BOB KARSTENS: A HARLEM GLOBETROTTER … IN REDLANDS?

When the Harlem Globetrotters tip off for their Feb. 17, 2018 appearance at Ontario-based Citizen’s Bank Arena, probably few people know the full history of Abe Saperstein’s creation from the 1920s. There were two shows, one at 2 p.m., the other at 7.

The ‘Trotters are nearly a full century old. Part of their rich history surfaced eastbound from Ontario, about 30 miles away, in Redlands – a long way from Harlem, a New York City suburb.

Around 20 years ago, a man was spotted shooting baskets at the outdoors court at Redlands High School.

The man, who looked to be in his 70s (he was actually in his 80s), was shooting hook shots from half court. If they didn’t swish through the net, they at least hit the rim.

There he was, hiking the ball through his legs – in the manner of a football center – at the hoop. Again, if his shots didn’t go in, they were close.

He broke out three basketballs, dribbling them simultaneously, as if he were hoops-playing magician. I was waiting to cover a high school baseball game a couple hundred feet away. Something was up with this guy, though.

Friendly. White. Outgoing. Gentle. The man spoke in respectful terms.

“I’m Obrey Brown. I write for the local newspaper, covering that baseball game over there. Saw what you were doing and decided to come over.”

BOb Karstens - 2
Bob Karstens, photographed around 1942 and ’43, during which time he was one of three white men to play for the all-Black Harlem Globetrotters. (Photo by Harlem Globetrotters.)

“I’m Bob Karstens,” he said.

“Bob, it’s nice to meet you.”

“Thanks. Likewise.”

There was something about this guy that was a little different. I have an inner sense about things like these. As we continued to chat, this smallish man who stood a couple inches shorter than my 5-foot-10 height, seemed to brighten up when I told him I was from the local newspaper.

“You might be interested in this …” he started saying.

After three decades in the newspaper business, it’s a phrase I heard often enough. Usually, it might come from a pushy parent, or a publicity-seeking coach, or a public relations/Sports Information Director informing me about a once-in-a-lifetime story that I just couldn’t miss. Hey, I came after him, though. Okay, Bob, finish what you were saying. “I might be interested in this – in what, Bob?”

Karstens, who was standing in front of me, was not black. As a matter of fact, without his shirt on, I could tell that he needed a little sun. It pays to listen, though.

“I spent a year with them back in the 1940s,” he explained, “during the war. When Reece “Goose” Tatum was taken into the Army, the Globetrotters needed a clown prince.”

Goose Tatum
Harlem Globetrotters’ Clown Prince Reece “Goose” Tatum went into the military in 1942, opening up a spot for Bob Karstens, who became one of three white players ever to suit up for basketball’s magicians. (Photo by Blackthen.com.)

Saperstein, the Hall of Fame orchestrator of the ‘Trotters, apparently tapped Bob on the shoulder and said, “You’re it.”

Abe_Saperstein
Abe Saperstein, the Hall of Fame founder of the Harlem Globetrotters, was the man who signed Bob Karstens to fill in for Goose Tatum during the 1942-43 season. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons.)

Karstens himself had been a gifted ball handler from the House of David, the famous traveling bearded baseball team that barnstormed the country. Not known for anything in sports beyond baseball, Karstens told me, but the House of David had dabbled in some hoops during the late 1930s and into the 1940s.

Here’s the rub: I didn’t believe him – at first. In my business, you’ve got to hold people at arm’s length when they tell you stories like this. I could, literally, tell you stories. He invited over to his house a couple blocks away – down Roosevelt, across Cypress, over on Lytle. When he opened his garage door, he led me to three huge boxes full of stuff.

It was Harlem Globetrotters’ memorabilia. Karstens was seen in photos with Saperstein, Tatum, Meadowlark Lemon … Wilt Chamberlain!

Suddenly, my notebook was produced. Pen, in hand, scribbling madly, all the ramblings and utterings he’d voiced over at the high school – you know, when I didn’t believe him. I had a lot of catch-up to do, including a bunch more questions.

“How long have you lived in Redlands?”

“Where’d you learn to play basketball?”

“What kind of money did you make?”

“Did you really start that pre-game Magic Circle routine?”

Truthfully, I didn’t have to ask many questions. Bob was spinning tale after tale. I could pick and choose. What a story – and I had it! My pen just had to keep up with his stories.

Karstens, who was from Davenport, Iowa, took over for Tatum on the ‘Trotters’ 1942-43 roster while he served in the military. When the ‘Trotters took the court in Ontario, they probably met at mid-court, pre-game, for the Magic Circle routine.

It’s recorded: This was Karstens’ invention. He organized this ritual. He played on the all-black ‘Trotters eight years before the NBA was integrated. Part of the ‘Trotters’ history is that by playing doubleheaders with those early NBA teams, it allowed the league to grow into prosperity.

Karstens invented the “goof” ball, the ball that bounces in all different directions because of various weights placed inside, not to mention the “yo-yo” ball. ‘Trotter fans know the routines well.

This guy lived in Redlands?

He loaned me some photos from his stash for my next day’s sports section. I had gold mine of a notebook – quotes, stories and prime history. I sent our photographer, Lee Calkins, over to Bob’s house for an updated mug shot of my new best friend; the guy I had cynically, though silently, doubted. I made up with myself, though.

Karstens. The Globetrotters. Tatum. Saperstein. Chamberlain.

Hook shots from half court! You name it.

Karstens, for his part, stayed on his ‘Trotters’ team manager until 1954, having coached the infamous Washington Generals along the way. After the ‘Trotters, Karstens went into construction. By 1994, he was inducted into the ‘Trotters’ Hall of Fame. At 89, Karstens died on Dec. 31, 2004. I covered his Redlands funeral that was attended by former ‘Trotters Geese Ausbie and Govonor Vaughn.

It was another Redlands Connection.

 

ANDRIESE, CHATWOOD: REV-BASED MLB PITCHERS IN TAMPA, CHICAGO

All talk of trading Chris Archer might be music to the ears of Tampa Bay Rays’ pitcher Matt Andriese.

Tyler Chatwood, meanwhile, could be in for a stunning summer in Chicago.

Andriese and Chatwood, a pair of former teammates on some very strong Redlands East Valley High School teams, are headed for spring training with one thought in mind:

Claiming a spot in the starting rotation with their current teams.

Both seem destined for mound duty when the 2018 season opens. Both will be in Florida on March 28 when the season opens. Tampa hosts the Boston Red Sox and the Cubs will be in Miami.

Former Redlands East Valley pitcher Matt Andriese, drafted originally by the San Diego Padres, is now toiling for the Tampa Bay Rays. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)
Former Redlands East Valley pitcher Matt Andriese, drafted originally by the San Diego Padres, is now toiling for the Tampa Bay Rays. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)

Andriese, an original draft pick by San Diego, was dealt to the Rays in a Jan. 22, 2014 deal that sent southpaw reliever Alex Torres and right-handed starter Jesse Hahn to the Padres. Andriese was joined by second baseman Logan Forsythe (now with the Dodgers), plus right-handers Matt Lollis and Brad Boxberger.

The onetime REV star, who was drafted out of UC Riverside in the third round of the 2011 draft, is a career 16-18 over 72 games with a shutout, four saves and a lifetime 4.35 earned run average.

Andriese heads into spring training as a possible fifth starter in the Rays’ rotation behind Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Blake Snell and Jake Faria.

Both Archer and Odorizzi, meanwhile, have been rumored to be a target of the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins, among other teams, since the Rays likely have no shot at pennant contention in 2018. Dealing them might be the team’s best chance to land some coveted prospects.

Chatwood, on the other hand, was dealt to the Colorado Rockies by his original team, Anaheim Angels, on Nov. 30, 2011 for catcher Chris Ianetta.

Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Tyler Chatwood (52)
Tyler Chatwood, the former Redlands East Valley ace, is shown pitching for the Anaheim Angels during his rookie year in 2011. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons.)

When his Rockies’ contract expired following the 2017 season, the 2016 World Series champion Cubs quickly sprung to sign Chatwood on a 3-year, $38 million deal. It could be the under-the-radar signing of the off-season.

Chatwood, 40-46 with a 4.31 ERA between 2011-2017, may be ready to fire on all cylinders. Moving from hitter-friendly Colorado to a more pitcher-friendly Wrigley Field could lift numbers of the the 2008 second-round draft pick.

He’ll follow the likes of Jon Lester, recently-signed Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana in what appears to be a solid Cubs’ rotation heading into 2018.

REV has produced one other major leaguer. Right-hander Tommy Hansen (49-35, 3.85) spent five seasons in the majors, mostly with Atlanta, plus a season with the Angels. He concluded his 2006-2015 career in the minors with San Francisco’s Class AAA team in Sacramento.

Tragically struck down at age 29 when he died on Nov. 9, 2015, Hansen was the first of REV’s growing list of professional signees. He signed in May 2006 after being taken by the Braves in the 22nd round of the 2005 draft.

The Chatwood-Andriese combination led REV into the 2007 Southern Section Division 2 championship game at Dodger Stadium against El Toro High School. El Toro, buoyed by the presence of future Rockies’ slugging third baseman Nolan Arenado in its lineup, handed Chatwood the loss in a 7-0 win.

Chatwood and Andriese pitched against each other in the majors in 2016 – Chatwood with the Rockies and Andriese with the Rays.

Andriese didn’t start for Tampa Bay and Chatwood lost for Colorado when the Rays beat him badly in a 10-1 outcome on July 20 in Denver.

Long after Chatwood was knocked out by Rays’ hitters – lasting three innings, surrendering seven runs – Andriese entered the game for the final three innings.

Andriese had relieved Snell, pitching three frames of three-hit ball (three strikeouts, no walks) and picked up the save, surrendering a ninth inning home run to Rockies’ rookie sensation Trevor Story.

Snell surrendered just one hit to a Rockies’ lineup featuring All-Stars Carlos Gonzalez and Arenado.

For some reason, the Rays continued to pitch Andriese – who concluded that game with a sparkling 2.78 earned run average – out of the bullpen while most of their starting pitchers had much higher ERAs.

As for Chatwood, he surrendered a home run to Rays’ slugger Evan Longoria, among other hits.

“I didn’t throw any curveballs tonight,” he said, “and it’s always been my best pitch. I threw a lot of fastballs and didn’t miss barrels (of the bat) and kind of put us in a hole.

“I lost the game for us, pretty much. At some point, you’ve got to make an adjustment, and I didn’t make an adjustment.”

 

WEATHERWAX WAS SURROUNDED BY NFL HALL OF FAME TALENT

The names would roll off the lips of any Green Bay Packers’ fan.

Bart Starr, Forrest Gregg, Herb Adderley, Dave Robinson, Henry Jordan, Ray Nitschke, Willie Wood, Willie Davis, Forrest Gregg and, of course, Vince Lombardi.

Jim Weatherwax, an 11th-round pick (No. 150 overall) in the 1965 NFL draft that produced the likes of Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers, was teammates with all of them.

The Redlands High graduate, who played for Terriers’ venerable coach Frank Serrao in 1959 – one of Redlands’ best teams – played 34 games with the Pack from 1966-69.

Add another Hall of Famer from that era.

On Saturday, Feb. 2, 2018, Packers’ blocking great Jerry Kramer – author of Instant Replay – was granted that long-awaited spot in Canton after years of pondering by pro football historians on whether or not the onetime right guard deserved the honor.

Jerry Kramer
Green Bay Packers’ right guard Jerry Kramer, a teammate of Redlands product Jim Weatherwax, may well be the final player from that era that made it to the NFL Hall of Fame. (Photo credit by NFL Hall of Fame.)

Instant Replay was, in fact, a book centered around the famous block thrown by Kramer, Green Bay’s right guard, that cleared a path for Starr’s QB sneak in the Packers’ 21-17 Ice Bowl win over Dallas.

That triumph led Green Bay into the second Super Bowl against Oakland.

Imagine, playing for a Hall of Famer – Lombardi – backing up Hall of Famers like Jordan and Davis on Green Bay’s defensive line, while practicing against Hall of Fame linemen like Gregg and Kramer.

Henry Jordan
Henry Jordan (Photo courtesy of NFL Hall of Fame.)

That’s 10 Hall of Famer players on one team, plus the coach.

In the Redlands Daily Facts offices years later, Weatherwax reflected those glorious times. “I was lucky. I can’t even begin to describe it. Those were great times. Every man that played on that team was great.

“To play for the greatest coach of all time,” he said, pausing, searching for words that, perhaps, had never been used before, “was like nothing you could ever imagine. Like I said, I was lucky.”

Two of Weatherwax’s 34 career NFL games were the first two championship games – 35-10 over Kansas City in 1967, plus a 33-14 win over the Oakland Raiders in 1968.

Weatherwax started three games in 1967, even coming up with his only career fumble recovery that season. It the playoffs, Weatherwax got his share of snaps in wins over the Rams, Cowboys and, ultimately, the Raiders.

He was 23-years-old during his 1966 rookie season, well-schooled by the time that 1968 championship game against Oakland took place in Miami. The Packers’ era was slowly crumbling. Starr & Co. were aging rapidly. Whispers were rampant that Lombardi, too, was contemplating retirement.

All of which fed into the energy for Super Bowl II.

It was Kramer, said Weatherwax, who told the team in pre-game moments, “Let’s win it for the old man.”

Jim Weatherwax - Cal State L.A.
Redlands’ Jim Weatherwax, pictured during his Cal State Los Angeles days, was an eventual teammate to 10 Hall of Fame players for the Green Bay Packers, coached by Hall of Famer Vince Lombardi. Footnote: Weatherwax wore jersey No. 73 for the Packers. (Photo courtesy of Cal State Los Angeles.)

Such a statement might have been Hall of Fame-worthy.

Weatherwax seemed to bask in the glow of such prominent times. “The knee injuries that drove me out of the game (by 1969), well, kind of make it worth it. I wouldn’t trade those moments – not the games, not the guys and not the coach.”

 

BILLICK CAME OUT SWINGING FOR EVENTUAL NFL HALL OF FAMER

Brian Billick told off the world on his star defensive player, Ray Lewis.

It was about time for Super Bowl XXXV.

Lewis, who was the Baltimore Ravens’ star middle linebacker, had been linked to the murder of two men in Atlanta. It came just after a Super Bowl that the Ravens hadn’t even played.

Here was Billick, cast in the role as Lewis’ protector – as if this rugged defender that could knock down anyone in the NFL needed a protector – in a pushback role to NFL media.

I’ll never forget Billick – watching on TV, of course – telling the media they weren’t qualified to cast themselves into the role of cop reporter. I can still remember, “We’re not going to retry this.”

That particular incident took place about one year earlier. All charges had been dropped against Lewis. Not enough evidence. If not for the glaring spotlight of the Super Bowl, all matters would have been ignored.

Don’t ask, Billick was saying. He was, in fact, demanding. It might have been the most memorable part of that year’s Super Bowl, in fact.

09_Billick_PreviewPreseason_news
Truth is, Redlands’ Brian Billick has been surrounded by NFL Hall of Famers, ranging from Bill Walsh and Tom Landry in the 1970s to the 2018 inductees, Randy Moss and Ray Lewis. Billick sounded off to the world on Lewis just before Super Bowl XXXV. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons.)

It was Super Bowl week. The Ravens, 85-67 under Billick over nine seasons, were getting set to take on the New York Giants for the National Football League championship in 2000 – which they did, convincingly.

A few weeks later, Billick took time to share his thoughts with me.

On Lewis? No, I wasn’t asking him to retry. Or for any insight into the matter. Just how hard was it going through all that? How much of a distraction? Couldn’t have been much. After all, I told him, “you won, 34-7.”

“Boy, was that hard,” he told me in the same command performance manner he’d taken on with the media. “I still can’t believe I had to go through all that. How we, as an organization, had to go through all that. That never happened when I was at Redlands, believe me.”

Ray Lewis (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)
Ray Lewis was a mainstay on the Baltimore Ravens’ defense during Brian Billick’s 9-year tenure. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons.)

Billick, of course, was a star player at Redlands High, a 1972 graduate before setting sail to play at Air Force Academy and, eventually, at Brigham Young University. After a possible playing career was negated at Dallas and San Francisco in 1977, his coaching career started in 1978 in Redlands, of all places.

Two decades later, a myriad of assistant coaching stops along the way, Billick surfaced as Ravens’ coach.

Years later, Feb. 2, 2018, to be exact, Billick had another NFL Hall Famer. Lewis was, in fact, being inducted in with seven others, including another Billick protégé, wide receiving great Randy Moss.

Yes, Billick had worked in Minnesota – under head coach Denny Green – with a number of NFL Hall-bound greats.

Lewis was the focus on the ambulance-chasing media heading into the Tampa Bay showdown with the Giants. Billick admitted he was set for the showdown the media.

“Yeah,” said Billick, “I had to try and attract all the attention to me. I didn’t have to play. Ray Lewis did have to play. I needed his attention – all his attention – on that game.”

It was the old hit-‘em-in-the-mouth-before-they-hit-you routine. It worked.

Truth is, Billick has coached numerous Hall of Famers – Rod Woodson, Shannon Sharpe, Jonathan Ogden, and that’s a yes on Deion Sanders in Baltimore after his years in Atlanta, San Francisco and Dallas.

During Billick’s Minnesota days, there was, of course, Moon, plus Cris Carter and the great Moss.

No, don’t get him to talk about a missed field in the NFC Championship game against the Atlanta “Dirty Bird” Falcons. Carter, Moss and QB Randall Cunningham should’ve been more than enough firepower for the Vikings to win that game.

Billick has been surrounded himself by Hall of Fame talent. He was in Dallas for awhile. Anyone remember Tom Landry?

Also in San Francisco, albeit briefly, where Bill Walsh was running the 49ers.

When Billick’s command performance with media via Lewis had ended, what did he think?

“I’d knocked them on their ass.”

 

 

 

Part 2: SCHUMACHER RACING TEAM SIGNED REDLANDS ROCKET

By 2016, one of racing’s premier teams, Don Schumacher Racing, signed her. All of which means Leah Pritchett’s getting top crew support, best chances to win, plus top-level sponsorships.

It costs big bucks every time she makes a pass on a drag racing strip.

As for her spot in the sport, consider that Leah was battling right up to the final month for a season championship. Four wins. 2,452 points. Just 238 points behind series champion Brittany Force.

Force won the title. Gary Pritchett’s team driven by Steve Torrence, took runner-up. Doug Kalitta and 2016 champion Antron Brown took 3-4 in the standings.

Leah’s season was remarkably consistent.

LEAH PRITCHETT (leahpritchett.com)
The Papa John’s-sponsored Redlands Rocket, Leah Pritchett, celebrates another victory. She’s had five Top Fuel triumphs, which is the fastest of the four NHRA divisions. Pritchett has appeared in national commercials for her sponsor. (Photo by LeahPritchett.com).

Langdon, the Mira Loma Meteor, plus eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher, her teammate, finished behind Pritchett in the 2017 driver’s standings.

She’s one of seven women in the top four levels – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Motorcyles – and joins Force as the only two in the sport’s fastest division.

Leah has earned her place in a field where Shirley Muldowney carted away the first championship by a woman back in 1977.

She beat Kalitta in the Winternationals finals to kick off 2017 in Pomona.

Two weeks later in Phoenix at Wild Horse Park, Pritchett edged Force in a speed-filled finale.

In Gainesville, Fla., Leah kept beating all comers until Brown, the series champion one year earlier, knocked her off in the semifinals.

She made it three wins over five events, edging her husband’s team driver, Torrence, at the Spring Nationals in Baytown, Texas.

Torrence got back at her in North Carolina, at the National Four-Wide, but Leah posted a weekend-best 3.747-second E.T.

Torrence beat her in the Southern Nationals semifinals again in Commerce, Ga. Again, however, Pritchett’s 3.699 E.T. was low for the weekend, not to mention the weekend’s best reaction time, 0.23-second.

She’s fast. Quick-triggered. And consistent.

You can’t turn her off, though. She made it past all comers to reach the Heartland Nationals in Topeka, Kan., losing to Brown in the semifinals.

In New England, she posted the best R.T. (0.36), getting beat by Brown in the semifinals. He lost to Force, who has been building up a points reservoir halfway through the season.

At the Summer Nationals at Englishtown, N.J., Schumacher got her in the opening round. Her R.T. (0.46) in that first-round loss, though, was best of the weekend.

The Redlands Connection keeps making a splash at every stop, it seems.

At the Bristol (Conn.) Dragway, her 3.798 E.T. was best of the weekend, knocking off Troy Coughlin, Jr., Scott Palmer and Norco’s Langdon to reach the finals against Clay Millican, who won despite Leah’s better 0.58 R.T.

Leah reached the semifinals in Ohio.

At the Mile High Nationals in Bendimere, Colo., Leah beat Coughlin, Millican and Schumacher to square off against Brown in the finals. Brown, but the numbers were eerily similar – Pritchett’s 324 mph was faster, but Brown had the edge on R.T. (0.47 to 0.59) and E.T. (3.792 to 3.816).

Talk about consistency.

On Aug. 20 at Brainerd (Minn.) Raceway, Leah scored season victory No. 4 – Passey, Palmer and Millican – before squaring off against Brown again. She won with a 328 mph pass, notching her fifth career Wally.

At Lucas Raceway in Indianapolis, Torrence beat Leah in the semifinals, but she posted a weekend low 3.711 E.T. after beating Wayne Newby and Pat Dakin.

She posted the top speed (332.75 mph) in Madison, Ill., but she was stopped in the second round by Torrence, the eventual champion.

Force, the eventual Top Fuel champion, beat Leah in the semifinals at The Strip in Las Vegas, but the two put on quite a speed duel – 329 to 323, 0.77 to 0.93 (R.T.) and 3.714 to 3.754.

At the season finale in Pomona, it was a full force of speed with every Top Fuel team gunning for a showcase victory.

Force edged Langdon in the finals at the Auto Club Raceway. Leah was beaten by Langdon in a second round speed showdown in which the Mira Loma Meteor sizzled just past the Redlands Rocket.

The Redlands Connection racer, who turns 30 in May, is still alive on the Top Fuel circuit. The season kicks off this week.

Watch www.redlandsconnection.com for season updates.

 

 

 

Part 1: NHRA SEASON OPENS, DRAGSTER STAR LEAH (PRUETT) PRITCHETT READY

It’s 2018. Super Bowl Sunday means only one thing in the world to National Hot Road Association followers. One week later, it’s the NHRA season opener. In Pomona. Twenty-four showdowns. Every two weeks, it’s on. From the season-opening Winternationals to the drag racing finals in November, both at the Pomona Fairplex, incidentally, speed finds a way to entertain.

Leah Pritchett, known to her Redlands cohorts as Leah Pruett, will be among those in line to try and chase down a season drag racing championship. Fifth place last season, Pritchett notched wins in the first two races in 2017, starting at Pomona – winning four times throughout the season.

Ron, Lindsey Pruett
Ron Pruett, left, and Leah Pruett, now Leah Pritchett, stand alongside the family dragster in the early days of her racing career. (Photo by Pruett family).

She’s a Top Fuel dragster. This is a huge connection to the auto racing world. A queen among speed thrill-seekers. Leah, 29, whose older sister, Lindsey, got first crack on the track when her dad, Ron, started building junior dragsters.

Leah was eight when she started racing. No soccer. No volleyball. No softball. No track & field or cross country.

Think of the cost. You don’t buy those cars in a kit at K-Mart or Sears, folks. Lots of detail, lots of attention, lots of expertise – not to mention expense – goes into each machine.

Ron’s Precision Alignment, located down on Park Street, was headquarters for Pruett’s car-racing dreams. A few years back, he sold out. It left Ron and wife Linda to move back east, to North Carolina – NASCAR country – while Leah sought her career in a Top Fuel speed machine.

The sponsors over the years – Gumout, Papa John’s, Albrecht’s, Mopar, Pennzoil, FireAde 200, among others – have kept her in the cockpit.

At 5-foot-9, Leah’s gorgeous. Married to Gary Pritchett, car chief for Torrence Racing. Leah’s a surfer, really into physical fitness – check out her body on the internet – all balanced by her mind. She’s a Cal State San Bernardino graduate.

Speed? She’s got it to burn.

Leah’s gone from the Sportsmen’s division to Nitro Funny Cars to Pro Mod to winning a Hot Rod Heritage Series and, finally, in 2013, she landed in a Top Fuel dragster for Dote Racing.

I can remember when Ron invited me up to his Redlands home to view the junior dragster he created for Lindsey. At least, I think it was Lindsey’s. Ron, who was a speed demon himself – in Utah, plus various points around Southern California – chose a different sport for his girls.

Drag racing.

Ron fed me all of his daughters’ achievements – Lindsey’s and Leah’s – for publication in the local paper. There were 37 junior wins for Leah at various tracks throughout SoCal.

Ron himself was a star on the circuit – a 12-time land speed record holder. I don’t think he ever reached the speed his youngest daughter ever registered, though.

Ron Pruett
Ron Pruett proudly holds a Wally trophy, which indicates a speed-filled victory on a drag-racing track. (Photo by Pruett family).

Speed, though. Leah was born into the chase.

It would ludicrous to list all of Leah’s achievements from the junior circuit to her Top Fuel days in which she held (as of Jan. 17, 2018) the fastest speed at 332.75 over a thousand yards which brought a 3.64 elapsed time – both world records.

Drag racing underwent a change a few years back when distances were shortened from 1,320 yards, a quarter-mile, to 1,000 yards. It was safer. It probably killed any further hopes of increasing speed milestones.

Then there’s the Wally trophy. Named for Wally Parks, the sport’s founder who took street racing and put it on the track, a Wally goes to each week’s champion.

Ron’s got a few Wallys.

Leah’s got a handful. More are likely to come. She’s got the team, sponsor and experience is gradually growing.

At Pomona, it’s a home track for Leah, especially since she raced there as a kid.

Back in 2014, assigned to cover Winternationals for an area newspaper, my assignment was to land a connection on the locals – Funny Car’s “Fast” Jack Beckman of Norco, plus Top Fuel’s Shawn Langdon from Mira Loma. And Leah.

“Do I remember you, Obrey?” she asked in amazement. “Are you kidding? Of course, I remember you. You’re some of my best memories.”

That brought a nice streak of electricity up my spine.

For my article in the Riverside Press-Enterprise, I got more than I needed from her. Leah brought me up to date on her folks, who’d moved back east. Ron had sold his Redlands business. Lindsey was teaching in Redlands.

Leah was just getting started. Patrons of the sport might tend to overlook what it takes to arrive where Leah was just reaching. This isn’t a sport. It’s a career. Racing just a portion of the 2013 schedule, Leah racked up 15th place.

Leah’s won at tracks in Denver and Indianapolis, which is near her home in Avon, Ind. She’s driven speed cars like Mustangs and Camaros. Speed records came with some of those drives.

Twice, though, she was part of teams that shut down, leaving her without a ride – and those much-needed sponsors.

Leah Pritchett – the Redlands Rocket.

Part 2 tomorrow.

BRIAN DE ROO: NO FOOTBALL. NO WORKOUT. NO REDSKINS!

Brian De Roo? Meet Bobby Beathard.

The year was 1978. De Roo, a senior decathlete from the University of Redlands, had already completed his four-year football-playing career with the Bulldogs the previous November.

But his career wasn’t yet over.

DeR oo was cleaning the bathrooms underneath the home side of what would someday become Ted Runner Stadium – the school’s football and track facility.

“My fun job,” said De Roo, the good-natured multiple sport athlete.

One spring day, De Roo recalled a pink Cadillac rolling up the hill into the parking lot just outside the school’s 7,000-seat stadium.

“Back then,” he said, “the foliage was not so high and thick. You could see through the fencing.”

A curvy blond got out of the car. Another “dude in shorts and a T-shirt got out.”

De Roo watched them come down the hill. “They asked me if I know where they could find me.”

In other words, they were looking for De Roo.

“I obviously told them that they already did.”

VII-25 Bobby Beathard
Bobby Beathard, an NFL Hall of Famer announced on Feb. 3, 2018, once traveled to the University of Redlands to scout Bulldog receiver Brian DeRoo. (Photo by the Washington Redskins.)

That man, who turned out to be Bobby Beathard, introduced himself. The man was there to scout De Roo. The NFL draft was nearing. De Roo’s name had already started surfacing in various scouting services.

Brian DeRoo (Photo by Canadian Football League)
Brian DeRoo, the only player ever drafted into the NFL from the University of Redlands, was unable to work out for future Hall of Famer Bobby Beathard because a track coach wouldn’t open the door to the school’s equipment room.

Beathard asked De Roo if he could find a football to throw around.

Said De Roo: “The equipment room was locked up and the only coach around was Vince Reel.”

Reel, who was the school’s track & field coach, refused the request for a ball.

“Vince didn’t want his decathlete that used to compete in seven or more events during dual meets to be pulling anything running pass patterns during track season,” said De Roo, “so he refused to get me a ball.”

It didn’t take long for Beathard and his blond companion to turn tail and take off.

Beathard, for his part, was announced as an NFL Hall of Famer on Feb. 3, 2018 – forty years after meeting up with De Roo.

As for that year’s draft, consider that Washington – due to the various transactions of former coach George Allen – didn’t have a single pick available until the sixth round. They took running back Tony Green from Florida.

De Roo, meanwhile, was taken in the previous round – one of three picks that round of the New York Giants.

By the eighth round, the Redskins had their second pick. Turned out to be a wide receiver from North Carolina, Walker Lee.

De Roo said his eventual team, the Baltimore Colts, would occasionally scrimmage Beathard’s team, the Washington Redskins, “since they were just down the road.

“We had a good chuckle over his visit a few years later.”

Beathard’s NFL connections were electric – 1972-77 as Director of Player Personnel with two-time Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins, plus a 1978-89 stint as General Manager with the Redskins, where he was part of two Super Bowl championships.

De Roo said he noted the Hall of Fame announcements, saying he was “happy for (Beathard) and most of the others. (Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker) Ray Lewis was a no-brainer.”

In fact, Beathard’s visit to Redlands in the pink Cadillac with the blond might have been a Hall of Fame move for the Redskins – if only they could’ve found a ball.