2003: Havana, Si!

It was a remarkable San Diego Section football season, at once heart-warming and heart-breaking.

–Two teams played a game in Havana, Cuba.

–Legendary coach Herb Meyer of El Camino retired after 45 seasons and 338 victories.

–Lincoln High closed.

–The “Cedar” fire, which began in the Laguna Mountains and threatened  to burn to the ocean, destroyed hundreds of homes and killed 15 persons.

–Crawford, 0-9 in 2001, went 11-0 before bowing in the playoff semifinals.

–A monster program dominated at Marian Catholic.


San Diego Section teams were all over the hemisphere in September.

Bonita Vista and La Jolla opened the season in Havana, in the first American football game played on the Communist island since 1958.

Horizon was at Maui Kanhumanu, Francis Parker at Ketchikan, Alaska, and La Jolla Country Day at Indian Springs, Nevada.

Probably the most unusual game ever involving San Diego-area teams took place in the Caribbean nation of Cuba.

The game between the Barons and Vikings was the first organized American football contest since a semi-professional league game featuring teams of Cubans and Americans had played 45 years before.

Since 1963 American travel to Cuba was restricted by a U.S. embargo. Trips sometimes were allowed if they related to certain criteria, including athletic competition, educational exchange, and family visits.

The La Jolla-Bonita Vista excursion was approved by the U.S. Treasury Department and the respective school districts.

Nicole Vargas provided superb coverage of the event for The San Diego Union, parts of which are cited below.


After studying options for opening of the 2003 season out of the city and hearing of a similar educational exchange from a parent who had recently been in Cuba, Bonita Vista assistant coach Dan Hodges went to head coach Carl Parrick.

An international necessity...Barons coach Parrick checks in at customs in Havana.

Carl Parrick passed through customs  on return to Cuba after 44 years.

The Barons had intriguing choices, play a game in Washington, D.C., or Cuba.

It was no contest.

“The kids could go to Washington whenever they want, and many of them have,” Parrick told the writer.  “But when can they go to Cuba?  This is a great education, an experience they’ll never forget.”

That was a pretty easy one,” said La Jolla coach Dave Ponsford.

Ponsford, who also teaches social sciences, said, “We could play a football game here, but this is a great chance for players to see history changing before their eyes, because we don‘t know how long Cuba will be like this.”


Parrick had been the Cuba.  He lived there when he was in sixth and seventh grade.

“I didn’t want to leave,” Parrick said.  “But when you’re in seventh grade you don’t realize the importance of some things.”

Parrick’s father, a Navy lieutenant, was stationed in Havana and the family lived in a suburb of the city until they were forced to exit after Parrick’s father called home one evening in March, 1959, and told his wife to pack and get ready to leave, quickly.

Only two months earlier a Fidel Castro-led revolution had toppled Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.


A total of 302 persons, including coaches, school officials, parents, and 102 players, made the trip at a cost of about $1,425 per person.

The journey began on a Saturday afternoon when buses from both schools were boarded for the ride to Tijuana Airport, where an Aero-Mexico charter was waiting for the 5 p.m., five-hour flight to Havana.

Vendor 'cycling bananas to market provided local backdrop to Bonita Vista practice.

Vendor ‘cycling bananas to market provided local backdrop to Bonita Vista practice.

A two-hour bus ride followed to Varadero, a resort town 88 miles east of Havana, where the group stayed for the first few days.

It was after 2:30 a.m. when the players walked into the Las Arenas Blancas Hotel. The travelers were pleased that “El Cactus,” the hotel’s 24-hour snack bar, offered hamburgers, pizza, and hot dogs.

In between a city tour and practice a few days later the players were invited to a special lunch and were treated to pasta and pizza in Havana’s Chinatown, no less,  at Los Tres Chinitos (The Three Little Chinese People).

Also included in the itinerary was a tour of Havana and its historical sites and a visit to a memorial for 265 sailors lost on the U.S.S Maine, a battleship which blew up in Havana Harbor in 1898 and set off the Spanish-American war.

A wreath-laying ceremony at the Maine was attended by players and assigned officials from the San Diego County Football Officials’ Association.  Players and refs were in their game uniforms.

Flags of Cuba and the United States hung in Havana’s 75,000-seat  Pan-American Stadium, erected in 1993.  The national anthem of each country was played at kickoff.

A nine-man grounds keeping crew, directed by Eastlake’s Jerry Fike  had repaired holes in the field left the day before by a hammer thrower from the Nigerian national  team that was  training for the All-Africa games.


The field measured only 90 yards (coaches agreed to shorten the gridiron because of the presence of metal boxes beyond the end line) but it still was football.

About 400 persons attended the “Havana Classic”.  Bonita Vista defeated La Jolla, 31-22, as sophomore Starr Fuimaono scored two touchdowns and gained 188 yards on 32 carries.


The “Cedar” fire was the largest in California history, burning more than 280,000 acres, 2,800 buildings, and 2,232 houses.  At its peak the blaze scorched 5,000 acres an hour. Fifteen persons were killed.

The fire started south of Ramona by a panicked, overweight, novice hunter who purposely started a small fire despite strong Santa Ana winds to alert rescuers after he became separated from his partners.  The hunter was fearful of being stranded as sundown closed in.

More than 80 students at Scripps Ranch High were among those whose houses were among the 340 destroyed by fire.   Scripps Ranch residents and almost all of Tierrasanta and other areas were evacuated.

Scripps Ranch players were all for one and one for all after the Cedar fire.

Scripps Ranch players were all for one and one for all after the Cedar fire.

Stories  abounded of students, coaches, and parents battling to save horses and other livestock in Ramona and other parts of the back country.

The baseball field at Granite Hills was turned into an impromptu corral for displaced animals.

“We had a llama on the mound, Holsteins (cows) in the outfield and horses tied to the railing by our dugout like a hitching post,” said Granite Hills coach Jim Davis.

County schools were closed for a week and 39 games were canceled because of the fire and poor air quality.   Junior varsity and freshmen contests would not be made up. San Diego Section commissionerDennis Ackerman said that the Imperial Valley schools, which were not affected by the smoke from the fires, would be idle.

Classes at Julian High did not resume after one week, as did schools in other districts, and the Eagles were forced to cancel an additional week of games.


Meyer looked back on a trove of great memories and 338 victories at Oceanside and El Camino.

Meyer looked back on a trove of great memories and 338 victories at Oceanside and El Camino.

The Oceanside Blade was a weekly newspaper, but the written word knows no circulation boundaries and seldom escapes all eyes.

Few people may have been aware of sports editor Irv Grossman’s column, but Herb Meyer was.

At age 23, Meyer was named head football coach at his alma-mater Oceanside in 1959.  Grossman was unimpressed, describing Meyer as a “neophyte biology teacher” in coaches’ gear.

Larry January was the Pirates’ starting fullback and remembered Meyer’s first game.

“No one, and I mean no one came out of halftime with a rear end,” remembered January.  “The second half we played minus our buttocks.  Everyone was twenty-five pounds lighter.”

Despite a scathing indictment of the team’s play, the first of many by the fiery coach over the next four-plus decades, the Pirates dropped a 13-6 decision to a very so-so La Jolla  team.

January, in an interview with Mick McGrane of The San Diego Union, recalled his teenage disappointment.  “I thought it was going to be a repeat of the previous year, when we were two and six.”


His players heard Meyer, loud and clear.

(No surprise that Meyer often over the years was known as “The Fumin’ Human”).

The 2 and the 6 were reversed by the end of the season.  The Pirates posted a 6-2 record and tied Mar Vista for first place with a 4-1 Avocado League record.

By 1962, Meyer had tied for another league title and qualified for the San Diego Section A finals. The Pirates won the title outright in 1963.

When he stepped down, Meyer’s teams at Oceanside and El Camino had made 30 playoff appearances and were 7-4-1 in Section championship games.

Meyer’s final game was a 27-26 loss to Carlsbad.  Trailing by 14 points in the second half,  the Wildcats scored with 40 seconds  to play and went for a two-point conversion and the victory.


“We didn’t come back in the second half for a tie,” said Meyer.  “We were going for the win.” Spoken like the fierce competitor Meyer was.

Meyer’s  state-leading mark of 338 victories (against 148 losses with 15 ties) would be surpassed but the coach still ranked statewide and nationally years later.

And that writer who dissed the young coach?

Meyer invited Grossman to the football team’s season-ending dinner.  “He had to get up and eat crow,” recalled Meyer.  “I guess I knew a little bit about coaching after all.”


From 1994-2002, Crawford had one winning season and an overall record of 19-70-2. Losing was so repetitive there were four seasons of 2-8.

Football glory had been infrequent at Crawford after the 1961 team posted an 8-0-2 record and won the San Diego Section title under coach Walt Harvey.

Tracy McNair was named head coach in 2001 and the Colts responded with a 0-9 zinger.

“… when we lost to Coronado in the last game of the season and they hadn’t won a game either, it occurred to me we were the worst team in the Harbor League, maybe the worst team in the County,” said McNair.

Crawford was  slightly better at 2-7-1 in 2002 and raced through the Harbor League this season, outscoring five opponents 152-33, and knocking down Coronado 33-13 in the league championship game.

Crawford’s 11-0 run finally was halted by St. Augustine, which defeated the Colts 26-0 in the III semifinals.


Poway ended the season with a 4-6 record, ushered out of the playoffs by Fallbrook 49-6. The flat ending was punctuated by the revelation that several players opted to go on Thanksgiving vacations rather than competing in the playoffs.


All 12 III teams in the playoffs posted winning, regular-season records, an accomplishment that eluded all of the other divisions.

Crawford’s loss to St. Augustine was more reflective of the strength of coach Jerry Ralph’s Saints, who almost scored the season’s biggest victory.

The Saints led Marian Catholic 26-6 in the second quarter and outgained the Crusaders 398-301 before bowing 32-26 in the III championship.


Marian Catholic running back Patrick Gates averaged a stunning, 20.4-yard rushing average during the regular season.

The Crusaders posted a 25-game winning streak, a far cry from the 1970-91 period in which they had five winning seasons.

Marian romped through the III playoffs, winning by scores of 32-17, 61-24, and 32-26, and averaged 55 points a game in a 13-0 season with 719 points scored.


According to school enrollment boundaries, Gates, quarterback Scotty Goodloe, and running back Earl Wilson would have enrolled at Lincoln, about 15 miles away. They came to Marian before Lincoln closed.

Being a private school, Marian could recruit students countywide and provide tuition for students otherwise unlikely to attend.

Principal Estelle Kassebaum said,   “People say, ‘You recruit.’  Of course we recruit.  We have a director of recruiting and so does every other Catholic school.

“Kids may come here because we have a great football team,” said Kassebaum,  “but if you don’t get the grades you don’t play.”


Lincoln, which opened as a junior high in 1949, adding classes to eventually become a high school, with a first graduating class in 1955, was shutting down.

Construction of a new campus was to begin with students and athletes scattering to other schools in the city.

Former Lincoln students still sported their green “L” lettermen’s jackets at their new schools or “Hornet for Life” T-shirts under their game gear.

Lincoln principal Wendell Bass estimated there were at least 70 athletes among the 238 former Lincoln students spread throughout the city.

Only the original gymnasium and the original auditorium-cafeteria would remain when the new Lincoln opened on the old site in 2007.

The school’s address, originally 150 South 49th Street, became 4777 Imperial Avenue.


Brawley defeated El Centro Central 59-0 in the  “Bell Game.”  The Wildcats took a 71-70-10 series lead in an Imperial Valley rivalry that started in 1921. The 151-game series represents a U.S.-leading most games that two schools have played against each other.

Brawley, El Centro Central, and Calexico are the only schools in California that have played each other ever year since 1921.

A perpetual trophy with bell was cast in the early 1970’s to commemorate the Brawley-Central rivalry.


A 74-year-old school record was broken at Coronado, when J.T. Rogan scored 31 touchdowns and 186 points in 11 games, breaking the mark of 164 points, set in 1929 in nine games by Frank Greene.

Rogan erased old record.

Rogan erased  record.

Rogan was rolling when Coronado visited Boulder City, Nevada.  The future University of San Diego running back rushed for 352 yards in 23 carries, had 50 yards in pass receptions, scored five touchdowns, and clinched a 49-42 victory with a 47-yard dash in the fourth quarter.

Foster piled up yards.

Foster piled up yards.

At the same time about 300 miles away Mission Bay’s Arian Foster, a transfer from Albuquerque, New Mexico, scored 4 touchdowns and gained 321 yards in 23 carries in a 27-19 victory over Clairemont.

Foster finished with 182 points in 11 games. The section scoring leader was Brawley’s Zay Shepard, who had 192 points in 10 games.


Who says comparative scores mean nothing?

De La Salle of Concord, the number one high school team in the U.S., scored its third straight victory over a San Diego representative, defeating La Costa Canyon, 28-7, before a capacity Mavericks stadium crowd of 5,000.

Torrey Pines, the San Diego D-I champion at 12-1, shut out La Costa Canyon, 23-0, and may have been a good test for the Spartans.  With no state playoffs, the game would not be played.


Jeff Hutzler was part of seven A and AA championship teams as an assistant or head coach in Nevada and claimed a second consecutive 8-Man title with La Jolla Country Day.

Torres took to Lewis.

Torres took to Lewis.

Leading the Torres to a 51-27 victory over Julian was Alex Lewis, who gained 95 yards in 5 carries, caught two passes for 50 yards, and scored two touchdowns.  Lewis made 10 tackles on defense and returned an intercepted pass 47 yards for a score.


Oceanside returned to the Avocado League after three seasons in the Valley, in which all of the Pirates’ league opponents were located at least 20 miles away, via State 78 to east of Interstate 15.

The Pirates had been a founding member of the Avocado League with the same address since 1954 except for three seasons.  They were part of an Avocado League West incarnation from 1976-78.


Nick Kok, a 6-foot, 195-pound running back who averaged 144 yards a game rushing and had scored 10 touchdowns, missed Oceanside’s Avocado League title-deciding game against Fallbrook because of chance encounter with a deadly arachnid.

Spider stopped Kok.

Spider stopped Kok.

Kok was bitten by a brown recluse as he slept.  Kok’s symptons became apparent during the week most schools were closed by the fires.  Coaches  were not allowed to hold practices or meet with players during that time.

“It’s strange,” said Oceanside coach John Carroll.  “Eleven guys on the other side can’t stop him, but a one-inch spider can.”


“I wanted to play with my brothers on the same team since I was a little kid,” said Castle Park senior Danny Sanchez, 6 feet, 4 inches, 355 pounds.

The boys simply were too big to play Pop Warner football.

Tommy, Daniel, and Rocco Sanchez (from left) were up front with Trojans.

Tommy, Daniel, and Rocco Sanchez (from left) were up front with Trojans.

It’s also hard to imagine Danny as ever being little.  Or his “little” bro’s, 6-2, 320-pound junior Tommy, and 6-2, 295-pound sophomore Rocco.

The three of them anchored Castle Park’s offensive line and “they’re a line coach’s dream,” said Trojans coach Paul Van Nostrand.


Westview High in northwest Rancho Penasquitos fielded its first varsity team…the Wolverines are the 82nd San Diego Section school to participate in football…Westview was 3-6 against a junior varsity schedule in 2002…The Bishop’s School had 14 available players when it dropped from 11-man to 8-man…Christian’s new coach was former NFL quarterback Jay Schroeder, who played for four teams…Midway Baptist operated out of the Southern Section’s eight-man Big Sky League… Jake Fadden of Hilltop became the first South Bay quarterback to pass for 400 yards, finishing with 401 in a 57-37 loss to Chula Vista… Crawford topped University 49-21 in the playoffs for its first win over the Dons in 18 years…Escondido was 2-1 in the playoffs and worth watching…the Cougars’ average score in postseason was 41-34…they scored five touchdowns in a 12-minute span in the second half to overcome West Hills, 54-39…third generation footballer Ryan Durden, son of Allan, nephew of Mike, and grandson of Earnel, turned out for football at Helix… Point Loma led Marian Catholic 17-14 in the fourth quarter but bowed 32-17, marking 12 seasons and eight appearances without advancing beyond the playoff quarterfinals…Mission Bay’s Arian Foster would go undrafted out of Tennessee, sign as a rookie free agent and become a star with the NFL Houston Texans… El Cajon Valley and Grossmont played for the Peace Pipe and the Braves may have sued for peace…Grossmont won the fifth straight in the series, 48-8…St. Augustine quarterback Jake Santos set a Section record with 8 touchdown passes in a 62-10 win over Scripps Ranch…University City’s 5-5 record represented the Centurions first nonlosing season since 1992….

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4 Responses to 2003: Havana, Si!

  1. Brett Fisher Jr says:

    Haha no worries sir. I just think people forget about how dominant we were as a program from mid 90’s to end of 2004 season. I appreciate all that your doing and keep up the good work.

  2. Brett Fisher Jr says:

    We also beat those Castle Park brothers in the Quarter Finals in Overtime lol

  3. Brett Fisher Jr says:

    I love ALL of your articles but this one makes me cringe haha. No mention of the 2003 Division 2 Champion Monte Vista Monarchs who were the only team to challenge Marian Catholic in 2 whole seasons losing 32-31 on a tipped pass in week 1. Then we absolutely dismantled Oceanside TWICE in week 3 and in the Semi Finals (Only team to beat Oside twice in a season in Carroll Era until Mission Hills 2013 team.) We lost to arch rival Helix 12-9 in week 10 for the Grossmont South Chamoionship although we outgained them by 200+ yards, but we beat them 20-3 in Qualcomm with RB Darrell Mack setting the Section record with 50 carries for 254 yards and 2 TD. That Championship win was Ed Carberry 2nd in 14 years and 100th victory and last game coaching at high school level. He is now Head Coach at Southwestern College in Chula Vista.

    • Rick says:

      Brett: Mea Culpa, mea culpa. I should have had something abut the Monarchs in there. Thanks for writing and I welcome your comments on any topic.

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