1957: Different Kind of Opponent

A silent killer loomed over San Diego County gridirons.

Discovered in February in a Southern China province, a virus that  became known as the Asian Flu hit area teams with full force several months later.

Medical symbol became  as common as team symbols.

Medical symbol became as common as team symbols.

The germ spread to Singapore, then was transported by U.S. Naval personnel, reaching the shores of the Pacific Coast in June.

The virus spread across the country in the summer and fall and claimed the lives of almost 70,000 Americans and almost 2 million worldwide.

There were no reported deaths in San Diego football circles, but the germ’s affect was felt throughout the season.

First mention of flu on the sports pages of local newspapers came September 29, when 10 El Cajon Valley High players and 500 students missed classes, according to football coach Glenn Otterson.

Sick players and canceled games were noted almost daily in October.

–Ramona was reduced to a squad of 10 and  forced to cancel its opening game at Imperial, then was idled again when Claremont-Webb withdrew (the teams met later).

The Bulldogs’ game the next week at Lancaster Edwards Air Force Base Desert also was called off.  Ramona finally was ready for its league opener, but Brown Military Academy couldn’t field a team.

–Three games involving Avocado League teams were scratched within 48 hours.  Escondido, expecting a crowd of 6,000 when it stepped up in competition to take on a Metropolitan League power, was forced to pull out of a game with Sweetwater. San Dieguito canceled with Vista, but Vista and Sweetwater got together and played.

–With 7 starters out and only 22 of  45 roster players available, Helix officials discussed the possibility of not going to Oxnard.  The Highlanders decided to head North and were beaten 52-6.

–Claremont, in Eastern Los Angeles  County, was down to 10 players and canceled with Sweetwater, which was able to fill the date against Brawley, which needed an opponent after Holtville came down with the illness.

–Claremont later was on the receiving end as Army-Navy’s team was racked with the flu.

–Chula Vista scheduled Upland after Chino withdrew.

–West Covina bailed on El Cajon Valley, which got a game with Fullerton, but that game was canceled because of rain.

–Lincoln coach Shan Deniston and Mission Bay’s Harry Anderson were slowed by flu symptoms.

–Deniston called off practice when four starters were out.  Tackle Tony Dement was struck with a different ailment.  Dement was forced to undergo surgery after a mosquito bite on his leg became infected.

–Twenty-three games in Southern California were canceled on Oct. 12.

–Crawford and Carlsbad, first-year teams, met in what essentially was the schools’ only varsity contest. Crawford’s first-team backfield, featuring Hoover transfer Arnold Tripp, stayed home with the flu. and the Colts missed a chance at an undefeated season, losing 20-13.

Colts coach Walt Harvey picked up the bug on Crawford’s crowded, sweaty bus ride home and spent the next 10 days in bed.

–Eighty-nine St. Augustine players, comprising freshman, junior varsity and varsity, were inoculated at the same time with painful flu shots, which often left the patient with a very sore arm and, in some cases, flu-like symptoms.

–Tiny San Miguel School in  National City defeated host Studio City Harvard Military 13-7 and finished the game with 10 players.  The Knights canceled their next game against Army-Navy.

–Literally hundreds of other players missed school or games.  The virus affected every school in the area.

–A sign of a return to normalcy came in November, when the Asian Flu no longer was considered a threat to patrons in crowded movie theaters.  Attendance at San Diego film venues had dropped almost 25 per cent in October.  

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3 Responses to 1957: Different Kind of Opponent

  1. Rick says:

    Thanks for writing. It was a golden age not only for San Diego High but also for Escondido and Ramona, despite the losses.

  2. Stan says:

    Speaking of being knocked down by the Flu….Coach Harvey has been taking notes from his Hospital bed for a full week. He thought his pain was from a kidney stone….they discovered something else, but have kept him there for further surveilance….Coach says” I just want to get out of here and go home”.

    Hopefully, Monday will be that day. He can be reached at: Grossmont Hospital: 619-740-6000 Rm 286

    • Rick says:

      Stan: I called hospital this morning but he had been discharged. I reached him at home. “I’m not moving too good,” he said, then added, “tell them the old man’s okay.”

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