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.

 

NOT EVEN AIR DAMON’S MOM KNEW ABOUT OLYMPIC DREAMS

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

Bernardine Damon, the mother of a future Olympian, overheard the youngest of her four children talk about the Olympic Games as a goal during her prep days. It was news to her.

“My jaw just about dropped,” she said. “I had no idea she had those thoughts.”

That youngest, a daughter, Karol Damon kept jumping. She’d cleared 5-feet, 1-inch as a schoolgirl in Europe.

High jump, Damon later claimed, “was a big fluke. The other girls had all their marks and I didn’t know what I was doing.” Still, she kept going. It’s the essence of the sport.

In high school, she cleared 5-4, leaping as high as 5-10 as a Redlands High School athlete. She was known as “Air Damon.”

Damon_Karol
Three decades after being known as “Air Damon” at Redlands High School, onetime Olympian Karol Damon-Rovelto is coaching track at Kansas State (photo by Kansas State athletics).

Girls’ prep track had only been established for a little over a decade. In the mid-1960s, Riverside Poly’s Rosie Bonds – aunt to eventual HR champion Barry Bonds – had to leave California during her prep days in order to find competitive girls’ meets.

Bonds wound up at the 1964 Olympics. It would take about a decade for California to upgrade its athletics program to include competitive girls’ programs.

At Redlands, Jim Scribner left the boys’ team as its coach to take the girls’ squad.

Scribner had bunked heads with the likes of San Gorgonio High’s Howard sisters in 1979. One of those, Sherri Howard, won a gold medal (4 x 400, 1984 L.A. Games).

He had to dope out meets against a high-powered Eisenhower High team from nearby Rialto.

Redlands High track & field was one of the campus’ top athletic programs. Often, the Lady Terriers had to match their depth with other teams’ top performers – winning meets, perhaps, by piling up points by flooding events with a prolific group of performers.

Few Redlands tracksters were legitimate multiple-event winners.

Triple jump star Camille Robertson, a CIF champion in 1983, might have been a multiple event star.

Long jump champion Carolyn Zeller (1977) might have been the Lady Terriers’ first female track star.

DAMON SHOWED UP AS AN AIR FORCE ‘BRAT’

Like a lot of athletes at Redlands High, Damon was there because her father was in the Air Force. Norton Air Force Base was nearby in San Bernardino.

Dean Olson had taken over as coach from Scribner. He had inherited a track & field jewel. Slim. Perky. Attractive. Lithe. Athletic. Blond. She climbed to a school record 5-feet-10 in actual meets. There were, at times, six-foot jumps … in practice.

“She wouldn’t tune you out,” said Olson. “She was just tuned into her event.”

As a prep star, she was a great interview. Alert. Humble. Knew how to size up her skills. Keen insight into her sport. Didn’t soak up many moments. There was much more to conquer. Never took away from teammates’ achievements, either.

By rule, prep coaches can only schedule an athlete into four events. That’s four events out of 14 (15, when there was pole vault). Damon was good for 20 points in most meets.

In high school duals, event winners are awarded five points.

Four events, max. Five points awarded. That’s 20 points. In a dual meet where 65 points is the magic number, that’s almost one-third of a team’s point total.

Damon was like a 30-points-a-game scorer in basketball. Or averaging 38 kills in a volleyball match. Or hitting .480 in softball.

Damon, who would someday soar into the Olympic games as a high jumper, was always good for 5 ½ feet, or better, at a Redlands meet. She could also hurdle. Sprint. There was the 400. She could run relays. And long jump.

By the conclusion of Damon’s prep career at Redlands, she had cleared 5-feet, 8-inches at the CIF-Southern Section championships held at Cerritos College in Norwalk.

Surrounded by Southern California’s most prestigious athletes, Damon soared to the 4A (big schools) championship. A week later, she won the CIF-Masters clearing 5-6.

It was AFTER Redlands that she started her ascent to the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

POST-REDLANDS TO THE OLYMPICS

It was off to the University of Colorado, where she was a four-time NCAA All-American. She was Big Eight champion in 1990. That year, one season after suffering a stress fracture, Damon had finally cleared six feet.

By 1991, she won the Big Eight title again, clearing 5-11 ½. Heading into the season, she was third at the NCAA Indoors, her best ever at 6-2, third place. After winning the Big Eight, she took third at the NCAA Outdoors (6-feet, ¾-inch).

By 1992, every jump was at around six feet – second at Big Eight Indoor (6- ¾), tied for 11th at NCAA Indoor (5-11 ¼), third in Big Eight Outdoor (6- ¾), fourth at NCAA Outdoor (5-11 ½). A quick note: She was ranked ninth in Track & Field magazine.

For good measure, she tried to claim a spot on the Barcelona Olympic squad, clearing a career-best 6-1 ¼, but tying for 7th at the 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials.

By this point, plenty of athletes would call it a career.

Rovelto_Karol
A member of the USA Olympic team in 2000, Redlands product Karol Damon made quality attempts to land in the Games at Barcelona and Atlanta before showing up at Sydney (photo by U.S. Track).

By 1996, Damon cleared a personal best 6-3 ½ to finish fourth, one spot out of qualifying for the Atlanta Olympic Games. Appropriately, she was ranked fourth by T & F.

Damon had married high jumper Randy Jenkins, so she was then known as Karol Jenkins in those days.

She participated in most of the big meets – USA Indoors (6- ¼, 5th), Pan Am Games (6-2, 4th), USA Outdoors (6-feet, 9th), clearing a personal best 6-3 ½ in 1995. It was one year before the Olympics. But that 6-3 ½ was one place shy of qualifying.

Veteran star Amy Acuff also cleared 6-3 ½, claiming that third and final spot on fewer misses.

The world record at the time was 6-10 ¼ (Bulgaria’s Stefka Kostadinova). Louise Ritter claimed the American mark at 6-8, twice.

Damon-Jenkins. Quit? No!

ONE LAST ATTEMPT TO QUALIFY

In 1997 through the 2000 Sydney Games Olympic year, Damon was among the USA’s top five high jumpers. Tisha Waller. Connie Teabury, Acuff.

It was training for the big meets – the USA Outdoors and Indoors, Goodwill Games, World University Games, all in preparation for the world stage.

Held at Hornet Stadium at Sacramento State University’s stadium, Karol Damon (now Karol Rovelto – she’d married her coach from Kansas State) – was soaring against the likes of Acuff, Waller and Erin Aldrich.

In a remarkable 6-foot, 3-3/4-inch effort, her lifetime best, the onetime Redlands High star had won the Trials.

It was a Trials dominated by Marion Jones.

Damon-Rovelto was ranked No. 1 by T&F.

It was on to Sydney for the Olympics.

At 1.89 meters, which is 6-feet, 2 ¼-inches, Damon’s 24th place finish wasn’t all that close to eventual gold medalist – Yelena Yelesina, of Russia (2.01 meters, which is better than 6-8). Damon, like Acuff, failed to reach the finals.

Only a dozen years earlier, Damon was just launching her career from Redlands.

Sixteen years after her Olympic experience, Damon-Rovelto was back at it.

A longtime coach at Kansas State, Rovelto coached high jumper Alyx Treasure and heptathlete Akela Jones at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

You wonder if Bernardine knew about those dreams?