1961: Grossmont Teams See The Light(s)

Modified Sportsmen race cars and the arrival of the San Diego Chargers may have saved night football in  the foothills east of San Diego.

An unusual alliance.

Grossmont School District teams, faced with an illumination problem, played many games on the infield of the dirt track oval near the Gillespie Field airport from 1958-66.

New schools (Mount Miguel, 1957, El Capitan, 1959, Granite Hills, 1960, and Monte Vista, 1961) created an exponential need for lights on East County gridirons.

No lights, no night football.

Helix and Mount Miguel were the only schools this year in the new, seven-school Grossmont League that were able to host games after dark. Cajon Speedway, formerly County Stadium, became increasingly important.

Aztec Bowl was E; Capitan coach Art Preston's turf when he starred at San Diego State, a point not lost on Vaqueros backs Dave Phillips (15), Dennis Childers, Dave Varvel, and Leon Herzog, from left.

Aztec Bowl was El Capitan coach Art Preston’s turf when he starred at Grossmont and San Diego State, a point not lost on Vaqueros backs Dave Phillips (15), Dennis Childers, Dave Varvel, and Leon Herzog, from left.

The Speedway in North El Cajon near the future Eastbound State 52, was home for El Cajon Valley, Granite Hills, and Grossmont.

El Capitan played home games at Aztec Bowl.

BASEBALL AT GILLESPIE? 

Earle Brucker, Sr., who played and coached for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics and had a long career in the minor leagues, had baseball on his mind when he  became involved in plans to build a spring training facility for a major league team.

A plot of land next to Gillespie Field seemed destined to become the site, according to Bob Gardner, an El Cajon Daily Californian staffer who later became publicist at Cajon Speedway.

A hotel chain sought a lease from the County of San Diego to build on the land in 1955. The corporation also hoped to erect a major hotel on one of the hills west of the city. But a change in state tax laws forced the innkeepers to abandon their plan.

Brucker, according to Gardner, stepped up and acquired the lease.

“At the time the idea still was to build a ball park,” said Earle Brucker, Jr.  “After we got it built the baseball team (Detroit Tigers) decided to go elsewhere.

Race cars shared Cajon Speedway with high school football t\eams from the area.

Race cars like these shared Cajon Speedway with high school football teams.

“Since the high schools around here didn’t have anywhere to play night football and since we were committed to put in some lights, we converted the baseball field into a football stadium,” said the younger Brucker.

A motorcycle track was installed after the first year of football. “The money we got from the motorcycles was the only income we had other than the minimal amount we got from the high schools,” said Brucker.

The struggling Bruckers would be gifted with some good luck.

PRO FOOTBALL COMES TO TOWN

Auto racing, a fixture at downtown San Diego’s Balboa Stadium since 1937, ceased when the San Diego Chargers relocated from Los Angeles this year and moved into the stadium.

The Bruckers hooked up with the San Diego Racing Association. County Stadium’s motorcycle track was renamed Cajon Speedway after a regulation, quarter-mile dirt oval was put in place  and modified sportsmen racers got the green flag.

By 1966, more Grossmont League schools had lights and Cajon Speedway was no longer needed.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Newspapers generally described the football-motorcycle layout as Gillespie Field, although the Bruckers originally identified their facility as  “County” Stadium.  That nomenclature officially changed with the Cajon Speedway naming in 1961.

NUTS AND BOLTS?

Al Carroll, a wide receiver-defensive back at Granite Hills in 1960-61 whose son and grandsons played for the Eagles, remembered Cajon Speedway and its peculiarities for Bill Dickens of The San Diego Union.

Despite having the gridiron regularly combed by several human metal detectors, Carroll told Dickens that players routinely had extra cuts and bruises from stray auto parts.

At halftime the Eagles retreated not to a locker room but to the school bus that brought them to the game.

Coach Glenn Otterson addressed his squad in a sweaty, humid atmosphere.

“I remember the windows fogging up more than what was being said by our coach,” said Carroll, who also married the school’s first homecoming queen.

WRONG WAY GALLUP

Dave Gallup was a tennis and prep writer at The San Diego Union.

And a curmudgeonly presence.

Gallup would take the opposite side in an  argument concerning virtually any subject. The veteran scribe was a self-styled expert on many issues but finding his way was not one.

Gallup was assigned a game for the first time at Cajon Speedway  and obtained instructions on how to get to there.

The writer was traveling at a reasonable speed on  a suddenly deserted roadway when he was startled to hear sirens and see red lights in his rear view mirror.

Pulled over by a Sheriff’s cruiser, Gallup was informed that he was motoring on the Gillespie Field runway and was about to be arrested.

Police relented after Gallup convinced the cops he was lost and not some sinister crazy  up to no good.   The officers ushered him to his proper destination.

Dave, of course, blamed the incident on poor directions.

EX-FOOTHILLER REPORTS BRIBE

Mickey Bruce, an all-Metropolitan League halfback and the league’s leading scorer in 1957 at Grossmont, was a star defensive back-running back at Oregon and had been subject of a bribe attempt in 1960 that came to light this year.

Mickey Bruce fingers gambler Frank (Lefty) Rosenthal after bribe attempt.

Mickey Bruce fingered gambler Frank (Lefty) Rosenthal after bribe attempt.

Bruce, testifying before a Senate committee on racketeering in Washington, D.C., identified gambler Frank (Lefty) Rosenthal during a hearing in September of this year.

Rosenthal  and two associates approached Bruce at a hotel in Dearborn, Michigan, where the Ducks were preparing to play Michigan in September, 1960.

Bruce said the strangers invited him to their room to discuss tickets ordered by one of Bruce’s classmates, but quickly cut to the chase, offering Bruce $5,000 if he would “let a Michigan pass receiver get behind him” and helping ensure that Oregon would lose by at least 8 points.

Bruce also was offered another $5,000 if he could get Oregon quarterback Dave Gross “to call the wrong plays.” Bruce immediately informed his position coach, who told head coach Len Casanova, who notified authorities.

Bruce was asked to remain silent for almost  a year as authorities completed their investigation.

Rosenthal glared at Bruce during the hearing and took the fifth.

The Robert DeNiro portrayal of  “Sam (Ace) Rothstein”  in the 1995 Martin Scorcese-directed movie “Casino” is said to have been based on the life and Las Vegas career of Rosenthal, who died at age 79 in 2008.

After his testimony Bruce declined further participation, including serving as a witness in a possible trial in Michigan later in 1961. “I did my duty and that’s it,” said Bruce, who was advised by his father, an attorney in San Diego.

Bruce practiced law in San Diego and Oroville and passed away in the Northern California community at age 70 in 2011.

Crawford's Bill Rainey, all Southern California, is tackled by unidentified Kearny defender, while Don Henderrson (23), Jimmy Gilbert (30), and Larry Guske (43) are witnesses. Colts won San Diego Section title.

Crawford’s Bill Rainey, all-Southern California, is tackled by unidentified Kearny defender, while Don Henderson (23), Jimmy Gilbert (30), and Larry Guske (43) witness.

HONORS

Crawford’s Bill Rainey was on the all-Southern California first team and teammate Duane Farrar, who played tackle, was on the second team.  Third-team selections were Kearny end Bob Richardson and La Jolla quarterback Dan Berry.

This was the last season that San Diego Section athletes were considered for the Helms Athletic Foundation’s all-Southern California teams in  football, basketball, track, and other sports.

Nineteen of the 21 selectors were from the Los Angeles area and did  not feel they knew enough or saw enough of San Diego players in action.

The San Diego selectors were myself and F.W. (Bill) Whitney of the Breitbard Athletic Foundation.

POINT LOMA PLOY

Bennie Edens was going to hide a player in plain sight.

The Point Loma coach took Jeff Staggs, a tackle-linebacker, and moved him to fullback. Edens figured that if he changed the jersey Staggs was wearing each week it would confuse the Pointers’ opponents.

Staggs (left), with Pointers linemen Tom Park, Al Gilchrest, Jim Varley, and Billy Gomez, had almost everyone's number.

Staggs (left), with Pointers linemen Tom Park, Al Gilchrist, Jim Varley, and Billy Gomez, had  everyone’s number.

Staggs, who was identified by No. 62 as a junior, changed jersey numbers weekly, beginning early this season. He went from 61 to 62 to 86 to 23 to 44,  and finally to 66.

Edens thought the changes would make it difficult for upcoming opponents to identify the strapping, 235-pound Staggs in game films.

Good try, Bennie.

Staggs later  earned Little All-America honors at San Diego State and played eight seasons with the Chargers, L.A. Rams, and St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL.

TWO NEW LEAGUES

East County growth was such that the Grossmont League was formed this year.  At the same time the Palomar League for  North County squads was created.

From 1920-50 there had only been Grossmont in the East County.  Helix became the second school in 1951.

The inaugural Grossmont circuit, spinning off the two-division Metropolitan League of 1960, embraced seven:  Grossmont, Helix, El Cajon Valley, Mount Miguel, El Capitan, Granite Hills, and Monte Vista, which opened this year in Spring Valley.

MORE GROWTH

The Palomar League stretched from Poway in the South to Fallbrook in the North, Ramona in the East, and to Carlsbad’s Army-Navy in the West.

Poway and San Marcos aligned with Monte Vista as new section schools, as did Chula Vista’s Marian, which joined a truncated Southern Prep League that included only San Diego Military Academy and San Miguel School.

Fallbrook became a section football member after winning the Riverside County De Anza League in 1960.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

“You can’t tell the Grossmonts without a program,” wrote the Evening Tribune’s Roger Conlee.

Conlee noted that there was a Grossmont High, Grossmont College, the community of Grossmont, Grossmont Boulevard, Grossmont Hospital, and the Grossmont School District.

In making its bow this year, the  Grossmont League brought the total to seven. The Grossmont Center shopping mall, yet to come, would make it eight.

Lewis Smith, one of the founding fathers of the San Diego Section, was enamored of the name.  He had been principal at Grossmont High and was the school district superintendent.

“But my argument was that a league shouldn’t have the same name as one of its member schools,” said Conlee.   “I suggested Foothills League and a few others.”

COLTS WIN AT 8-0-2

Crawford was tied twice but repeated a 6-0, one-quarter carnival victory and a 13-0 nonleague win over Kearny with another 13-0 verdict over the Komets before a damp crowd of 8,500 in the AA playoffs final at Balboa Stadium.

Coaches Frank Smith (left) and Walt Harvey were surrounded by winning Colts following 13-0 shutout of Kearny.

Coaches Frank Smith (left) and Walt Harvey were surrounded by winning Colts following 13-0 shutout of Kearny.

Tom Whelan gave the Colts his usual steady quarterbacking.  Jim Rupe scored two touchdowns and led the 55th Street bangers  with 50 yards in 13 carries.  John Allison had 47 in 10 and Bill Rainey, the County’s leading scorer with 115 points, had 48 yards in 16 carries.

Jhon Allison (left) and Jim Rupe augmented Bill Rainey in Crawford's ground attack.

John Allison (left) and Jim Rupe augmented Bill Rainey in Crawford’s ground attack.

John Greene had 76 yards in 12  rushing attempts for Kearny.

“No matter how many times we’d play ‘em, they’d be two touchdowns better than us,” said Kearny coach Birt Slater.

The expected game of the year was the week before when Crawford met 8-0 Helix on a rain(e)y night.

The 170-pound halfback scored five touchdowns on the wet, well-worn Aztec Bowl turf as Crawford rushed for 365 yards to Helix’ 71 and pushed the Highlanders off the field in a 31-13 demonstration of power.

Colts coach Walt Harvey now had developed winning squads at La Jolla and startup programs Lincoln and Crawford.

COLTS SUPPOSED TO BE GOOD, BUT…

Crawford was only one of four preseason favorites in the Eastern  League.  Point Loma, runner-up to Escondido in 1960,  was expected to win the Western, and Metropolitan favorite Escondido figured to bid strongly for a second straight AA title.

The Colts dispatched Lincoln, 28-7, in an early Eastern League showdown and battled to a 6-6 deadlock with St. Augustine. San Diego stunningly did not win a game, finishing 0-6-2, the Cavemen’s first winless campaign since 1908, but one of their ties was a dreadful, 0-0 outing for Crawford.

The Saints (6-1-1), bulwarked by all-Section center Ron Cota, second-team, all-section end John Nettles, and a host of other standouts, could have taken advantage, but on the night that San Diego tied Crawford, St. Augustine was upset by Lincoln, 13-6, as Willie Shaw ran for 128 yards and Vernus Ragsdale for 96.

With Cota (right) leading the way, St. Augustine's Henry (Bunny) Daniels outruns Point Loma defense.

With Cota (right) leading the way, St. Augustine’s Henry (Bunny) Daniels outruns Point Loma defense.

Escondido struck early with a 32-12 victory over Point Loma in a rematch of the 1960 championship game.  But halfback Bob (The Blur) Blunt was injured a  few games into the season and the Cougars flattened out to 5-4, leaving Sweetwater alone at the top.

Helix won the Grossmont League showdown over Grossmont, 28-27, and was the favored team when the playoffs began. Crawford proved the folly of that sentiment.

VIKINGS ALMOST REIGN

La Jolla scored its first victory over San Diego since 1951 and went on to post a 7-1 record, its best since 1948, but a 14-6 loss to Kearny knocked the Vikings out of the Western League championship.

Lefty Berry drove La Jolla to big win and niche among all-time Vikings.

Lefty Berry drove La Jolla to big win and niche among all-time Vikings.

La Jolla may have lost the Western title but its game of the year was when the Vikings defeated  San Diego.

Trailing, 19-7, at the end of the third quarter, La Jolla rallied to a 27-19 victory.

Quarterback Dan Berry, who rushed for 153 yards in 20 carries, scored two touchdowns and passed for two, one a 35-yard strike to Butch Taylor in the fourth quarter.

Berry went on to the University of California at Berkeley and was a fifth-round draft choice of the Philadelphia Eagles.

LANCERS WIN SMALL

Carlsbad won the A title with a 10-6 victory at Coronado’s soggy Cutler Field, stopping the Islanders on Carlsbad’s seven- and four-yard lines.

It was that kind of year as the San Diego Section took another step forward.

ANOTHER DAYTIME CARNIVAL

Rowdydism  forced the 23rd annual City Schools carnival to leave the cover of darkness  and was played in the afternoon for the third consecutive year.

About 17,000 Balboa Stadium patrons saw the East contingent of Crawford, Lincoln, Hoover, and St. Augustine defeat  West schools Point Loma, Clairemont, La Jolla, and Mission Bay, 12-6. Bill Rainey ran 33 yards for an East score.

Lincoln’s Vernus Ragsdale hiked 51, 36, and 10 yards for touchdowns, but penalties negated the longer runs. Tom Bowden and Bob Hartin combined on a 53-yard screen pass for a score as Clairemont outpointed Hoover, 6-0.

Kearny's Steve Rynerson, Byron Mitchell, Mario Ramos, and Richard Case (clockwise, from left) appear to be clearing space for San Diego Section championship trophy that would elude the Komets.

Kearny’s Steve Rynerson, Byron Mitchell, Mario Ramos, and Richard Case (clockwise, from left) appear to be clearing space for San Diego Section championship trophy that would elude the Komets.

QUICK KICKS

Earl Brucker, Jr., is a footnote in the history of the Pacific Coast League San Diego Padres…Brucker pinch hit for Herb Gorman in  April, 1953,  at Lane Field after Gorman collapsed in left field and died in the Padres’ clubhouse during the first game of a doubleheader against Hollywood…Hoover’s 19-13 win over San Diego turned on Phil Cappelletti’s 60-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter…Hoover was 2-6  but defeated San Diego for the first time since 1956 and Lincoln for the first time since 1958… Point Loma did not have coach Bennie Edens all the week of its Western League-championship game with Kearny…Edens was in bed with a severe cold  but was on hand as the Pointers fell to Kearny, 20-7…Lincoln saved a 27-26 victory over Chula Vista by stopping the Spartans twice on a run-attempted conversions in the fourth quarter…the Hornets were penalized, giving the Spartans a second chance…Harvey retired after Crawford won the AA title and was the County Coach of the Year, honored at the annual St. Augustine Appreciation Night….

Typical publicity photo op of the era: Hoover's Walter Joe Shepich hurdles teammates Fred Greene, Lynn Johnson, and Herb Waldrop (from left) as part of Cardinals "Picture Day".

Typical publicity photo op of the era: Hoover’s Walter Joe Shepich hurdles teammates Fred Greene, Lynn Johnson, and Herb Waldrop (from left) as part of Cardinals “Picture Day”.

Flag captain Mattie Cameron, colonel Carol Butler, and drum corps captain Patty Mandeville (from left) carried Mission Bay banner at annual Cty Schools carnival.

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8 Responses to 1961: Grossmont Teams See The Light(s)

  1. Ted says:

    The football field at Cajon Speedway was Santana’s home field in 1965 & 66, after which we moved to Mt. Miguel (!) for home games. There were indeed occasional auto parts on the field and the lighting was, well, substandard (the end zones were particularly dim).

    • Rick says:

      Ted, thanks for writing. I think I list the Sultans as having Helix as their home field after exiting Cajon Speedway. I’ll double check and make a correction. I guess, in the use of Cajon Speedway, dim lights were better than no lights.

  2. Dick DiMeo says:

    The magical years of the early 60s will never be forgotten

    • Rick says:

      When we were young! I remember you as a Helix quarterback, either before, after, or in between Barry Bronk and George Engle. Or was it George Sherrod? Helix always was one of my favorite stops. Thanks for writing, Dick.

  3. Richard Rachel says:

    Rick:

    I remember Grossmont used Helix as its home field, alternating with the Highlanders.

    “Carnival” games were played in Aztec Bowl.

    Richard

    • Ted says:

      The players loved the Carnival but the coaches did not. None of them wanted to show anything so all the play calls were Conservative with a capital C.

      • Rick says:

        Sadly, I think rowdyism was the demise of carnivals, at least in the city. The city went to a daytime carnival in 1959, then folded the event after the 1962 game. There were years when the City League carnival and Metro League carnivals were held on the same night, at Balboa Stadium and at Aztec Bowl. Combined crowds were well over 30,000. Coaches may not have liked these extravaganzas but the players and the fans did. R.I.P.

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