It was a question never answered, probably because it seldom was asked.
Which was the better team? The 25-1 San Dieguito Mustangs, who won the Class A championship, or the tradition-rich, 24-3 Hoover Cardinals, who won the AA title in the 1960-61, first season of the CIF San Diego Section .
Some 50 years later a reader of this website suggested I write a story about that San Dieguito team.
My initial reaction was, why didn’t I press the issue in 1961 and get Hoover coach Charlie Hampton to address the subject after the San Dieguito coach declared his Mustangs team the best?
Or confront CIF commissioner Don Clarkson and have him explain why the Mustangs wouldn’t be allowed to participate in the AA (large schools) playoffs, despite their almost-unbeaten record against bigger schools.
I was a cub reporter on the Evening Tribune, out of Lincoln High, and I thought all things started and ended with the Eastern League, of which Hoover was a member.
My colleague, Roger Conlee, covered County schools and leaned heavily to the Grossmont and Metropolitan leagues. The Avocado League was held in slightly more regard than the tiny Southern League.
This was an terrific San Dieguito team, led by 6-foot, 7-inch senior John Fairchild, who would be a standout at Brigham Young University and play for the Los Angeles Lakers and other professional teams over a six-year period.
Conlee and I believed otherwise, I guess. There were weeks when the Mustangs were not even in the Tribune’s Top 10, compiled by the two of us. Late in the season San Dieguito’s 16-1 record wasn’t good enough. Sweetwater (5-8) and Point Loma (7-8) were considered more worthy.
North County squads, other than Escondido, didn’t get much currency in those days. Bias definitely favored the city. The population swing and subsequent North County power emergence still was years away.
Roger Conlee finally took a trip late in the season up U.S. 101 to Bing Crosby Hall, a cavernous barn on the Del Mar Fairgrounds which served as the Mustangs’ home court.
Conlee saw San Dieguito dispatch Vista, 49-40, before about 2,000 partisans. The victory was the 17th in a row in a streak that began after a 54-47 loss to Helix in the season’s opening game.
Mustangs coach Dick McCracken, who posted a 40-6 record in his only two seasons, spoke out after the game.
“I’m sure proud of this team,” McCracken told Conlee. “I only hope we can get into the large school playoffs (Avocado League squads were consigned to the small schools alignment, reserved for schools with less than 1,500 enrollment).
Then McCracken elaborated:
“The only point I’d like to make is that we beat the two teams (Hilltop and Kearny) that beat Hoover. I think we can beat Hoover, too. We have better shooters. The only thing which might beat us would be the coaching. I’m no Charlie Hampton.”
(Hampton was the legendary Hoover coach who compiled a .774 won-loss percentage in 11 seasons and posted a 223-65 record).
Coronado coach Don Valliere weighed in on the subject after a 67-49 loss to Fairchild and company.
“San Dieguito without question has the best basketball team in the County,” said Valliere. “They may not play defense as well as Hoover, but all in all they’re better.”
The final Tribune Top 10, published before the playoffs:
4—Point Loma, 13-9.
5—San Dieguito, 22-1.
9—Chula Vista, 10-10.
San Dieguito rolled through the Class A playoffs, beating El Cajon Valley, 73-57, Kearny, 66-53, and Sweetwater, 54-46. Hoover won the AA title, defeating Chula Vista, 63-36, Hilltop, 56-49, and Point Loma, 66-53.
There would be no matchup of city and county powerhouses. Section commissioner Clarkson hadn’t considered allowing the Mustangs into the AA playoffs.
So the season ended.
With apologies to Aretha Franklin, the Mustangs also deserved a little respect.