SI Football Ranked First in Nation
Despite the plans to move the school in the 1960s, life continued its normal routine, especially in the realm of football. After Pat Malley left SI, the school hired Larry McInerney as head coach and Vince Tringali (a member of USF’s famous “Undefeated, Untied and Uninvited” football team) as his assistant. McInerney’s teams won the round-robin championships in the AAA for two years, in 1959 and 1960, but never won a Turkey Bowl championship game. Then, in 1962, Tringali took over as head coach and hired a remarkable assistant — Robert H. “Doc” Erskine, who left semi-retirement after many years of coaching college ball. Together, they helped SI in 1962 and 1963 win 19 straight games in two undefeated seasons and win consecutive AAA championships. (For each of those 19 games, Coach Tringali wore his trademark red Alpine hat.) On January 4, 1963, The San Francisco Chronicle announced that SI had tied with Miami High School of Florida for first place in the Imperial Sports Syndicate’s 1962 U.S. interscholastic football ratings based on votes from 56 coaches and sportswriters across the country.
The following is an excerpt from “Remembering the glory years of SI football,” first published in the Fall ’88 Genesis II:
By Robert Vergara ’76
The ’Cats opened the 1962 season against Balboa, and with three touchdowns in the second quarter, went on to a 29–6 win. Galileo and Polytechnic were SI’s next victims, with the Lions going down to a 39–0 defeat and the Parrots suffering a 26–0 shutout.
By the time the ’Cats defeated Lincoln in their fourth game of the season, it was clear that they were a major force in the league. In the team’s first four games, SI had scored 107 points to their opponents’ 12. Quarterbacks Lee French and Ray Calcagno and fullback Tom Kennedy sparked the Wildcat offense, aided in no small measure by one of the finest lines in SI football history — Bud Baccitich, Rudy Labrado and Gene Maher, to name a few of the stalwarts.
The ’Cats next took on Mission. Although the Bears had been picked by many to win the league, they too were bested by SI 49–0.
The following week, the Wildcats faced archrival Sacred Heart in a game televised as KGO-TV’s “Prep Game of the Week.” In those days, Channel 7 taped a high school football game played on a Thursday or Friday and broadcast the game the following Saturday morning with Bud Foster and Bob Fouts (the father of Dan Fouts ’69) doing the play-by-play. The TV audience saw the Wildcats defeat the Irish 22–6.
By this time, sportswriters, who early in the season had called SI a “good team,” were now agreeing with the Examiner’s Bob Sprenger when he wrote that SI’s 1962 football squad “has to be one of SI’s best teams in history.”
Next came the Washington game, which led to another victory for SI, and the ’Cats found themselves in the last game of the regular season. That contest, against Lowell, would decide the round-robin champion.
The score was close throughout. Finally, with less than 5 minutes remaining in the game, Ray Calcagno connected with Charlie Parks on a 48-yard pass to set up the winning touchdown. Final score: SI 19, Lowell 13.
The Indians fell into a three-way tie for second place with Mission and Lincoln. At that time the AAA had no structure for a four-team playoff. Only the top two teams met on Thanksgiving Day to decide the championship. Lowell won the draw and met SI at Kezar Stadium before more than 16,000 fans to battle for the title.
SI scored in the first quarter when Calcagno threw a 30-yard pass to Charlie Parks, putting the Wildcats on the Indians’ 2-yard line. Mike Sullivan scored on the next play, and Calcagno kicked the extra point, which turned out to be the margin of victory.
Lowell scored in the last minute of the first half, but the snap for the PAT was too high, and the Indians had to settle for six points. It was a defensive battle from then on as SI held on to a 7–6 victory.
The win gave the Wildcats the AAA championship, a 9–0 record and the first perfect season in SI football history. It was an auspicious start for Vince Tringali’s tenure as head coach of the SI football program.
Those who doubted that SI could continue its success into 1963 were jolted back to reality with the Wildcats’ first game of the new season against Mission, which had been a playoff contender in 1962. In the AAA opener for 1963, Mission fell to SI 58–0, and SI established two yet-to-be-broken records for most points scored and the largest margin of victory in a game.
Next, SI prevailed over Lincoln and Galileo. Once more the Wildcats and the Irish were television stars as they continued their ancient rivalry, featured in the “Prep Game of the Week.” SI maintained its dominance in a 35–0 whitewash. And once more the Wildcat defense — among them Greg Kolar, Dennis Brooks and Bob Unruh — excelled, prompting Bob Sprenger to call the SI line “possibly the finest collection of athletes in the City league in years.”
SI continued its winning ways against Balboa and previously undefeated Washington for its 15th and 16th consecutive victories. Playing in the rain at muddy Galileo field, the ’Cats finished the regular season by downing Lowell 27–6. Calcagno went over the 1,000-yard passing mark for the season as SI sewed up the round-robin championship.
The AAA returned to a four-team playoff format in 1963, and SI was paired with Lincoln while Sacred Heart and Washington were matched in the other playoff contest. The Irish and the Eagles met on Thursday, November 21, with Washington emerging victorious. The next day, SI and Lincoln were scheduled to meet to decide who would take on the Eagles for the title on Turkey Day.
But the stunning news from Dallas that morning altered the plans. Along with a host of other events across the nation, the playoff game was postponed as San Francisco joined in mourning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Thus, for the first time in many years, Thanksgiving Day in the city did not see the AAA football championship game. Instead, the postponed playoff game was held. The Wildcats easily handled the Mustangs 33–6, thereby earning their fourth straight appearance in the title game.
Nine days later, SI and Washington met for the crown, and 8,000 Kezar Stadium fans saw the Wildcats methodically put the Eagles away. SI scored once in the second quarter and twice in the fourth in rolling up a 21–0 shutout. It was SI’s 19th consecutive victory over a two-year period — another Wildcat football record, and SI finished as the top Northern California team.
The Doc Erskine Trophy
Robert H. “Doc” Erskine joined the SI coaching staff in 1962 after having retired from coaching college football, and he worked closely with Ray Calcagno, the quarterback for the Wildcats in his junior and senior years in the days when quarterbacks called their own plays. To learn what plays to call, Calcagno spent hours with Doc, who was a master strategist. “He gave me a good feel for the game,” said Calcagno, “and he influenced my decision to become a coach.”
Doc also had a good sense of humor. During a game against Galileo, Calcagno called a play-action pass. “All three of my receivers were open, and I threw it between two of them for an incomplete. When I came off the field a few plays later, I got on the phone with Doc, and he kindly reminded me that any one of those three could have caught the ball for a touchdown.”
After Erskine left SI, he became a successful head coach at Riordan before retiring in 1969 with a high school record of 29–6–1. The following year, SI and Riordan established the Doc Erskine Trophy to the school that won that year’s football game to honor an individual known for his generous spirit, gentlemanly qualities and knowledge of the game.
Even though Doc Erskine only coached at SI for a brief period, his legacy continues. “I’ve learned a lot about Doc through those whom he coached and influenced,” said Joe Vollert ’84, former head football coach. “There wasn’t any showmanship or flash to Doc. He coached players to execute their fundamentals well and to know their plays — elements that have been the cornerstone of SI’s program since he helped coach some of our all-time great SI teams. He influenced such people as Riordan’s head coach Frank Oross, former SI head coach and Seattle Seahawk offensive coordinator Gil Haskell ’61, and my head coach when I played for SI, Ray Calcagno. Ray had a large influence on me and what I did as a coach just as Doc had that influence on him. I’ve always hoped to carry on his legacy.”
From the AAA to the WCAL
Tringali had two lean years after his twin undefeated seasons but returned with another pair of league championships. This time, however, those championships came in different leagues. The 1966–67 season was the final time SI competed in the AAA. The following year, SI joined the West Catholic Athletic League as 121 of its students lived outside the city, and AAA rules (instituted in 1959) barred them from athletic competition.
For years, SI tried to change the rule, but to no avail. Even State Senator J.F. McCarthy, an SI grad, tried to repeal the rule, but failed. The issue came to a head after a March 21, 1966, baseball game that SI won 4–3. The losing team later filed a complaint that two boys on the team did not live inside the city. The league found merit in the complaint and fined SI a three-game forfeit.
Fr. Carlin asked that the forfeits and rules be overturned, and after some hard-fought negotiations, he hammered out a compromise with George Canrinus, the AAA coordinator of athletics, at a June 3, 1966, meeting. He offered Carlin a deal: extend the residency borders to include Daly City and Pacifica. Fr. Carlin checked his records and found that 125 students lived in those two towns and agreed to the compromise.
At a subsequent meeting of the AAA principals, however, that compromise was never put on the table. Instead, the principals voted only on the question of the repeal of the residency requirement, and that measure lost 7–3.
SI found itself in a tough spot. It had been a charter member of the AAA since 1923, and leaving would mean competing in a much stronger Catholic Athletic League. After the vote, SI chose to leave, despite arguments by alumni that the school would lose money by competing outside the city. In an Inside SI article in 1966, (Vol. 19, No. 2, p 6) Fr. Carlin argued that “it has become increasingly clear that while the residency rule has not affected the athletic program at St. Ignatius High School, it is having a serious effect on a school’s central purpose. Under these restrictions, the school cannot offer every boy a full educational experience. He is forced to become a spectator in activities that have an important bearing on his social and physical development.” He also noted that colleges look favorably on boys with athletic experience and that graduates who lived outside the city limits would be less inclined to send their sons to SI.
The Championship Seasons of 1966 and 1967
SI’s Board of Regents voted unanimously on October 6, 1966, to leave the league. But SI football left with a bang, winning the round robin with a 7–2 season and earning a spot against Lowell at Kezar in the Turkey Day game — the last time SI would ever compete in that city championship match. For this game, Tringali once again wore his lucky red hat that he had donned during his 19-game streak.
The Wildcats had lost key players to injuries, including first-string QB John Cercos, fullback Paul Schneider and right guard Jeff Braccia. Nonetheless, SI fought Lowell to a 14–14 standoff late in the fourth quarter. Then, with seconds remaining, QB Paul Contreras threw to Tom Schwab. A defender tipped the ball, and it went into the arms of SI’s Gary Hughes, who ran 23 yards to score a touchdown with 40 seconds left on the clock.
“It was an incredible moment,” said Boris Koodrin ’67, who played linebacker and left guard for the team. “The crowd tore down the goal posts, and we carried coach Vince Tringali around before a crowd of 10,000. I’m not sure if he liked being carried around, as he wasn’t the touchy-feely type.”
“It was the most exciting sports moment of my entire life,” added Fr. Sauer, then a scholastic at SI. “We all went wild, and although we scholastics were assigned to guard the goal posts, one was demolished by the crowd.”
The following year, SI was not expected to do well in the much stronger WCAL. In fact, some at SI argued that the school should remain in the AAA for fear of being dominated by the Peninsula and South Bay teams. However, in that first year in the WCAL, SI took first in football and basketball and had strong showings in all other sports.
The victories began in the fall with a football team that included all-league stars Mike Ryan ’69, Ray Washmera ’69, Bob Giorgetti ’68, Jim Figoni ’68, Mike Matza ’68, Randy Fry ’68, Mike Mitchell ’69, Dan Driscoll ’69, Bob Sarlatte ’68, Rick Arrieta ’68 and a junior quarterback named Dan Fouts ’69 (more on him later). After going 3–1 in preseason, the ’Cats went 6–0 in regular season play, beating both St. Francis and Riordan 26–20, St. Mary’s 35–6, Serra 27–7, Bellarmine 28–21 and Mitty 41–0.
Tringali stayed with SI one final year before leaving in 1969, with a record of 54–14–1, to help USF resurrect its football program. Jim McDonald ’55 took over for two years and Tom Kennedy ’63 for two more before Gil Haskell ’61 stepped in as head coach between 1973 and 1977. As testimony to Tringali’s legacy, both Haskell and Alan Saunders ’64 sent Tringali a photo of a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Seattle Seahawks played on November 24, 2002. Haskell was the offensive coordinator for the Seahawks and Saunders had the same position with the Chiefs. (He had also served as head coach for the San Diego Chargers). During that game, the two teams earned a combined 64 first downs, an NFL record. In the photo are both Haskell and Saunders and this inscription: “To Vince Tringali, in sincere appreciation for your leadership, guidance and support throughout the years. You’ve made a difference in our lives.”
Tringali, long after leaving SI, continues to make a difference in the lives of football players. Thanks to his intervention, Igor Olshansky ’00 made history as the first Soviet-born person ever chosen by the NFL when the San Diego Chargers tapped him in 2004 in the second round of the draft.
Born in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, Olshansky came to the U.S. when he was 7 in 1989, and enrolled at SI for his freshman year. On his 15th birthday, he stood 6-foot, 6-inches tall and weighed 240 pounds. At an SI football game, Tringali ran into him and asked him if he had a son playing football.
“When I found out he was a student, I asked him why he wasn’t out there playing football,” said Tringali. “He told me he was a basketball player, and I said whoever told you that lied to you.” The next year Olshansky joined the SI football team, and he struggled a bit learning the techniques and rules, but it didn’t take long for the colleges to come knocking. He signed with the University of Oregon, the same school Fouts had attended, and became a favorite of fans there who chanted “I-gor” at each game. After Olshansky left college, Tringali was at his family home, sitting right beside him during the draft, when Igor got the call from the Chargers who eventually made him a starter on the defensive line. “And God help any quarterback he hits,” added Tringali.
Vince Tringali: The Other Side of Fear By Boris Koodrin ’67
Everyone has certain experiences along the way that they can look back on as milestones on their personal landscape. Playing football for Vince Tringali was one such landmark, and it has had a lasting effect on my life, the meaning of which continues to unfold. At the time it offered me the opportunity to face certain fears head on and come out on the other side. Tringali was an especially tough coach and was not known for his softness. But as any wise person can tell you, the ability to tell a convincing story is every bit as important to a teacher as are any of the other skills needed to pull someone through the eye of a needle.
Vince Tringali was a rite of passage. If nothing else, when we hit the field on any given Friday, we believed in our hearts that no team was better prepared to win. Practice was almost as tough as he was. I remember at one point Coach Tringali spent an incredible amount of energy inserting vertical slats into the cyclone fence surrounding the practice field across from USF. I was never quite sure if that was intended to keep out the prying eyes of opposing scouts or of the parents who would line up to watch their kids practice during the week. Whatever it was that he was planning, it called for a lack of witnesses and that, in itself, was a pretty unsettling thought.
One thing he provided to many of his young players was consistency. His way was black or white, and it left little room for any gray. His greatest contribution, however, was the high level of expectation that he held over our heads, and the intensity with which he would get us to rise to that level. Perhaps the most vivid memory I have of those days is of Vince Tringali delivering an inspirational pre-game speech about going beyond the pain and reaching down deep and delivering more than we had to give — you know, the usual stuff. He was asking the impossible from us because, in his book, that was what was required. I can’t really recall his words. What has stuck in my mind all these years is the sight of him holding his hand in the fire that he had built on the locker room floor. His hand remained fixed in the center of that fire the entire time he was addressing us. To this day I remember the intensity of the moment as I watched the glow slowly spread across the cold concrete like some primal ooze that was being unleashed in front of us. Transfixed, I succumbed to the moment and fell victim to the surge of raw invincibility that had taken over the room. I was recently reminiscing about that day with my good friend, Rocky Wair ’67, who played at left guard. As he recalls it: “I don’t know about you, but I remember that we literally flew out of that locker room on fire. Nobody in the world could have beaten us that day.”
I graduated SI having been touched by Tringali’s fire. Over the years that symbol has resurfaced many times to pull me through difficult situations. When push comes to shove, the strength of your personal fire can get you through anything, especially when facing life-threatening situations. Interestingly enough, I spend time these days teaching incarcerated gang members how to make fire using a primitive bow drill. Through dedication, discipline and a healthy dose of faith, they discover the ability to create their own physical fire. Fire has the ability to transform because it takes a certain amount of passion and commitment to achieve it. It can turn a hopeless survival situation into a picnic. When you learn about fire, it has the tendency to jump inside of you and become your teacher. And it can likewise transform a timid heart into a raging furnace.
I don’t remember what teams we played or what the score was the day Tringali built up our team’s fire, but it has remained an important personal symbol. Each one of us walked into Vince Tringali’s fire in our own way back then. The fears and doubts that once caused me to walk away from my life’s desire have now become the fuel that drives my own creativity. For me, it started an endless chain of fires that has taken me to the other side of my fears. Perhaps, just as importantly, it has convinced me of the power that an equally good story can have on one’s own students.
Dan Fouts, NFL Hall of Famer
The greatest quarterback ever to play for SI is undoubtedly Dan Fouts ’69, who went on to the University of Oregon and to the San Diego Chargers (where he played his final year under head coach and fellow Ignatian Alan Saunders ’64), setting numerous records and earning entry into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1993.
It’s no cliché to say that Fouts was born to play the game. His father, Bob Fouts, was an announcer for the ’49ers and for other sporting events, and he grew up around pro football players. “I’d like to take credit for teaching him how to throw,” said Tringali. “But I can’t. He picked up the sport through osmosis.” Fouts also met sports greats Wilt Chamberlain and Willie Mays through his father.
Dan transferred to SI in his sophomore year and started playing for Tringali. But because the coach didn’t favor a passing game, college scouts didn’t take much notice of him. “I begged USC to take Danny. I told them he can throw like the wind. He was tall but lanky — he wasn’t that big, but he was tough.”
Fouts loved his days at SI. “They were great years,” he recalled in a 1993 Genesis III interview. “The thing I appreciate most was the attitude that we had. It was one of confidence bordering on cockiness and arrogance. ‘We are SI.’ We are something special. And in those days, athletically, we were untouchable. We worked hard and had a great coach in Vince Tringali. That foundation really carried me a long way.”
He never threw an interception in his senior year at SI, and he helped SI earn the league title in his junior yera by beating a Serra team that featured Jesse Freitas and Lynn Swann. He ended up at Oregon, earning one of two athletic scholarships the school offered and setting 19 school records. The Chargers took him as a third-round draft pick in 1973, and he found himself playing alongside Johnny Unitas, then in his last season. By the time Fouts retired at the end of the 1987 season, he had become one of the league’s best quarterbacks, setting 42 team records and eight NFL records, including most 300-yard passing games. He helped the Chargers rise from the basement of the AFC West to become three-time AFC West champions. In all, as commander of Air Coryell, he passed for 43,040 yards and became the second-highest passer in NFL history. He is the third player ever to pass for more than 40,000 yards. He was selected to the Pro Bowl six times and made AFC Player of the Year in 1979 and again in 1982, this time for both the NFL and AFC. Three times he earned All-Pro honors. The year after he retired, the Chargers retired Fouts’ number 14, which he had worn from 1973 to 1987. He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1993 in his first year of eligibility.
Fouts credits his success with “being at the right place at the right time and then taking advantage of the opportunities. I played for one team for 15 years, and that’s kind of unusual. When Don Coryell came to San Diego in 1978, he really made a difference in my career. We had good players and played an exciting brand of football. It was bombs away.”
After leaving football, he served as KPIX sports anchor, earning two Emmys, and anchored the Bay to Breakers coverage and the San Francisco Marathon. He hosted Game Day with Dan Fouts and found himself doing his father’s job, covering play-by-play for Niners’ preseason games. He left for ABC in 1997, first to announce college ball and then as expert analyst for Monday Night Football with Al Michaels and Dennis Miller for the 2000 and 2001 seasons. He had a small role in the Adam Sandler movie The Waterboy along with Brent Musberger and appeared in a Miller Lite Beer commercial with Ken Stabler of the Raiders. He continues to announce college and pro football for the NFL Network. He has received numerous honors over the years, including induction into the San Francisco Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 1997.
One month after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, SI lost one of its own. While playing basketball for SI against Bishop O’Dowd on December 20, 1963, Denny Carter collapsed and died 5 seconds before the start of half-time with his parents watching in the stands. Charlie Dullea ’65, his teammate, noted that “everyone just waited for him to get up. The Bishop O’Dowd players covered him with their warm-up jackets as our team just sat on the bench stunned. When the firemen came to work on him, our team went into the locker room and said a rosary. While driving home, I heard the news on the radio that he was dead-on-arrival at Park Emergency near Kezar. His death had a dramatic impact on me and my friends.”
The priests and scholastics at SI spent the next few months doing grief counseling, though no one called it that. “Two scholastics, Jack Keating, SJ, and John Coleman, SJ, who, under the guise of playing Pedro with us on the football field, would engage us in conversation and get us to talk about Dennis’ death,” added Dullea. “They helped me get through the first traumatic experience of my life.”
In 1964, the basketball team inaugurated the Dennis Carter Award, with Edward Engler ’64 as the first recipient. Since then, the team has given the award to the player who has demonstrated sustained excellence in leadership, spirit and commitment to his fellow players and the school.
SI won three basketball league championships in the 1960s, the first in 1960 with Stan Buchanan as coach and the second in 1965 with Bernie Simpson ’54 as coach. Playing for him were Charlie Dullea ’65, who would go on to become SI’s first lay principal, and Bob Portman ’65, a first-round draft pick from Creighton, who played with the Warriors between 1969 and 1973. Also on the team were Bruce Scollin, Mike Doherty, Frank O’Malley and junior Rich Ames. Ironically, the toughest game of the season was the first league game against Balboa, whose star player, Willie Wise, would go on to play professional basketball. At a packed Kezar Pavilion, Portman fouled out with 2 minutes left on the clock, but SI prevailed to win by 2. SI lost only one game that season against Lincoln and the Wildcats found themselves playing an undefeated SH at the end of the regular season. A last-second 15-footer by Portman put SI ahead at the final buzzer. SI proceeded to win the city championship, beating Wilson and Lowell, and went on to the Tournament of Champions to beat Gilroy and Richmond before losing the NorCal crown to Fremont of Oakland.
SI won a league championship again in 1967 under Bob Drucker ’58 in his first year leading the Wildcats. The basketball court in the McCullough Gymnasium bears Drucker’s name for good reason. In his 20 years coaching at SI between 1966 and 1986, Drucker turned in a 394–150 record, taking SI to eight league titles, two CCS championships and one NorCal win. Drucker earned the title “Wizard of Westlake” when Bob Enright ’76 gave him the nickname based on John Wooden’s moniker, the Wizard of Westwood.
After a stint in the Army, Drucker applied for a job at St. Cecilia’s where he coached basketball while earning his degree at USF. In 1965, he came to SI along with Leo La Rocca, and the following year, Fr. McFadden selected him to coach the varsity basketball team. (Fr. McFadden had a rule preventing first year teachers from coaching.) The victories came as did the satisfaction of seeing young boys grow into fine men. One example, Drucker recalled, was Levy Middlebrooks ’84. “He came as a big, shy freshman with some skill, but he struggled a bit when he played on the freshman team. As a sophomore, he still was a little timid. Then something happened in the middle of the season that year. He improved right in front of our eyes. His confidence grew, as did his presence on the court. At the end of the regular season, I moved him up to varsity to help the team practice. Even the varsity kids were noting his improvement. Paul Fortier ’82 became his mentor, and Paul’s determination to help him improve was inspirational. Most kids I coached went through that kind of transformation, but not in such a dramatic way.”
After 20 years of dragging his own children to his games, Drucker was ready to retire from the sport, and he returned to the classroom in 1986. In 1992, he went from teaching history and counseling to working as a full-time counselor, but he returned to the classroom in 2003 as a full-time history teacher. He served as assistant coach to Jim Dekker in 2002 when the SI varsity girls basketball team took first in CCS, and he now serves as the boys’ varsity golf coach.
“It was difficult to ‘retire’ at age 46,” said Drucker. “But I was an intense coach, and my father died at 58. In the back of my mind, I thought that would happen to me if I had continued coaching basketball.”
His intensity, he said, comes from the passion he has for the game. “I love how creative basketball is. Some people paint, and others write. For me, X’s and O’s are an art form. But drawing plays on cocktail napkins while taking my wife out to dinner was not the way to win her heart. The game consumed me.”
Coaching golf is different, he noted. “We’re not allowed to coach on the course during competition. Sometimes I think the most important service I offer our golfers is driving the van.”
Nearly all the Drucker family is involved in SI. Bob’s son, Joe, graduated in 1990, his daughter Chrissy graduated with the first coed class in 1993, and his daughter Katie Kohmann works in the school’s development office as alumni coordinator. His wife, Kathy, and his daughter Molly might as well be honorary SI alumni for all the time they’ve spent at SI watching Bob coach in his distinguished 40-year career.
James Keating & Baseball
Between 1955 and 1974, James Keating helped his varsity baseball team reach the playoffs 15 times and took them to league championships six times between 1959 and 1967. Keating made a name for himself as an outstanding track star and football, basketball and baseball player at Commerce High School and at San Francisco State College. He then played for the Detroit Tigers organization and coached in the San Francisco Unified School District before coming to SI.
In the 1960s, his teams drew crowds by the thousands to watch the Wildcats beat AAA and WCAL opponents. In 1962, for instance, more than 4,000 fans watched SI beat Balboa 2–0, led by junior pitcher Joe Gualco and slugger Bob Ignaffo. In 1965, Vince Bigone ’65 helped SI win another league championship by turning in a 13–1 pitching record and batting .426. The AAA named him the league’s most valuable player.
In 1966, the team was forced to forfeit three games after a complaint was filed that two members lived outside San Francisco city limits. That decision led to SI’s leaving the league, as has already been discussed. In 1967, SI played its final year of baseball in the AAA, with Jim Dekker ’68 and Joe Dutto ’67 helping the Wildcats to a 19–1 record. In championship match, Poly scored four runs in the fourth inning. SI answered with four runs of its own in the bottom of that inning and five more runs in the seventh to win the league title.
In a 1988 Genesis II article, Dekker, who later coached with his mentor, recalled Keating’s “standard coaching outfit of black Converse sneakers, khaki or grey pants and white tee-shirt.” He would end prayers with “St. Jude, pray for us,” and encourage his team by telling them, “Keep going; it’ll blow over,” whenever it started to rain. “He never wanted to stop practice for any reason,” added Dekker. “The teams he coached thought he was invincible. We defeated opponents not necessarily because we were more talented, but because we were prepared and took the field with confidence.”
Dekker’s fondest memory of Keating is of a time in 1968. “He asked me to be the godfather to his new daughter, Shannon, and I felt honored that he and his wife, Betty, would even consider me. We held the baptism at the Keating’s parish church, and I thought that after the ceremony we would have a small party or gathering. Like most high school players, I was unsure about being with a coach in a setting other than the playing field. I shouldn’t have been so nervous; instead of returning to the Keating home after the ceremony, we proceeded directly to Marin Catholic’s baseball field to take Sunday batting practice, with most of Coach Keating’s children shagging balls. He must have thrown to me for at least two hours. Only after batting practice did we celebrate in the customary fashion.
To honor him, Jim Dekker ’68, who took over as head coach, instituted the Keating Award in 1975, with Stephen Baccari ’75 as the first recipient. Jim Keating died in 1988 after a four-year battle with cancer, and was buried in his coaching uniform along with his glove and bat. The 1989 varsity baseball team wore a black armband all season in Keating’s memory. “Knowing Jim, he would probably be embarrassed by the attention,” said Dekker.
SI’s swimming team enjoyed a remarkable run in the 1960s, taking first in 1960–61 and 1963-67. In 1965, Coach Bill Love ’59 helped the team break or tie nine city records and score the highest point total ever recorded in the city. SI’s nearest competitor trailed by 90 points at the finals. In 1968 in the WCAL, SI came in second to Bellarmine despite outstanding efforts by swimmers such as Mick Lavelle, who later returned to coach along with Robert Gogin. SI wouldn’t find gold until 1984, but the team still enjoyed success in the 1970s thanks to swimmers such as Mark Harris, Mark Yuschenkoff and Glenn Ackerman who continued to compete despite the lack of facilities and dwindling interest in the sport, as membership declined from 60 to a dozen members.
Leo La Rocca ’53
Leo La Rocca, who served as SI’s Athletic Director for 34 years, first came to SI as a teacher in 1965 and quickly became known as “The Godfather.” It’s not just because this towering man’s grandparents came from Sicily. Leo is the least threatening man you could meet. He was, however, the man to go to if you wanted a favor done. He gained a reputation as someone who could provide help with just one phone call, whether it was finding a donor for a scholarship for a senior whose father had just died or finding a job around campus for a freshman who had a hard time fitting in.
As a 6-foot, 3-inch sophomore, Leo helped his basketball team take second in the Tournament of Champions. He also made the all-league baseball team in his junior and senior years and boxed for the Olympic Club on the side. In 1965 he left his family’s seafood business and found a job at SI teaching English along with fellow first-year teachers Tony Sauer, Bob Drucker, Chuck Murphy and Riley Sutthoff.
In his second year on the job, both he and Drucker were vying for the varsity basketball coach’s job when Fr. McFadden called him into his office for a chat. “He said to me, ‘You really don’t want to coach basketball, do you Leo?’ I said, ‘Yes I do.’ ‘Wouldn’t you rather be athletic director?’ Little did anyone know that J.B. Murphy was stepping down.”
For the next 34 years, Leo scheduled games, reserved fields, hired coaches and supplied teams with equipment. He also attended thousands of games, including all but one of Drucker’s basketball games. “I was sick one day,” Leo explains.
In his long tenure as AD, he saw many changes, including the move from the AAA to the WCAL, the shift to coeducation and the increase in the number of teams and sports. When Leo first began at SI, only a small fraction of the SI student body competed in track, baseball, football and basketball. Now there are 13 boys’ sports and 13 girls’ sports, and nearly 900 of the 1,400 students participate in the athletics program. To assist him in this transition, SI hired Teresa Garrett in 1989 as associate athletic director, and when she left that position, Bob Vergara stepped into the job.
LaRocca never judged his success by whether his teams won or lost. “Driving home after a basketball game, I couldn’t tell you the final score. I get the most satisfaction not from watching a team win, but from watching kids play as hard as they could, win or lose. Championships are nice, but it’s far more gratifying watching kids grow into men and women, have families, be happy and do well professionally. I only hope that I’ve been a little part of their success.”
To honor him, SI renamed its winter basketball tournament the Leo A. La Rocca Sand Dune Classic, and the SI crew named a boat for him. He also received the Christ the King Award in 2004, the highest honor the school can bestow on an alumnus.
Fr. Mario Prietto, SJ, who served as SI principal for 13 of La Rocca’s 35 years at SI, announced on the day he got the job that “as long as I’m principal, Leo La Rocca is the AD. I’ve never regretted that decision. Leo is one of the kindest, most loyal persons I know. His devotion to SI has always been a great source of strength and inspiration for me. His heart is like his hands — big, warm and outstretched in service.”
Cross Country & Riley Sutthoff ’60
Each year since 1971, the cross country and track and field teams honor a “most inspirational” athlete with the Riley Sutthoff Award, named in honor of a man who started teaching French and coaching cross country at SI in 1965 before his tragic death in a car accident in 1970.
Terry Ward ’63, Bellarmine’s athletic director and track coach and a former SI coach and teacher, was a freshman runner when Riley was a senior. “When you are a freshman, it is easy to be in awe of seniors,” he noted. “ I ran very well as a freshman and was the city champion in the 660-yard run. One of the major reasons why I competed so well was the tutoring Riley gave me. Riley would always say hello to me and would compliment me when I did well. In the early ’60s the classes did not mix and to have someone who was about to graduate validate what I was doing left a lasting impression on me. In my junior and senior year, I made it a point to always help younger athletes. What Riley did for me, I wanted to do for others. This is my 35th year coaching track and field, and every day I try to make the 150 athletes in my charge know that I care for them and want them to succeed. From the fastest runner to the slowest jogger, I live with each step they take, just like Riley lived with me in the 1960s. I was very proud to succeed Riley as cross country coach. Riley was a great man whom many of us still miss.”