Basketball in the New Gym
In November 1950, SI students finally enjoyed a gym after 25 years of fundraising. Construction began in March 1950, with money coming from all sources, including a “till that bulged with greenbacks from the play” and the generous donations of parents and local businesses. The money was not enough to pay the entire cost of construction, and the school still faced a $30,000 debt in 1951. By 1955, however, it cleared the books on that debt.9
When construction was completed, Rene Herrerias ’44 began coaching the Wildcat hoopsters. After graduating from SI, Herrerias played for USF, where, at 5-feet, 9-inches, “his flashy and sound playing thrilled the crowd at Madison Square Garden when his team won the NIT in 1948.” Herrerias returned to coach at SI, succeeding Phil Woolpert, who had left to coach at USF.10
In all, Herrerias led the Wildcats to four AAA championships (1951 and 1954–56) and two Tournament of Champions victories in 1954 and 1955). He began his auspicious career in the fall of 1950 by leading the 120s to an undefeated record. (The 110s and 120s played in the fall in those days.) The 120s were captained by Mic Kelly ’52 and featured two Prep Hall of Famers, Bernie Simpson ’54 and Ray Paxton ’54, as well as Steve Moriarty ’53 and Jim Stephens ’53. The 130s also won their division, captained by Bill Parker ’52 and featuring Dan Powers ’52, Nils Fernquist ’52, Bob Braghetta ’53 and Speed DeConti ’52.
The varsity made it a trifecta by also winning the AAA. Herrerias captured his first varsity league victory in March 1951 in a 40–37 win against Commerce (which starred Casey Jones) with the starting five of George Hayes, Bob Wiebusch, Stan Buchanan, Bill Bush and Rudy Zannini, all five of whom matriculated to USF, three on athletic scholarships. (Other stars of that era include Ray Healy and Bill Mallen.)
The shortest among those five was Zannini, who, at 5-feet, 6-inches, averaged 15 points each game, the third highest in the league. He was nicknamed “The Mouse” and “The Watch Guard” by his teammates, but continued to play at USF side-by-side with teammate Bill Russell and later earned entry into the San Francisco Prep Hall of Fame.
The star of the 1954 and 1955 Tournament of Champion teams was Fred LaCour ’56, one of the most gifted men to play basketball for SI. (He later played with the St. Louis Hawks from 1960–62 and the Warriors the following year.) In 1954, he tied an AAA scoring record in his junior year at SI against Galileo, scoring 29 points. He shot for 22 points against Salinas in the first round of the Tournament of Champions on March 10, 1955, and later shared honors with Team Captain Dan Casey ’55, both named as all-tournament players.
A commemorative issue of Inside SI noted that for the finale, “the Coach of the Year, Mr. Rene Herrerias, and the Team of the Year, the St. Ignatius Wildcats, [rode] high on the shoulders of the SI students as they triumphantly paraded and cheered through the scene of their glorious victory — champions all!”
In his senior year, LaCour earned All-American honors and led his team to a 7–1 league finish and the championship. His team won the first two games at the Tournament of Champions, but LaCour suffered a broken finger and did not play against El Cerrito, which won 26–20.
After Frank McGloin retired from coaching, SI baseball teams were led by John Golden (who also coached football) and Grove Mohr, who, in 1950, led SI to a 7–2 season. In 1954, Mohr captured the AAA championship with stars such as Ken Dito ’54 (who later worked as a broadcaster for KNBR), Ray Paxton ’54, Roger Ferrari ’55 and Jack Scramaglia ’55. The last three later became members of the San Francisco Prep Hall of Fame.
Paxton also played basketball at SI, but his star was brightest on the diamond, and in his junior year he earned a pitching spot on the all-league second team for the AAA after pitching a no-hitter against Lincoln. At one point, he had 21 straight scoreless innings.
In his senior year, he helped SI take both the AAA basketball league crown and the Tournament of Champions. Paxton was named to the All-AAA, All-TOC, All-Metro and All-NorCal teams. Later, pitching for the Wildcats under coach Grove Mohr, Paxton took SI to its first AAA baseball title in 24 years and earned a spot on the all-league first team and on the Examiner All-Star team. Also, he was named MVP of the Chronicle/Lions Club East–West All-Star game after pitching all nine innings and collecting four hits while leading his team to a 15–4 victory. That victory won him a trip to the World Series in New York where he saw Willie Mays make his famous catch against Cleveland at the Polo Grounds.
Paxton was named both San Francisco and NorCal Athlete of the Year in 1954 before his freshman year at SCU. He later spent a year playing for a Red Sox farm team in Las Vegas but found that baseball had lost its allure.
Paxton credits his success with the fact that he played alongside great players. “Those were special times,” Paxton recalls. “The 1950s were so peaceful. Everyone seemed to get along so well, and I had many great friends.”
Roger Ferrari, who played his senior year for Jim Keating, was twice selected to play in the San Francisco East–West All-Star game and batted .425 in his senior year, earning All-City honors. He went on to earn MVP status for the East/West game where he hit three for five. As MVP, he represented San Francisco at the Hearst Sandlot Classic at the Polo Grounds in New York.
After graduating from SI, Ferrari attended City College where he made the All-Conference and All-Northern California teams for two seasons. “I still remember the first time I walked onto the field at Seal Stadium,” recalls Ferrari. “It was during the CYO championship game in 1951 in my eighth grade year at Sts. Peter and Paul. I thought I had made the big time. That was the year Mickey Rocco was the star first baseman, and I always watched him, trying to imitate his moves. He wore number 4, so that was always the number on my jersey and my lucky number.”
Jack Scramaglia played varsity baseball in each of his four years and made the all-city team in both his junior and seniors years. As a senior he hit .464 and led the league in hits. That year, the Examiner selected him to play on its all-star team that traveled to New York. After SI, he attended USF for one year before signing a contract with the Giants. He played three seasons in the minor leagues before leaving to become a teacher and coach at Roosevelt Junior High School in San Francisco. In 1997, the San Francisco Prep Hall of Fame inducted him into its ranks.
In 1955, Jim Keating took over as baseball coach. He won his first league championship in 1958 with stars such as Don Leonardini, Ron Cook, Ken Dekker and all-Northern Californian John Giovanola. He recaptured that crown the following year despite predictions in the city papers that SI would never beat SH. Thanks to Chuck Rapp’s pitching and Ron Calcagno’s hitting, SI won 4–3. (Read more on Jim Keating in the next chapter.)
Golf & Bob Callan ’57
The SI Golf team dominated the 1950s, winning league championships in 1951, 1952 and 1957–1959. Bob Callan ’57 helped SI in his senior year to take the league crown and also captured the San Francisco City Junior title. While a student at SCU, he led its golf team to three consecutive league titles. He went on to win several city and county titles during his college career and then received a bachelor’s degree in business from SCU and a law degree from USF.
Currently a real estate investor, Callan has continued to excel in senior’s competition. Consistently ranked as one of the top players in the state, he has been selected to represent the Northern California Golf Association in team competition on 13 occasions. In 2003 he became the first player to win the San Francisco City Senior, Alameda Commuter, San Francisco County Senior and Oakland City Senior championships in the same year. He also won the prestigious Western Seniors title in Guadalajara, Mexico. Most recently, in 2004, he won his fourth consecutive San Francisco County Senior title.
Soccer & Cross Country
Soccer had its start at SI in 1952 when coach Bill Cox put together a team comprising 27 students. The following year, moderator James Straukamp (a Jesuit scholastic, who later became an Anglican priest) came to assist Cox. The 1953Ignatian reported that the all-city captain Bob Braghetta ’53 and Class of ’52 seniors Barney Vannucci, Steve Sullivan, Jack Murray, Terry Curran, Bob Del Moral and Don Kelleher led the team to a victory against Lowell and a tie with Washington. Aside from Braghetta, standout juniors included Jim Flanagan and Mike Balibrera. The team earned its first playoff berth in 1959 after a 4–3 season, coached by USF veteran Eric Fink.
The first mention of an SI cross country team occurs in the 1955 yearbook with a photograph of the first 21 runners. The following year, Inside SI praised the efforts of students Walt Van Zant, Steve Barrett, Jim Leary, Mike Deasy and George De Cat and praised the new cross country course in Golden Gate Park that started at Broom Point and went “through Lindley Meadow, around the police stables, around the middle lake, and then back down the south side of the Polo Fields, through another meadow and finally to the finish line just west of Lloyd Lake,” covering “1.9 miles of rough terrain.”11
One of the stars of the day was Gil Dowd ’57 who helped lead SI to the AAA football championship in 1956. Dowd played on the frosh and JV teams and watched as the varsity struggled against strong teams from the AAA. By the time Dowd was a senior, it had been 11 years since SI had captured the league crown.
Something happened in 1956 to change SI’s luck. Varsity Coach Sarge MacKenzie left to teach at USF and Pat Malley ’49, whose father had coached at SI, took his place. Malley, who had been a star athlete both at SI and SCU, suffered an injury in his senior year at Santa Clara and, after serving in the Army, returned to SI to teach and coach. He brought along Gene Lynch ’49, his teammate from SCU.
Early injuries contributed to losses against Poly and Washington, but the Wildcats went undefeated after that and took the city championship by beating Poly and then Balboa for the Turkey Bowl game before a crowd of 30,000. “Coach Malley’s squad scored an early touchdown and had to rely on the defense the rest of the way. With three minutes to go in the game, Balboa had the ball first and goal. With their backs to the wall, SI’s defense tightened up and the Bucs were unable to cross the goal line. SI had won its second championship, as the scoreboard read SI 7, Balboa 6.”12
Dowd, who entered the Prep Hall of Fame in 2003, credited the entire team with the success. “My classmates Ed Rothman and Bob Isola and I each took turns excelling in the backfield. We each did our share of running.” Dowd eventually earned All-City honors and was named Player of the Year by two of the city papers. He also earned All Northern California Second Team and All Metro Team honors and was named East Bay–West Bay All Star Game MVP.