1945-46: “We Got (Expletive)!”

The cry is as old as the game.  Visiting teams screaming that the referees or the timekeeper did them unjustly.

Huntington Beach certainly had those thoughts when the Oilers, 4-0 on the season and a reported 20-1 in 1944-45, were on the short end of a 38-37 score at San Diego in a game punctuated by a wild finish and “pandemonium, with fans spilling onto the floor,” according to The San Diego Union.

Huntington Beach had taken a 37-36 on a free throw after Hilltopper Ben Cendali fouled with two minutes remaining in the game.  Cendali got back into his team’s good graces when he converted a free throw to tie the score, and then, in the final seconds, scored on another trip to the foul line.

As time was running out, or ran out, depending on whose side you were on, the Oilers’ Elmer Coombs launched a desperation shot from behind the halfcourt line that drained the basket but was disallowed.

Neither the Union or Evening Tribune stories carried a byline, indicating that the sports desk probably received a game call from Cavers coach John Brose or a student representative.

The Huntington Beach coach apparently claimed that there was no  moment that declared the game was over, charging that the starter pistol used to signal the ends of periods of play was faulty and never went off.

And no one heard the timer blowing a whistle that the game was over, according to the newspaper  reports.

Basketball coach John Brose (left) was going into administration and baseball mentor Dewey (Mike) Morrow was returning from the military, as was basketball coach  Merrill Douglas.

It also was reported that the game timer was Amerigo Dini, a Cavers football letterman who had to be filling in for a faculty member or coach.

And that’s the way it was on the cool, overcast evening of Dec. 16, 1945, as the city, relieved that  war was over, prepared for the most joyous Christmas in years.


Midterm graduates, the bane of coaches, were leaving school around the first of February since the early days of the CIF.

Southern Section historian John Dahlem pointed out that the practice of students accumulating credits and graduating early probably began to diminish in the 1950s.  Dahlem was part of one of the final midterm graduations in Southern California when he and others got their diplomas in 1961 at Santa Monica High.

San Diego High had lost players for years, even during the 1935-36 Southern Section championship season but that team was talented enough to overcome.

Pre-war coach Merrill Douglas had returned from the Army but would not take over again until the 1946-47 school year, leaving the wartime mentor, John Brose, to cope with the departure of four starters.

That’s four, as in a starting lineup of five.   Wally Pietila, Norm Scudder, Bob Grant, and Lee Bowman all left early, along with Elfego Padilla and Joe Castagnola, six of the top seven.

Brose coached splendidly in Douglas’ absence, his teams posting a 48-12 record in Brose’s three seasons, including 20-5 this year, but the Hilltoppers flattened out with a 4-4 record after a 16-1 start.

Grant, a three-year letterman at center, was the leading scorer in his Victory League games, averaging 15 points a game.

Midterm graduate Bob Grant still led the all-Victory League team.

An assembly honoring the mid-term graduates saw the team’s most-valuable player trophy go to Grant and Pietila received the Parents Teachers’ Association award after earning 20 grades of A. Pietila was scheduled to enroll at the University of California at Berkeley.

The players’ last game was a 49-30 victory over Point Loma as Grant led the way with 18 points.

Brose pointed out that “Pietila, Castagnola, and Bowman actually are Bees, but their play elevated them.   It is unusual for a B exponent player starting on varsity.”

The 5-foot-5, 128-pound Pietila, one of the Hilltoppers’ starting forwards, just missed qualifying for Class C, based on the exponents of height, weight, and age.


Ish Herrera put Foothillers ahead of Cavers

Brose began his team’s second season by inserting reserves Bob McCommins, Jerry Dahms, John Holloway, Charlie Coffey, and Clyde Barnes into the rotation with junior Ben Cendali, who became the team’s leading scorer, averaging nine points in seven league games.

The Hilltoppers had no time to ease into the transition.  Their next opponent was Grossmont, like San Diego, with a 4-0 record.

The Hilltoppers led, 26-25, late in the game, but the Foothillers’ Ish Herrera drained a 30-foot set shot and Ralph Lamp added a basket for a 29-26 victory. A 48-36 loss to Hoover dropped San Diego into third place tie with Coronado at 5-2 in the final standings, while Grossmont and Hoover, each 6-1, tied for first.


San Diego, with an invitation from the Beverly Hills Tournament, switched its Victory League game from Feb. 22 to Feb. 12.

The bid undoubtedly came before the midterm graduation, when the Cavers were undefeated in league play and with one of the best records in Southern California.

Hoover, as winner of the first Beverly event in the 1941-42 season and in the resumed event in 1944-45, also was part of the field Grossmont expected an at-large bid, but The San Diego Union cited a “misunderstanding” between Beverly Hills officials and the Southern Section and the Foothillers were out.

Hoover’s bid for a third consecutive Beverly Hills title stalled against Santa Barbara.  The Cardinals led, 19-8, at the half, and 26-19 after three quarters but fell to the eventual tournament champion, 33-32.  San Diego started fast, 43-13 over Lawndale Leuzinger, but went home after a 43-24 loss to Anaheim.


The Victory League campaign ended on Feb. 22.  The Southern Section playoffs would not begin until March 1.  Hoover and Grossmont first engaged in a playoff to determine the league champion and drew an estimated 2,200 persons to the reported 1,800-seat capacity Men’s Gym at San Diego State.

A 49-29 victory sent the Cardinals into the first round of the Southern Section tournament and they responded with a 54-44 win over Brawley.  The season ended when South Pasadena, 27-2 coming into the game, defeated the Cardinals, 33-23, in the semifinals.

Hoover finished the season and Rickey Wilson’s tenure as coach with a 13-6 record, following seasons of 10-4, 11-4, 14-5, and 16-1. The best in school history far into the 21st century.

Hoover’s Jack Seiquist participates in the photo op of the day.

Wilson’s overall record of 64-15 and .810 winning percentage remained as the best in school history through a succession of mostly successful coaches through the turn of the century.


…Herb Hoskins?

The man coaching the Brawley Wildcats in their first-round playoff game against Hoover looked familiar.

Hoskins had been the Sweetwater football coach two decades before, posting a 40-29-3 record from 1919 to 1928.  He moved to the Imperial Valley after leaving the Red Devils and taught chemistry at Brawley, adding basketball resume before the 1943-44 campaign.


Hoover won its 15th consecutive Victory League game by defeating Kearny, 39-21.  The Cardinals had not lost in league play since 1943-44, but Kenny Tennison’s basket for Grossmont with five seconds remaining gave the Foothillers a 34-33 victory, ending the Cardinals’ streak.


Play resumed in the Chino Invitational after wartime hiatus following the 1941 tournament…defending champion Hoover dropped a 41-39 decision to Burbank in the semifinals…San Diego bowed, 32-24, to San Bernardino in the semis…lack of local competition annually forced Hoover and San Diego to the road…the Cardinals began their season with a U,.S. 395 trip to San Bernardino )29-26 loss) and Ontario Chaffey (37-34 win)…Grossmont went East, through snow in the Laguna Mountains, and was beaten, 24-20, at El Centro Central…San Diego warmed up for league games with 22-13 and 36-29 victories at Compton and Redondo Beach Redondo, respectively…the Cavers went North late in the season to defeat a group of prisoners at the Chino’s Men’s Institute, 37-34,and at Huntington Beach, 21-15…Coronado’s Dave Melton\on was the leading Victory League scorer, averaging 12.1 points with 85 in seven games…Melton played 13 years ibn baseball, most in the high minors, and had cups of coffee with the Kansas City A’s in 1956 and ’58…Melton hit .299 with 116 runs batted in and 19 home runs for San Francisco in the PCL in 1955…St. Augustine defeated Santa Monica. St. Monica’s, 24-13, in a Southland Catholic League contest on an outdoor court at Navy Field…Grossmont took season high point honors in a 63-10 rout of San Diego Vocational…Bob Grant scored 20 points in San Diego’s 60-22 win over Kearny….

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