My daughter found the T-shirt (pictured at left) in the bottom of a drawer. Seeing that t-shirt triggered memories of one of my best teams and my best years coaching. I started coaching at SBHS as a student coach and student teacher in 1969. I then coached at the feeder junior high school for four years and then took a year to get my masters at Stanford. In 1974 – 75 I returned to SBHS as head girls cross country and track coach and assistant boys track coach. In 1975 -76 I took over as head coach of both boys and girls and combined the programs. Cross-country and track at Santa Barbara high school at that time were special. I guess I really did not realize how special until I started to reflect back on those years to write this blog.
To say there was a culture and tradition of excellence in track and field at SBHS would be an understatement. My predecessor, Bill Crow had an amazing won loss record of 164 wins and 24 losses and 3 ties. The team name was the Dons. There was a Don way – a pretty simple culture. The rules were simple: Wear the uniform and be on time. Those were the rules Bill had used; I certainly was not going to change that. The kids knew what it meant to put on that special singlet. They knew that they had to honor it with their best effort. Each kid got a handbook for cross-country and track. In the handbook were the top ten lists, biographies of the returning letter winners and past results.
The track was a “funny shaped” (80 yard straights that gave the illusion that the track was almost circular) 440 yard rock hard asphalt track with a grass straightaway inside the track for sprints and hurdles. It was a beautiful setting in a natural bowl (Peabody Stadium) surrounded by trees. There were two shot put rings, two long jump/triple jump pits, and two pole vaults pits that made running meets very efficient. We had all adult officials; many of who were teachers at the school and others retired teachers and administrators who had a deep loyalty to the program. The dual meets started at 2:30 and ended with the last mile relay at 5:10 PM. In the meets there was boys frosh/soph division, boys junior varsity, boys varsity and girls JV and girls varsity – yes that’s right five meets going on at once. It was an amazing show! Robbie Fletcher who was a special needs student did all the set up for the meets, he dug up the pits and got everything in place. He took tremendous pride in his work. I have often wondered what happened to him. I used to give him an Italian submarine sandwich from Tino’s Italian Store for his work; you would have though I paid him a hundred dollars. My wife Melissa was the meet announcer. She did a great job of keep the meet moving and everyone apprised of the results of each event and the running score of each of the five concurrent meets. The clerk for the meet was one of principals.
I coached the hurdles, distance and long, triple and high jump. Gates Foss coached pole vault, Gates was one the best coaches I have ever been around. He had been the pool maintenance man at SBHS for close to forty years and had coached the pole-vaulters all that time. He was methodical, extremely patient and worked very hard to stay current on technique. Every year he had at least one fourteen foot pole-vaulter and some years two. That year we had one. John Larralde was my right hand man and number one assistant. He helped me with cross-country and with the distance events in track. John went onto surpass me at Carpenteria high school where he coached two California sate high school mile champions. I like to think he learned some of those lessons at SBHS. We had a throws Coach was quite experienced and two teachers who had little experience to supervise the sprint workouts.
We had 120 boys and girls out for the track team. For cross-country we had 50 boys and girls on the team. The team reflected the socio economic and cultural mix of the school. There were rich kids, poor kids, African Americans and Mexican Americans. Our feeder schools were La Cumbre Junior high school and Santa Barbara Junior high school. SBHS was a three high school and the junior high schools were three-year schools. The feeder schools had good track programs, I had previously coached at La Cumbre Junior high and many of the seniors had been seventh graders when I started coaching.
A part of the tradition of SBHS track & cross-country was the tarp. The tarp was put out in the middle of the field; it was were all the kids put their gear and waited to warm-up. The tarp was our territory and only the Dons could sit on that tarp, it was hallowed ground.
In 1976 Girls Cross Country placed second in first ever California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section (CIFSS) girl’s cross-country championship after going into the meet as overwhelming favorites. A clear case of bad coaching, lesson learned here was that if in doubt in the last week do less not more, that last hard Monday workout killed us, we didn’t need it. The boys were seventh in a tremendous team effort. One of our traditions was to run a postal two and three mile on the track the week after CIF finals. The boys won the national team postal three-mile tile in 1976.
We owned the Distance Medley relay at the Arcadia invitational, in 77 the girls won it for the third year in a row. We also broke the national record in the DMR that spring. Both the girls and boys won Channel league team championships. The boys had their 43 meet win streak broken. The Girls were fifth place in the CIF southern section. We had two individuals qualify for the Sate Meet that was held at UCLA. Tara Hobbs placed ninth in the two mile and Molly Miller placed sixth in the 440. The girl’s mile relay placed fifth. The team was made up of Tara Hobbs, Annie Byron, Connie Hogan and Molly Miller. They ran an incredible race to beat several teams seated above them.
To advance to State meet in California was a grind, a very tough process. It started with the league meet where you had to be in the top three. Then it went to CIF Prelims where you had to place in the top eight or nine. Then you went to CIF Finals in your division where you had to be in the top five to go onto Masters Meet. At the Masters Meet you had to place in the top five to go onto to state meet. The State Meet is a two-day meet with prelims on Friday and finals on Saturday. All our training was pointed toward this.
During the summer we had a summer track class where the emphasis was on teaching not training. The weight room was open several evenings a week and there were all comer track meets on Thursday nights. The rule was that you could not do your event during the summer. You had to do something different. I did not have a 100 mile a week club or anything approaching that with my cross-country kids. I had excellent senior leadership they would meet and run on their own and then lift weights. They had pride in what they were doing and wanted to have the best team possible so they were highly motivated. I doubt that anyone ever went over 50 miles week during the summer. My philosophy was to not take the run out of them. We trained hard when we started and it was along way from May and June our ultimate targets. I also wanted them to develop ownership of their program, I would guide them not lord over them. The kids did a great job of preparing that the summer of 1976. In cross-country we had eight dual meets, usually on Thursday and four Saturday invitational meets. In track we had dual meets on Tuesdays or Thursday with four invitational meets spaced throughout the season.
Looking back through the prism of time it was one my best years in coaching. We did a lot of things right. We all had high expectations and achieved to and beyond the level of expectations. I demanded a lot from the kids and my coaches and even more from myself. My regret is that I never took the time to really enjoy all that was going on around me. I was so focused on getting a college job and being in the big time that I never allowed myself the time to enjoy the moment. 35 years latter I am enjoying writing about this great group of kids and what they accomplished, all this spurred on by an old t-shirt found in the bottom of a drawer. It was a special time with special people.