When I began my career as a Santa Barbara sports writer in the fall of 1968, my first assignment was covering that unique hallmark of American culture: high school football. It was a big deal in town. The Santa Barbara Dons were proud bearers of four CIF titles, and the San Marcos Royals were their established crosstown rivals.
As the new kid on a veteran News-Press sports staff, I was deployed to follow an expansion team in the hinterlands of Goleta.
When Dos Pueblos High opened in 1966, its campus was still under construction. Students took late classes at San Marcos. There was no senior class, and the Chargers had a junior varsity football team that practiced at Laguna Park, the erstwhile baseball park in downtown Santa Barbara. “I drove a bus and picked up the players on street corners to take them to practice,” recalled Dick Mires, one of the coaches.
When I came along two years later, the Chargers had a full-fledged varsity team. They had their own practice field, but it would be years before they would have a stadium. They played their home games at Santa Barbara’s Peabody Stadium. The first team I covered did not win a lot of games, but it had a lot of spunk.
They employed a single-wing offense, which their head coach Dick Prigge — later the school principal — had learned at Santa Barbara High. The speedy wingback was Kim Wilson, now famous for his lightning harmonica runs as “Goleta Slim,” the leader of The Fabulous Thunderbirds blues band. Their tailbacks were Tom Lammer and Karl Hammer. There was Jeff Higbee, a strapping junior lineman who would play tight end at Oregon with Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts.
Assistant coach Ray Schaack doled out nicknames for each player. Ken Doty was Farmer; Mike Terry was Terrible. Others were Horse, Turtle, Cowboy, Killer, Bulldog, Fang, Baron, Boron (a kid from the desert), Kangaroo, and Shepherd.
“It was fun,” said Lammer, who started on the first three varsity teams (1967-’69). “Everybody was super close. There was a lot of spirit in the school. The teachers were young and really nice. Most of them came out of UCSB.”
Dos Pueblos celebrated its first homecoming in 1968. Kristi Anderson was crowned queen. Lammer married her in 1971. Tom’s father, Norm “Chief” Lammer, headed the barbecue crew at the Chargers’ team banquets and became a fixture at school events for 36 years.
With energetic coaches and youngsters who had grown up playing games in the surrounding neighborhoods — a concept abandoned by current superpowers in prep sports — Dos Pueblos athletics rapidly advanced. Coach Don Volpi took a bunch of basketball players from the Goleta Boys Club to the CIF AAA (second-highest division) championship in 1971. Volpi pointed out that his team’s discipline countered the canard that DP was “Hippie High.” Mires was head coach of the football team when it moved into UCSB’s Harder Stadium, winning its first league title and CIF play-off game in 1972.
“We had really good coaches,” Mires said. Foremost among them was Scott O’Leary, who came along in 1969 as baseball coach, later also guiding the football team. As athletic director, O’Leary held the Chargers to a high standard of sportsmanship and insisted that sports never be inflated out of proportion to the rest of their educational experience. When DP built its on-campus stadium, it was named after O’Leary in 2009.
The school’s track was the scene of one of the most remarkable efforts by high school athletes that I have witnessed. In both 1971 and ’72, DP distance runners participated in the 24-hour relay, a nationwide competition promoted by Runner’s World Magazine. On June 9-10, 1972, the Chargers — running continuous miles in relay fashion from noon one day to noon the next — set a national record of 276 miles, 769 yards.
“I was rubbing kids down in the middle of the night,” recalled their coach, Gordon McClenathen. “They were cramping all over.” Avid runner Tom Kelsey said they were on the verge of surrender, but several hundred students showed up after dawn to cheer them on. “The kids got an adrenaline rush at the end,” McClenathen said. Joe Lambert and Tom Phillips were consistently clocked faster than five minutes for each of the 29 miles they ran.
Those early days established a solid athletic tradition, including strong showings in volleyball and girls’ sports after the CIF embraced them in the late 1970s. Jennifer Moreland coached the Chargers to a girls’ basketball final and founded the top-notch softball program. Jim Ranta, the school’s first aquatics coach, was a leading advocate for girls’ water polo. During the past decade, the DP girls achieved a 67-game winning streak and won four CIF titles while producing two members of the Olympic champion U.S. water polo team: Kiley Neushul, the leading scorer in the Rio gold-medal match, and goalkeeper Sami Hill.
It’s hard to believe the school district considered closing Dos Pueblos during a dip in enrollment around 1990. The community fought off the plan, and the school is thriving as it celebrates its 50th anniversary this weekend. Besides the homecoming football game Friday, which will be preceded by a parade of past queens and kings, there will be a party and inauguration of the DP Hall of Fame on Saturday, October 22.
O’Leary, who will be inducted posthumously, would approve that this Hall of Fame includes four sports figures — the others being McClenathen, Moreland, and Olympic volleyball medalist Doug Partie — out of 15 total members. The others excelled in various fields, including the arts (band leader Ike Jenkins), science (astrophysicist Alexei Filippenko), and journalism (Latin-American reporter Yvette Cabrera). n
GAME OF THE WEEK
10/21: High School Football: Santa Barbara at Dos Pueblos The host Chargers (6-1, 1-0 Channel League) are vying for a possible championship bid, while Santa Barbara (3-5, 1-1) is trying to stay in play-off contention. Defensive end Marcellous Gossett was outstanding in DP’s sixth consecutive victory, blocking two kicks last week in a 20-16 victory over Buena. J.T. Stone, a former DP quarterback, is head coach of the Dons, who recently regained the services of explosive receiver/kick-returner Chris “Tick” Jellison. Scott O’Leary Field, 7266 Alameda Ave. $4-$7. Call 968-2541.
SB ATHLETIC ROUND TABLE ATHLETES OF THE WEEK
By Courtesy Photo