed a field goal that would have beaten San Diego, 3-0.  Point Loma and Hoover also were scoreless in the second quarter.


Point Loma’s season ended with a thud when La Jolla outscored the Pointers 7-0 in the third quarter.  With ‘Loma fullback Ed Freitas nursing an injury, John Snyder assumed Freitas’s kicking duties.

Snyder’s first two punts were blocked and his third bounced and rolled backward 35 yards into the end zone, where La Jolla’s Bill Hall covered the ball for a touchdown.

San Diego quarterback Jess Bryant’s nine-yard run against Hoover in the fourth quarter forged the final score.


San Diego defeated Long Beach Poly 20-13 and Hoover 7-0 and won the three-team Coast League championship. Combined with three, standings-counted games against opponents from the Bay and Foothill leagues, the Cavers finished with a 4-0-1 record.

Joe Buerkle, in suit and tie, was at helm as Jess Bryant, 25 in first row, led San Diego to Coast League title. Johnny Ritchey, 59 in top row,. broke baseball Pacific Coast League color line in 1948.

Joe Buerkle, in suit and tie, was at helm as Jess Bryant, 25 in first row, led San Diego to Coast League title. Johnny Ritchey, top row, fifth from right, broke baseball Pacific Coast League color line in 1948.

The geographically and economically struggling Coast usually had more workable numbers from the the time the Cavers joined the fledgling circuit 1923, but realignment   in the North necessitated passage in 1939 of a CIF measure that would keep the Coast credible.

San Diego played Compton and Inglewood from the Bay and Whittier from the Foothill. Hoover took on Glendale Hoover  and Alhambra (which dropped out of the  Coast) of the Foothill and Long Beach Wilson of the Bay.

It was an uneven year for San Diego coach Joe Beerkle’s 4-3-1 team.  The Hilltoppers were knocked out of the playoffs when Inglewood scored a 7-0 victory in the first round, the Sentinels being the same team San Diego defeated, 27-9, in the regular season.

Talk about déjà vu.  San Diego routed Inglewood 21-0 in 1933, then lost to the Sentinels in the Southern California finals, 7-6.


Union writer Charles Byrne was on site, covering the Hoover-Long Beach Wilson game, which drew about 4,000 to the Cardinals’ stadium.

But Byrne did not see the game, nor did anyone in the stands, as a seasonal fog dropped in on the Talmadge Park field at about the time the teams kicked off at 8 p.m.

But a Hoover teacher and former student helped trump the shroud with a unique improvisation that provided a running play-by-play of the game to those in attendance.

Former Cardinals footballer Bob Beckus, also a premier jumper  and the star of Hoover’s upset, 1938 dual track meet win over  San Diego, teamed with social science teacher and former basketball coach Bruce Maxwell to create communication from the field to the press box.

Armed with a portable telephone Beckus prowled the sidelines…and wandered onto the field a few times…and relayed information to Maxwell, who announced each play to the audience over the stadium public address.

Byrne’s byline the next morning read:  “By Bob Beckus and Bruce Maxwell (as told to Charles Byrne).”

Oh, yes, the game:

Beckus caught a glimpse of the Bruins’ Jack Laughner disappearing into the night and running 38 yards for a second-quarter touchdown and a 6-0 lead for Wilson.

Hoover coach John Perry made offensive changes at halftime and, largely on reverses the Bruins were unable to detect, the Cardinals immediately went 63 yards and tied the game on Jim Morgan’s 10-yard run.

Both teams threatened again but the final score was 6-6, sending home a disgruntled Long Beach Poly scout, who drove 100 miles to chart each team and couldn’t diagram a single play.


The country still was feeling effects of the Great Depression but Hoover end George Brown and tackle Ben Chase, both hoping for appointments to the Naval Academy after their 1941 high school graduations, were determined to make their way.

Brown, a strapping junior who later would be related by marriage to Hoover’s future major league baseballer Ray Boone, had made 17 consecutive A grades since entering high school.  Chase had a scholastic record almost as impressive, both students taking “solid” courses.

Hoover's George Brown (left) and Ben Chase were prepared for college.

Hoover’s George Brown (left) and Ben Chase were prepared for college.

And if football and homework weren’t enough….

Chase held a National Youth Administration  job (an offshoot of the Works Progress Administration started by President Franklin Roosevelt)  at school and also worked in a restaurant after practice for his dinners and breakfasts, cut lawns on Saturday, and toiled in a service station on Sunday.

Brown also cut lawns and worked in a garage and  held a summer job for an onyx company, handling 15,000 pounds of cement each day.

Brown would miss a bus trip to Pasadena with teammates for a night game at the Rose Bowl against Glendale Hoover, instead taking some preliminary tests toward admission to Annapolis.  He’d get a ride to the game later in the day.


Oceanside coach Dick Rutherford announced that because of wet grounds the Pirates’ game with Sweetwater was being rescheduled.  There was no rain.

“Something went wrong with our automatic watering system last night,” Rutherford claimed.  “Several pipes burst, making the field one huge puddle.”

That Oceanside’s star running back Chap (Frosty) Peters was not available because of a leg injury, begged the question, because Peters figured to play for the once-tied, undefeated Pirates the following week against unbeaten Point Loma.

Peters’ didn’t play and he probably wouldn’t have made much difference, with Point Loma topping the Pirates 33-0.

Usual big crowd was at Balboa Stadium for San Diego-Hoover game.

Usual big crowd was at Balboa Stadium for San Diego-Hoover game.


San Dieguito’s 5-2 season was bookended by a 39-0 loss to Escondido and a 7-6 defeat to Vista in the Southern League championship game.

For five consecutive weeks, the Mustangs would hear a chorus of “Thirty points every Friday!” from their cheering section.  And coach John Eubank’s team responded.

The Mustangs won by shutout scores of 39-0, 33-0, 32-0, 32-0, and 78-0.

The final touchdown against Fallbrook came with their fans screaming.  Only 10 seconds remained when Nasato Chuman hurled a 20-yard touchdown pass to Leo Swaim to extend the streak.


More than 2,000 fans showed  up, then many celebrated Vista’s Southern League-championship, 7-6 victory over San Dieguito by tying up traffic for hours in the North County community.

Hundreds of residents paraded through town after the Panthers scored a first victory over their Encinitas rival after three losses since the school opened in 1936.

Kenzo Osaki’s 20-yard touchdown pass to Frank Messersmith in the fourth quarter tied the game.  Ralph Dominguez then kicked an extra point to win but each team was offside and the play was nullified.  Dominguez toed another placement for the winner.

Vista’s league game against Brown Military was forfeited by the Cadets the following week, giving the Panthers a 5-0 league record.


Grossmont’s Bob Green was plunging across the goal line for a touchdown when he fumbled.  La Jolla’s Chuck Owens intercepted the fumble and ran 98 yards in the other direction for a score. Grossmont won, 13-6, with all scoring in the first quarter.


Trailing Escondido 19-0 in the fourth quarter, Grossmont coach Jack Mashin was desperate.  So desperate he inserted a seldom used sophomore quarterback into the lineup.

Ray Whitcomb completed 11 consecutive passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns and kicked an extra point, but the Cougars held on for a 19-13 victory.


The California Interscholastic Federation had come a long way.  When the group was organized in 1914 there were six high school leagues and 30 schools in Southern California.

Membership dues would partially fund the Federation and the organizers determined that a playoff series among the six league champions would further the CIF’s ability to exist.

L.A. Coliseum was site for 1939 Southern California championship game.

Player-of-the-year Johnny Petrovich adorned game program cover and led Alhambra Moors to title.

As of 1939, there were 20 leagues and 129  schools.  Champions were crowned in three divisions.

Alhambra, still one of the largest schools in Southern California, even after  construction of the new Alhambra Mark Keppel High,  defeated Santa Barbara 26-18, to win the Major Division.

Covina defeated Colton 14-0 and Hemet shut out Barstow 25-0 in the two Lower Division title games.

Hemet, a 13-0 loser to Point Loma in the regular season, was coached by former San Diego High star Kendall (Bobo) Arnett.


Fullback Ed Freitas of Point Loma made the first team, tackle John Sanchez the second, and tackle Bryce Hodges of Point Loma the third team in all-Southern California selections.


St. Augustine called off its season after two games, both losses… a third game with San Bernardino St. Bernardine was canceled… Saints coach Jim Cousart turned his attention to basketball… Oceanside defeated La Jolla on a safety, 2-0, in a game stopped three times by rain, including 30 minutes when the lights at Scripps Field went out… San Diego moved 80 yards in the final 1:10 beat Compton 6-0… Hoover’s record was 1-5-2, but the Cardinals battled Alhambra before losing  19-13 to the eventual Southern California champion… Oceanside had not scored on Escondido since 1935, so the Pirates were understandably okay with a 12-12 tie with the Cougars… a junior varsity game between Hoover and Grossmont began at 6:30 p.m. and was scheduled to end at 7:30 p.m., no matter the score or how much time remained… the teams were on the undercard of the varsity L.A. Cathedral-Hoover contest…Point Loma was undefeated despite losing Pat Jones, who became an all-Coast League fullback at Long Beach Poly, and standout end Bob Daugherty to Oceanside… Coronado’s Stew (Junior) Worden boomed a punt that went from his end zone to La Jolla’s 20-yard line… Islanders coach Hal Niedermeyer claimed Worden’s boot went 83 yards in the air… Sweetwater, 0-10 against Grossmont since 1928, took it out on the Foothillers, 38-0… San Diego advanced into Hoover territory seven times before finally scoring in the fourth quarter to put away the Cardinals before 13,000 persons… the Hilltoppers’ Jack (Jello) Ware, a transfer from La Jolla, scored twice, although the second touchdown was called back by penalty… Ware gained 92 yards in 25 carries…quarterback Jess Bryant had 45 in 16 carries… San Diego led, 16 first downs to 3….


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One Response to 1939: Pointer Coach’s Scary Exit From Europe

  1. Rick says:

    Alan Goldhammer, I’ll give you an example of one-season’s playoff atmosphere at Point Loma, which posted a 7-0-1 record in 1939.
    The CIF increased the playoffs from 1 to 3 divisions, which were more favorable to smaller schools, such as Point Loma.
    Pointers coach Charlie Wilson seemed disinterested when asked late in the season about entering the playoffs. “I’m only thinking about Grossmont,” Wilson said, referring to the Pointers’ next opponent.
    Besides, Wilson added, a decision on whether to enter the postseason would be left up to the players.
    After the Pointers played their last regular-season game, they would have faced Vista in the first round, except Vista was closed for the Thanksgiving holiday. El Centro Central also was a potential opponent, but the Spartans and others in the Imperial Valley League had not completed their regular seasons.
    The final negative for the Pointers was a surprising and flat, 7-0 loss to La Jolla in one quarter of play in the first annual City Schools’ carnival.
    Point Loma turned in its gear.

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