The football team, which left the AAA after the 1931 season for lack of success against the powerful city teams, went undefeated under Coach George Malley from September 1933 to December 1935, finally losing 12–7 to Loyola High School of Los Angeles in the state Catholic prep grid championship. Coach Malley was so popular in those days that you could hear him being interviewed on Bay Area radio stations. His success prompted SI to return to the AAA in 1936. TheSan Francisco Chronicle, at the end of the 1934 season, likened Malley’s team to the “Rockne Ramblers” of Notre Dame. (It seemed in those days as if all Catholic athletes in the U.S. were measured against the exploits of Notre Dame’s great teams.) “Today in San Francisco is an unsung, unnoted football team that embodies about everything that Notre Dame teams of years ago stood for — rambling, fight and Irish — and undefeated records. That team belongs to St. Ignatius High School. The Ignatians ramble over California a bit, next year they may even trek to Reno; Irish names dominate the lineup and the record is clean — not even one point is tabbed for opponents.”
The lightweight football team also enjoyed success, with the 1933 squad, coached by Eneas “Red” Kane, winning 13 games by shutting out each opponent and scoring a total of 219 points. The team was ranked first in Northern California but missed playing Bakersfield for the state championship. SI hoped to raise funds to travel south through the gate receipts of a game against Sacred Heart. When that game was cancelled, SI opted not to make the trip.
In 1936, Eneas “Red” Kane, SI’s first athletic director, left and was replaced by Richard “Red” Vaccaro ’26, who made a name for himself as a football great at SI. In 1924, the year he entered SI as a sophomore, he became the captain of the varsity football team under coach Jimmy Needles. He continued at SI College in 1926 and graduated in 1930 after playing football for SI and the Olympic Club. In 1931 he started teaching at the high school and the following year became assistant to Leo Rooney, SI’s head football coach. In 1936, he became both the new athletic director and head football coach (1936–1941) after George Malley left to coach on the college level.
One challenge Vaccaro faced was the lack of a gym for his basketball teams. The school began raising money for a gym, with $70,000 set for the goal, and in the meantime, SI played at the newly-opened Kezar Pavilion and Stadium.
The varsity basketball team of 1935–36 seemed destined for greatness with the hire of Louis Batmale, a member of Lowell’s Class of 1930 who was a year out of college. Members of the Class of ’36 wondered who this baby-faced choirboy was, as he looked no older than they. Some students began making fun of him behind his back. One day, they turned all their chairs around to face the back of the room. “We thought it was funny,” said Bill Bennett ’36. “He did not.”
Jack “Doc” Overstreet ’36 was one of those who was not immediately impressed by Batmale. “Then one day, I was walking down the hall, and this tall man grabbed me. He said, ‘Are you trying to knock me down? That’s not going to happen.’ No one gave him trouble after that. Later, I realized how much he and all my teachers really cared for us.”
Batmale coached the SI basketball team to seven straight wins, leading up to a big game against Lowell. Bob Fair ’36, who played for Batmale, remembers Kezar selling out all 5,500 seats, and turning away 10,000 more. Lowell beat SI 29–8 that night. “That was pretty embarrassing for all of us,” Fair notes. For Frank Lawson ’36, that loss “was the toughest of my life. Over the years I have run into so many people who said they were at that game.” SI wouldn’t avenge itself until 1943, when Kevin O’Shea ’43 would lead the Wildcats to a city championship.
Batmale succeeded as a coach despite having to scrounge around the city for gyms to use. “All we had were two hoops in the schoolyard,” he noted. “We would use a gym on Page Street and ones at Kezar, the Governor’s Club (now the San Francisco Boy’s Club), Roosevelt Jr. High School and, once in a while, Mission High and Everett Junior High.”
Batmale also taught English at SI between 1935–39 and recalls the faculty make-up was the ideal mix for Fr. James A. King, SJ, whom Batmale called “a great principal”): one-third priests, one-third scholastics and one-third laymen. Batmale, like all the lay teachers, made just enough to get by: $1,700 per year. “Those were Depression dollars,” he added. “An apartment cost $30 a month to rent and a restaurant dinner cost 75 cents.” Still, after he married, Fr. King told him this: “Louis, you can’t work for the Jesuits all your life. You need to make enough to support a family now.” The Jesuits simply couldn’t afford to pay lay teachers as much as they deserved, so Batmale left SI, took a job at Commerce High School, and eventually rose through the public school ranks to become president of San Francisco City College, retiring in 1977.
SI won its first AAA baseball championship under manager Frank McGloin ’25, who had been a star on the SI baseball team. The 1930 season began with the Wildcats winning four of their first five games with stars such as Joe Byrne (an All-City star who later played for the Seals), Roy Harrison and team captain Carl Sever, who later played in the Pacific Coast League for the Oakland Oaks. In the league championship, SI beat Galileo two games to one. McGloin said that team was “one of the best I ever coached.”5
Postscript: PJ Byrne, son of Joe Byrne, wrote to add that the 1930 baseball team had two payers go on to the Pacific Coast League, not just Carl Sever. My dad played for the San Francisco Seals in the early 1930s and was also All-City in baseball.
The SI Rowing Club may have been active informally in the 1920s, but it gained formal status in 1932 when Thomas O’Dwyer, a student at SI, organized the school’s first crew, which was coached by William Lenhart. After more than 200 boys tried out, the coach formed two crews, one for the 130-pound weight class and the other an unlimited (varsity) boat. In its first year, rowing in 14–person whaleboats, SI beat Galileo, Lowell, Marin Junior College and several other schools. The team to beat, however, was the crew from Continuation High School, and SI placed second in AAA competition to that school in 1936 through 1938.
James Feehan ’32, who died in 2004, was a member of the first crew. His widow, Geraldine, recalls that her husband “practiced with the rowing club every Saturday morning on the Bay with Angel Island their destination. On one trip, the boys stayed too long on the island. Because of changing tides, rowing back was hard and dangerous. They arrived safely, but it was an anxious and worrisome time for everyone awaiting their return at the South End Rowing Club pier. Monday morning was also an anxious and worrisome time when the team was called to the principal’s office for a full accounting of the episode.”
In 1939, SI won its first league title by defeating Galileo; SI recaptured the league championship in 1941 and 1942 before disbanding. SI would not compete in crew again until 1979. In the 1990s, SI would prove to be a powerhouse both in California and in the nation, taking first place in the U.S. in 1997, marking SI’s only national athletic championship.
The first mention of a golf team occurs in the 1930 edition of The Heights, which noted that the “there aren’t too many good golfers in the prep circles around here, and the Wildcats seem to be blessed with an amazing number of them.” Standouts included senior Frank Devlin, who already had a hole-in-one to his credit, sophomore George Kuklinsky and junior Neal Lyons. Others on the team were Al Buchner, Joe Kelly, Lee Hoagland, John Duff, Frank Keane, Sid Heller, Gerry Lunch, Fred Cosgrove, Jack Sherry, Ed Gilmore, Bill O’Toole and Jack Freed.