1953: Avocados And New Schools

Lincoln and Mission Bay took their first, tentative steps. St. Augustine continued to push for league affiliation. North County schools wanted to be closer to home. Army-Navy and Brown Military didn’t want to be left out.

Such was the landscape, which promised to  change.  

Joe Rindone, principal of Chula Vista High and president of the CIF Southern Section executive committee, chaired a meeting with bosses from other schools around Southern California at the Helms Athletic Foundation office in Los Angeles on Dec. 4, 1953.

Rindone presented to the membership wholesale changes that would affect the 21 San Diego  schools affiliated with the Southern Section.

Loud and clear complaints of San Diego County’s league alignments had been ongoing since 1950 when the City Prep League was formed, creating falling dominos in the Metropolitan and Southern Prep circuits.

WELCOME, AVOCADO LEAGUE!

Oceanside, Vista, San Dieguito, Coronado, Fallbrook, and Vallecitos officially became charter members of a new North County  circuit that honored the region’s favorite fruit, giving San Diego four distinct leagues, although Vallecitos never was to exist.

Formation of the new league was only part of the scenario.

1) The City League would welcome Lincoln as a varsity participant in football  in the 1954-55 school year.

2) Mission Bay would join the CPL in ’54-55 in most varsity sports but would wait until 1955-56 for varsity football.

3) Helix and Grossmont would leave the City League for the Metropolitan League.

4) The Metro League would retain Mar Vista, Chula Vista, and Sweetwater.

Metropolitan League plans were on the table for El Capitan, a school in Lakeside, but El Cap would not open until 1959, and El Cajon Valley (1955) and Mount Miguel (1957) would get to the starting line before the school that would be nicknamed Vaqueros.

5) The Southern Prep League lost Fallbrook but retained Army and Navy Academy, Ramona, Mountain Empire, Julian, and Brown Military.

6) St. Augustine, which had languished with independent status since leaving the Southland Catholic League of mostly Los Angeles-area schools after the 1950 season, was bypassed.

7) Army-Navy and Brown Military, which had evinced interest in being a part of any North County grouping, received a response of thanks but no thanks. 

Coronado, in  logic that appeared based on the Islanders’ enrollment, was placed in the Avocado League, although the school was geographically unsuited compared to the two military schools.

The biggest winners were the travel weary  schools that left the Metro.

Oceanside and Escondido had competed in a vertical league that stretched at least 50 miles North to South.  Coronado now would be the only opponent requiring extended travel.

The biggest loser was St. Augustine. 

Having only occasional, partial  affiliation from 1924-45 (they were members in name only in the Southern Prep in 1941-42 and the so called North County League in 1943), the Saints finally joined a circuit in 1945 but were stressed by travel and costs competing in the Southland Catholic League, whose member schools were at least three hours away.

Rev. John R. Aherne, principal of St. Augustine, presented a request that the Saints be admitted to some league affiliation within San Diego County.

Aherne knew he was in trouble when the motion to accept Rindone’s suggested realignment was made by La Jolla principal Marvin Clark, the City League representative at the meeting, and seconded by Ray Redding, Julian principal and Southern Prep representative.

Clark said the City League was willing to provide competition for St. Augustine, but that it was “impossible, for administrative reasons, to extend an invitation…at this time.”

Rindone, also representing the Metropolitan League, read the  San Diego leagues’ recommendation to the executive council.

There was no language in the San Diego document about a disposition of the St. Augustine application. 

Public schools wanted no part of a St. Augustine that could offer scholarships and recruit players from the publics’ attendance districts. Religious beliefs, while not openly stated, also came into play and there was suspicion of how eligibility would be enforced at the private school.

Aherne was undaunted.“We are not through,” he said.“We will fight this through the community in San Diego until the community itself decides the issue.”

Aherne had a few ideas of how to win this battle but the Saints still were years away from reaching their goal.

VALLECITOS?

Escondido High would make a permanent move to its North Broadway locale in 1954, but getting there and what might have happened is a chapter of history that began in the aftermath of the tsunami-like earthquake of 1933 which destroyed hundreds of structures in  Long Beach and surrounding Southern California communities.

Among the most damaged buildings were those at Long Beach Poly, with leveled classrooms and a collapsed belfry.  In reaction, the California legislature  passed the “Field Act,” mandating that all high school buildings be earthquake-safe and condemned many that were built before 1933.

The three-story Escondido High building, which went up in 1930 in the middle of the downtown business area, was declared unsafe in a 1934 inspection report, but that document was set aside and never acted upon.

Escondido High building was declared unsafe.

Escondido High building was declared unsafe.

By the early ‘fifties the downtown campus had become overcrowded and school board officials wanted a new high school, Vallecitos, on North Broadway.

Two bond issues were required.

The state finally awakened and confronted Escondido with the old inspection report and demanded that students  vacate the building before attempting the second bond measure.

Escondido High juniors and seniors were moved to the partially completed “Vallecitos” High and freshmen and sophomores to temporary tents and buildings at the old campus that were determined safe.

The North Broadway campus would be completed as Escondido High and the name Vallecitos, was dropped.

EMBREY TO NEW SCHOOL, ALMOST

Bob (Chick) Embrey was going to be the head coach at Vallecitos and remembers that  green and gray uniforms had been purchased and that other preparations had been made.

An assistant coach at Escondido, Embrey had lived in the community since his family moved there from Oklahoma in 1936. He was a star halfback on the 7-1 1944 Cougars team and played on the 11-0 San Diego State squad in 1951.

With Vallecitos no longer in play, Embrey had to wait.

When opportunity knocked again, Embrey started a dynasty at Escondido, where he posted a 144-66-4 (.682) record from 1956-77, winning 10 league championships and appearing in four San Diego Section title games, winning two and tying in another.

OF HORNETS AND BUCCANEERS

San Diego High drew students from as far East as Lemon Grove, as far North as Clairemont-Bay Park, and as far South as the National City border.

With an eye to the future, the San Diego City Schools built Abraham Lincoln Junior High in Southeast San Diego.  Lincoln opened in 1949 with 514 students in seventh and eighth grades. They came from the East and Southeast.  

From the beginning plans were for Lincoln to grow into a high school. 

With students in grades 7, 8, and 9, a sophomore class was added in the 1952-53 school year.  A junior class progressed in 1953-54, with those juniors comprising the first graduating senior class in 1954-55.

Lincoln was varsity-active in all sports but football in 1953-54. The 1954-55 school year included double sessions with seniors out of school at noon.  

Lincoln dropped junior high grades upon completion of  nearby Samuel F. Gompers Junior High in 1955.

Known originally as the Presidents and with school colors of blue and grey, Lincoln made a pragmatic decision to adopt school colors of green and white.

A coach and p.e. teacher named George Pierson was acquainted with the coach of the PhibPac navy team in Coronado.  PhibPac suspended football about the time Lincoln was teeing up. 

Pierson’s connection resulted in PhibPac’s green and white uniforms being passed on to the fledgling high school.

Some Lincoln historians claim the Hornets’ mascot was named after the aircraft carrier Hornet, which was docked in San Diego Bay. 

A more accepted version was that student leaders voted first for the suggestion of coach Carmack Berryman, whose alma mater was Fullerton Junior College, also named the Hornets.

Mission Bay’s first year was with 10th and 11th graders in 1953-54, followed by a school year of ninth through 12th grades in ’54-55. 

Mission Bay played a JV football schedule until 1955-56 but had varsity status in all other sports by its second year.

San Diego baseball historian Bill Swank, who authored an early history of his alma mater, said that being a beach-area school, within a long walk to the Pacific Ocean, Mission Bay embraced a seaworthy image, becoming the Buccaneers with black and gold colors.

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