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
There seemed to be no master plan. Redlands has produced athletes. Coaches. Dramatic moments. Memorable moments. Historical moments. Connections beyond belief. Tennis & golf. Baseball & soccer. World Cup & the Olympics. Football & basketball. Bowling & auto racing. You name it. Children born to Redlands parents launched careers in various sports.
Sometimes, even outside legends came to the local area.
Think of Tiger Woods playing golf at Redlands.
Or these “connections”:
- Pete Sampras played in a junior satellite tournament in Redlands.
- Muhammad Ali never boxed here. But did he come to Redlands?
- Former World Boxing Council welterweight champion Carlos Palomino did show up.
- A couple of area second basemen – one from Redlands and the other from Colton – played against each other in the 1983 American League playoffs.
- A Hall of Fame bowler once showed up once to roll a few practice frames en route to a PBA Arizona tournament.
- Former NBA players John Block and Cazzie Russell, basketball’s overall No. 1 draft pick by the New York Knicks in 1966, brought in small college teams to coach against the University of Redlands.
- Two years before Villanova won the NCAA Division 1 men’s college basketball championship, the Wildcats played on the same court at Redlands.
- Landon Donovan, pro men’s soccer. A homegrown.
- Heather Aldama, pro women’s soccer. Another homegrown.
- A future NBA coach brought a horrible Pomona-Pitzer College team to beat Redlands, then launched a Hall of Fame career in San Antonio.
- A former baseball Hall of Famer watched his grandson play center field at the University of Redlands.
- One of college basketball’s greatest coaches spent two seasons in Redlands.
- The original “Lucky Louie” learned to drive in Redlands around 1919 – then won three times at the Indianapolis 500.
- Redlands produced a track & field Olympian in 1920. Eighty years later, there was a men’s soccer Olympian, a female high jumper, plus a male cyclist.
- For a dozen years, a professional football team launched its season from the local university. The nostalgia was surreal. Names like Ollie Matson, Les Richter, Norm Van Brocklin, ElRoy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, Tom Fears, plus Jane Russell’s husband, Bob Waterfield, were among those that showed up on local turf. The numbers of Hall of Famers attached to that group, which includes Pete Rozelle, Tex Schramm and Joe Stydahar, is off the charts.
- A veteran baseball player scouted Oakland so effectively that the scouting report he turned over to 1973 New York Mets’ manager Yogi Berra nearly helped topple the A’s dynasty in the World Series.
- Wimbledon entries. Golf’s U.S. Open. PGA Championship. A Harlem Globetrotter? An area tennis coach once tended to a world-ranked star. Local photographers that shot Ben Hogan and Wayne Gretzky.
Heaven forbid, there’s so much more.
There is a good chance that most Redlands athletes aren’t included in this book. In fact, count on it.
There’s a Hall of Fame at Redlands High and another one at the University of Redlands. That’s good enough for multiple all-league, all-conference, All-CIF or NCAA Division 3 All-Americans in any sport.
There are great soccer midfielders, tremendous water polo goalies, ball hawking safeties on a football field, along with some catchers and pitchers, hurdlers and pole vaulters, hitters from both the gridiron and diamond, rebounders, shooters and great glove men, plus swimmers and tennis stars who won’t make it into these blogs.
Let’s not forget the golfers.
In over 100 years at Redlands High School and over a century of athletic tradition at the University of Redlands, some of sports’ most cherished and respected names have touched the lives of local spectators. Played memorable games. Won league or conference championships. Or barely missed. Many of those accounts made the local daily newspapers.
These blogs aren’t intended to list each All-American, every all-leaguer, local all-star, league MVPs, conference players of the year, or even the kids that had All-Pro or All-Star aspirations, only to hit a bump in the road. It’s not even to pay tribute to the mainstream coaches that have conceived, trained, managed, and inspired teams to impressive championship seasons.
The exceptions, of course, are these: If they reached the pro ranks, or major colleges, Olympics, World Cup, an All-Star game, a professional draft, or something of note beyond just their local community, well … They’re in! Hopefully. We’ve researched a ton.
It’s a long, arduous task to corral all the Redlands greats. We’ve got most of them. I think.
MOTOR RACING, FOOTBALL, SOCCER,
AND SCARY VOLLEYBALL BANQUET
Would it occur to anyone that Redlands High product named Jim Weatherwax could count himself as one having been coached by both Vince Lombardi and Jerry Tarkanian?
Or that Redlands High’s Brian Billick can claim as onetime employers Bill Walsh, Tom Landry and Lavell Edwards?
Gary Nelson, a classic grease monkey, got his start in auto racing working for a local legend, Ivan Baldwin, later serving as crew chief for NASCAR legends Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison.
As a Sports Editor whose time measured from 1981-2002, one of my biggest pet peeves was against pushy parents. Throughout the life and times of area news media, parents of even the top athletes fought for respect given to their much-decorated sons or daughters in print.
A classic example: Hours before the season-ending banquet for a CIF-Southern Section championship volleyball team, no less than three parents of athletes from that team contacted me by telephone at the local newspaper office.
They were upset about the way their daughters were “coached” by the author of this championship team. Their feelings was that he had been unfair. This coach, Gene Melcher, substituted their daughters in and out of matches, replacing their daughters with someone else’s daughter.
These telephone calls were made to reflect the fact that “something” might happen at the banquet, if not an actual boycott, casting a gray cloud over this championship banquet.
Wow! These parents waited until banquet night to settle a score with a coach? Settle a score with a coach who guided their team to the championship?
Talk about pushy parents. See? This is what you deal with on the sports desk of any newspaper – small, mid-size or major daily publication.
Since I was invited to attend, and speak, at the banquet, I could hardly wait to see what would take place. There could be an actual story for the newspaper. Imagine the headlines: “Parents disrupt team banquet!” I couldn’t wait to see if these parents had the bitterness to pull it off. It would have been off the charts for sheer gall. Imagine undermining an event at which they were celebrating the ultimate goal – a championship.
More than one observer has uttered the now-cliché phrase: “These parents wouldn’t be happy if God were coaching their team.”
During each of those phone calls, I gently tried calling out these parents, making a game attempt to talk them out of their funk. Believe me, there’s nothing worse than a parent who thinks their kid has been wronged.
Thankfully nothing out of the ordinary occurred. During my remarks, I was nervous over the fact that something might take place. In fact, the banquet went perfectly fine. Parents of these high school-aged athletes sat in complete celebration about the achievements of their daughters’ team.
Pushy parents can’t get their kids’ names into these blogs.
I can just hear some of those parents: “We’ll see about that.”