DARNOLD, DE ROO AND DAMON JUST PART OF “CONNECTIONS”

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Mike Darnold was the latest “connection.”

Throw in football’s Jim Weatherwax and Brian DeRoo.

Villanova basketball coach Jay Wright showed up here, with his team, one Saturday morning in 2003.

“Black” Jack Gardner left here in 1928.

Jerry Tarkanian lifted off from here in 1961.

How many Redlands Connections can there be?

It’s the basis for the Blog site, www.redlandsconnection.com. Dedicated to the idea that there’s a connection from Redlands to almost every major sporting event.

The afore-mentioned have already been featured. There have been others. Plenty of others.

Golf. Track & field. Tennis. Baseball and basketball. Softball and soccer. The Olympic Games and the Kentucky Derby. The World Series and the Super Bowl. You name it.

For a city this size, the connections to all of those are remarkable.

Softball’s Savannah Jaquish left Redlands East Valley for Louisiana State.

Bob Karstens was just shooting a few baskets when I saw him at Redlands High. Turned out he was one of three white men ever to play for the usually all-black Harlem Globetrotters.

Brian Billick coached a Hall of Famer. Together, they won a Super Bowl.

09_Billick_PreviewPreseason_news
Brian Billick, a key Redlands Connection.

Speaking of Super Bowls, not only was a former Redlands High player involved in the first two NFL championship games, there was a head referee who stood behind QBs Bart Starr and Lenny Dawson.

That referee got his start in Redlands.

One of racing’s fastest Top Fuel dragsters is a Redlands gal, Leah Pritchett.

LEAH PRITCHETT (leahpritchett.com)
Leah Pritchett has punched her Top Fuel dragster over 330 mph many times.

Greg Horton forcefully blocked some of football’s greatest legends for a near-Super Bowl team.

At a high school playoff game at Redlands High in 1996, Alta Loma High showed up to play a quarterfinals match. It was Landon Donovan of Redlands taking on Carlos Bocanegra.

The two eventually played on the same Team USA in the World Cup and the Olympics.

Karol Damon’s high-jumping Olympic dreams weren’t even known to her mother. She wound up in Sydney. 2000.

In the coming days, weeks and months, there will be more connections.

  • A surfing legend.
  • Besides Landon Donovan, there’s another soccer dynamo.
  • When this year’s Indianapolis 500 rolls around, we’ll tell you about a guy named “Lucky Louie.”
  • Fifteen years before he won his first Masters, Tiger Woods played a 9-hole exhibition match at Redlands Country Club.
  • University of Arizona softball, one of the nation’s greatest programs, was home to a speedy outfielder.
  • As for DeRoo, he was present for one of the pro football’s darkest moments on the field.
  • In 1921, an Olympic gold medalist showed up and set five world records in Redlands.
  • The Redlands Bicycle Classic might have carved out of that sport’s most glorious locations – set in motion by a 1986 superstar squad.
  • Distance-running sensation Mary Decker was taken down by a onetime University of Redlands miler.
  • Collegiate volleyball probably never had a greater athlete from this area.

As for Darnold, consider that the one-time University of Redlands blocker is the father of Sam Darnold, the USC quarterback who might be this year’s No. 1 draft selection in pro football’s draft.

Jaquish became the first-ever 4-time All-American at talent-rich LSU.

Jacob Nottingham, drafted a few years ago by the Houston Astros, probably never knew he’d be part of two Moneyball deals.

Gardner, who coached against Bill Russell in the collegiate ranks, tried to recruit Wilt Chamberlain at Kansas State.

Wright, whose team went into the March 31-April 2 weekend hoping to win the NCAA championship for the third time, brought his team to play the Bulldogs as sort of a warm-up test for Hawaii.

Tarkanian? Few might’ve known that the legendary Tark the Shark started chewing on those towels while he was coaching at Redlands High.

Norm Schachter was head referee in three Super Bowls, including Green Bay’s inaugural championship win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Norm Schachter with Hank Stram
Norm Schacter, wearing No. 60 (not his normal official number), synchronizes with Kansas City Chiefs’ Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram during halftime of the inaugural Super Bowl in 1967.

Speaking of Tarkanian, Weatherwax played hoops for him at Redlands. Eight years later, Weatherwax wore jersey No. 73 for the Green Bay Packers. It makes him the only man to ever play for Tarkanian and Vince Lombardi.

There will be more Redlands connections.

 

BOB KARSTENS: A LOCAL HARLEM GLOBETROTTER … IN REDLANDS?

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

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, his shots 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.