Players on the Bishop Diego High football team might be getting together in 2063, the 50th anniversary year of their current season. The exhilaration of winning a CIF championship — or the memories of games well played, win or lose — lasts a long, long time. I saw it three years ago, when a couple dozen Santa Barbara Dons gathered to reminisce about their triumph in 1960. I experienced it last weekend, when I joined 30 teammates to celebrate St. Francis High’s back-to-back championship seasons in 1963 and ’64.
St. Francis, known as “the little school on the hill,” had an enrollment of 380 boys who lived in La Cañada and the surrounding foothill communities. From an early age, we aspired to play for the Golden Knights, the varsity football team coached by Jack Friedman, a legendary taskmaster. Several of his teams had fallen just short of CIF glory. In 1963, we had the talent to succeed, and we applied ourselves with a spiritual fervor, much to the delight of our Franciscan teachers.
It was not easy. We had to bounce back from a loss and beat Bishop Amat for the league crown. Second-place teams did not qualify for the play-offs. Our first play-off game was postponed for a day of grieving after the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22. Victories over West Covina, Claremont, and Santa Ana Valley sent us into the Class AAA championship game against La Mirada in the L.A. Coliseum. It was the first game of a double-header — Loyola and El Rancho played for the AAAA crown — and almost 25,000 fans were in attendance. We drove the length of the field in the final quarter and won, 7-0. The 1964 team followed us with a perfect 13-0 season and another CIF title.
The school welcomed us back last Friday to share our experiences with the 2013 Golden Knights. Tom Verti, a starter on both championship squads who later was a three-year letterman at the University of Washington, summed up our feelings when he said, “The best times I ever had were right here at St. Francis.” We met the players in a shiny field house, a far cry from the dark dungeon — the remnant of an ancient country club — that served as our locker room. The school has been upgraded to serve 675 students with an array of educational programs, but there still is a lot of pride in the football teams. Fr. Tony Marti, the president of St. Francis, recently drew a 15-yard penalty when he berated an official on the sideline. The next week, he found yellow flags all around the campus and on his desk.
Thankfully, after we spoke to the Golden Knights, they went out and defeated Cathedral, 31-21, to raise their record to 7-0. They are ranked No. 4 in the CIF Western Division, but they are long shots to go all the way in the play-offs. They still have to face Mission League opponents Serra and Chaminade, teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2.
Bishop Diego, also 7-0, plays in the Tri-Valley League, another league of extraordinary teams. The Cardinals, top-ranked in the CIF Northwest Division, take the field against No. 2 Oak Park on Saturday night, October 26, at La Playa Stadium. Oak Park is coming off a victory over Nordhoff, the defending CIF champion. Carpinteria, which holds the No. 3 spot, travels to Ojai on Friday night to face Nordhoff.
Meanwhile, the Dos Pueblos Chargers, after back-to-back victories over Santa Barbara and San Marcos, are gunning for the Channel League championship. They are the league’s only ranked team — No. 10 in the Western Division — heading into this Friday night’s home game against Ventura.
Despite the increase in divisions and play-off berths, a CIF football championship remains a cherished achievement. That’s why people remember them 50 years later.
SBCC, 6-0, is one of two undefeated community college football teams in the Southland. The Vaqueros scored their latest victory on a safety in the final minutes at Antelope Valley, 18-16.
CANDAELE ALWAYS BURNING: Like all great champions, Coley Candaele attributes his success to the people around him. “I was so fortunate to play with a great group of guys, and my parents and coaches taught me well,” said Candaele, who quarterbacked the Carpinteria Warriors to three — that’s right, three — CIF titles in 1987, 1988, and 1989. He also was one of the nation’s top middle-distance runners, winning the state 1,600-meter title in 1990. He may be the best schoolboy athlete I’ve ever seen. Lompoc High’s Napoleon Kaufman was a dazzling running back and a state sprint champion, but Candaele’s quarterback-miler combination was unique.
Candaele added to his legacy as Carpinteria’s football coach. In 2002, he led the Warriors to another CIF crown, capping a 14-0 season. Vista Murrieta, a new school in Riverside County, recruited him to get its athletic program off the ground. Candaele has guided its football teams into four CIF finals – winning the Inland title in 2011 – and also brought four CIF track-and-field team titles to Murrieta.
Candaele will be inducted into the Carpinteria High School Athletic Hall of Fame on Friday, November 8, during halftime of the Warriors’ football game against Oak Park. He will be occupied by a Vista Murrieta game that night, but he will appear at the November 9 banquet honoring the inductees at the Carpinteria Boys & Girls Club. The last time the Hall of Fame added members was in 2010. The new class also includes former basketball stars Kevin Purcell and Peter Ruiz; softball pitcher DeeAndra Pilkington McGuff; and discus thrower Micheline Sheaffer White. To make a reservation, contact HallofFame@WarriorCountry.com or call 570-1866.