Varsity football head coaches in the 1970s included Tom Kennedy ’63, Jim McDonald ’55 and Gil Haskell ’61. While their teams never won a league championship, they made their mark as exemplary and memorable coaches, especially Haskell, who coached from 1973 to 1977. “Anybody who played for him would tell you that his enthusiasm was infectious,” says SI Athletic Director Robert Vergara ’76. “He had the kind of personality that made you want to play hard for him.”
As a player at SI, Haskell grew frustrated with one of his coaches and, according to Vince Tringali, was ready to walk off the field and quit. “I told him that I thought he was a great football player. I told him not to worry about what the coach said, to keep his mouth shut and do what he said.” Haskell followed that advice and enjoyed much success at SI, making all-city in his senior year. At San Francisco State College, his team won three championships, and he played briefly in 1966 with the ’49ers and joined SI’s coaching staff in 1969. At SI he used coaching techniques he learned from ’49ers’ coaches Frankie Albert and Dick Nolan and his SI coach, Pat Malley.
After leaving SI, Haskell coached for USC, the LA Rams, the Green Bay Packers, the Carolina Panthers and the Seattle Seahawks, where he is the offensive coordinator working with Seahawks’ head coach and Lincoln grad Mike Holmgren and former SI coach Bill Laveroni ’66. In his first year with the Seahawks, Haskell coordinated the AFC’s top-ranked red zone offense, which gained 292.5 yards per game.
Backfield in Motion – Again
By Bob Lalanne ’73
(Bob Lalanne delivered this address to a meeting of the Board of Regents in 2002 after noting that among the regents were several members of the SI backfield from his days at SI.)
The most successful SI football season since the last WCAL Championship Team in 1967 took place in 1972 when the ’Cats went 8–2. The 1984 Wildcats were also 8 and 2 but also had one tie. Coach Tringali always said a tie is worse than a loss and that any team that would play for a tie is not worthy and are just a bunch of measly…. Unfortunately that tie greatly tarnishes that 1984 record.
At this meeting are regents who were also members of that record-breaking 1972 Wishbone backfield-in-motion, who dazzled the opponents with speed and smarts: quarterback Stan Raggio ’73, fullback Al Clifford ’73 and halfbacks Sam Coffey ’74 and Burl Toler ’74. I was a defensive lineman from that 1972 team, so I have some inside information I can share with you.
In 1971 we were 1–7–1. Most of us were juniors, so we had the seniors to blame. Head coach was Tom Kennedy who coached the offense and the backs, and Gil Haskell served as line coach. Gil, a great guy who now coaches for the Seahawks, was always full of energy and enthusiasm.
In spite of the poor 1971 season, Tom Kennedy saw something in these guys. Given their intelligence and ability to perform, Tom decided to throw out the entire offensive system from 1971 and over the summer install a version of the highly complex Wishbone offense. He also brought in a past SI and collegiate lineman to coach the line — Bill Laveroni.
Coach Kennedy, an SI and Santa Clara football great, was a super coach and had a great influence on us as players. He was incredibly organized, neat, in fantastic physical shape, a hard worker and very disciplined. He reminded me of Bill Walsh: He was a professor of the game who ran a tight ship.
Coach Bill Laveroni had a heart of gold. He was a classic, burly offensive lineman, a standout at SI who had a great career with UC Berkeley’s Golden Bears. His experience enabled him to share with the linemen the real tricks of the trade in the trenches. We felt that with Coach Laveroni we had a competitive advantage and a loyal teacher.
Fr. Sauer taught most of us English, but we also learned poetry from our coaches who told us we had to be “mobile, agile and hostile.” Our coaches also expanded our vocabulary. Coach Bill’s favorite word was “doofus.” He called me a doofus so many times that I began to believe him.
Stan, Al, Sam and Burl were a real combo, all fast and smart. Stan “the Man” was brilliant. He was always walking the halls with either Coach Kennedy’s playbook or his college level Greek and Latin books. As a defensive player, how many times have you looked across the offensive line and seen a wily quarterback who also majored in the classics and then went off to Dartmouth? Stan was smooth.
Al was like Linus in Peanuts, always muddy, curled in a ball, low to the ground and constantly pounding his helmet into lineman and linebackers so that Sam and Burl could run for glory. Al was relentless, and when he did carry the ball, you hardly knew it because he never changed his pounding style.
Sam Coffey had style and a constant grin on his face, even when he took a hit. Do you remember the old black-and-white glossy action football photos in yearbooks from the ’50s? Even when Sam cut up the field, he had the unique ability to cut, freeze (to let the photographer shoot) and then score. He was another of Coach Kennedy’s backfield who would study at Dartmouth.
And finally there was Burl Toler, Jr. He was all business, and nobody could catch him. Coach Laveroni always said the first priority as a defensive end was to turn the halfback up-field and to never, never let him get outside and around you. I liked that approach, because if I turned Burl to the inside, even if I missed tackling him, I was successful in containing the perimeter, and the inside linebacker would then have to catch him.
Burl had a great career as a running back at SI, and he had even a greater career at UC Berkeley as linebacker. When he showed up at UC Berkeley the year after me, he was just as quick as ever but 40 pounds heavier. He was moved to linebacker and became the quarterback of the defense not only because of his athletic ability but also because of his smarts. Yet another Jesuit trained athlete.
We went 8–2 and were very close to going 10–0. We barely lost to Serra in a mud bowl, missing a long field goal with little time remaining. We were convinced Serra watered down their field on top of the recent rainstorms to slow down the Regent backfield.
We beat Mitty and SH and shut out Bellarmine at Kezar 21–0. Against Bellarmine, I tipped a pass and intercepted it — a defensive end’s dream. After spinning, faking, juking and pulling a “Sam Coffey,” I returned the ball up the sidelines for a 3-yard return. I could have gone all the way, but fellow defensive lineman and future 4-year starter at Stanford, Alex Karakozoff, and Tom Corsiglia ’73, a future Santa Clara lineman, tackled me out of shear excitement.
The week before our championship game against Riordan, we played St. Francis under the lights. They had a very good team, but we just rolled over them. We were hitting on all cylinders. Our final game was the WCAL championship game against Riordan the following week. It took place at Lowell because Kezar was just too wet and the ’49ers were playing the next day. The SI stadium couldn’t hold enough people. It was a very full house.
Riordan had a great quarterback in Mike Carey who later played at USC. They were coached by Bob Toledo who, until recently, coached at UCLA for years and won a few Rose Bowls. It was one of those games that whoever had the ball last on offense would probably win. I forget the final score. Maybe it was 28 to 24. Some might remember that late in the fourth quarter Stan and Xonie Lloyd, our wide receiver who later tutored Jerry Rice, barely missed hooking up on a deep sideline route with us down by a few points.
In any event, one summer 30 years ago, Tom Kennedy saw in these four athletes something special. I can’t think of a better place for the wishbone backfield of ’72 to reunite than here on the SI Board of Regents. May the four of you continue to help bring SI across the goal line for years to come.
By Loring R. Tocchini ’80
(Loring Tocchini was the fifth member of the Tocchini family to graduate from SI.)
I was a freshman in the fall of 1976, and the varsity football team was preparing for a home game against Bellarmine. The varsity squad was in a position to capture the first championship football title for the school since moving from the Stanyan Street campus. I remember the excitement around the school that week was intense. There were articles in the paper about the upcoming game as well. SI had come out of the 1950s and 1960s with many football championships, but none so far in the ’70s.
The roster of names for that team read like an “Old San Francisco” ethnic montage: Cipolla, Barberini, Rocca, Shannon, Murphy, Clancy, Garvey … the list goes on. It’s trite but true: Each member of that squad brought something special to that team, but they shared in common a strong work ethic. They came from families with proud ethnic heritages that are very much a part of the make-up of our country, city and school. They were also young men whom a freshman could look up to and try to emulate.
Coach Gil Haskell worked the varsity squad hard that week. I was a member of the frosh football club that year, and I can remember heading home each night that week after practice and seeing the varsity still at it. I would stop and watch for a while from the top of the stadium stands. You could smell the scent of cut grass coming off the field in the cool fall air. The stadium had no lights, and nightfall, as it always does that time of year, would come on fast. The only thing you could see were the silhouettes of these athletes running through their drills with the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean behind them. If the play didn’t run smoothly, you could hear coach Haskell yell, “Run it again!” This went on each afternoon that week until there wasn’t any more light to work with at the end of each day. After rigorous wind sprints, these guys would come off the field looking as if they had just been through battle.
Coach Haskell was preparing them for what he knew was going to be a tough game. He was always upbeat as he would say, “Men, enthusiasm is the force that drives momentum.” He preached it to his squad and insisted the other coaches approach their daily routine on the field the same way. That attitude became infectious. Every player did his best to encourage his partner to take his game to the next level, especially that week.
Game day came on Friday. There were banners all over school proclaiming, “Beat the Bells!” and “Ring the Bells!” I can remember the stands at the beginning of the game being packed on both sides of the field with students, family, alumni and friends from both schools. The stadium went from crowded to standing room only as the game wore on. In fact, during the last half of the game there were people standing on the track, sitting on the cyclone fences at the south end of the field and standing all over the grassy sections at each end of the field. There were even people in their front room windows on Rivera Street watching the game.
The cheering went back and forth from each side of the field. I can remember the head cheerleader for SI, John Forsyth, yelling to the student body that he wanted “echo quality” cheers. “Go Cats!” “Smash the Bells!” The cheers rang out. When the student body cheered loud enough, the cheer would echo off the houses on 39th Avenue. It was unreal.
SI led for most of the game, but the Bells fought back to a 15–15 tie as the final gun sounded. Nightfall was descending quickly upon the stadium, and emotions from both sides of the stadium were running high. Since a championship was on the line, a “California tie-breaker” was instituted. Each squad had four plays to advance the football. The football was placed on the 50-yard line, and the team that advanced the ball the furthest would win the game. All I could see on the field were the silhouettes battling back and forth, just as I had seen during practice.
When it was all over, SI had lost by what someone said was about a foot. My voice was gone from yelling cheers. I remember seeing our players coming off the field with tears in their eyes, exhausted. They had given everything they had on that field that afternoon and there was nothing left to give. Coach Haskell led his team into the field house at the north end of the field after they had congratulated the other team, and then they closed the doors. After a brief moment of silence, you could hear the school fight song rising over the stadium, sung by the players inside the field house. You couldn’t have written a better script to this game except to include a win. These men were proud of themselves and the school they represented.
I felt proud of those guys and proud to be associated with SI. Revenge can be somewhat sweet though. The following year, although there wasn’t a championship on the line for SI, we traveled to Buck Shaw Stadium at Santa Clara University to face Bellarmine, then ranked the number-one high school football team in the country. No one gave us a chance of winning. We shut the Bells out 8–0 in a defensive struggle. It was one of hardest hitting games I have ever seen.
The 1974-75 & 1975-76 Basketball Teams
By Mark Hazelwood ’80
St. Ignatius has had a rich sports history, and in particular a great basketball tradition. City high school legends — from Kevin O’Shea, Fred LaCour, Bob Portman, Paul Fortier and Levy Middlebrooks to Jesse Lopez Low, Nico Mizono and the rest of the 2004 CCS champion Wildcats — have “laced ’em up” for the Wildcats over the past 60 years.
Never, however, has SI ever had a greater run of hoop success than during the years 1974–75 and 1975–76. These two teams, coached by the “Wizard of Westlake” Bob Drucker, set a standard of success that has never been duplicated.
In the fall of 1974, Coach Drucker was beginning his ninth season as coach. He had enjoyed great success in those first eight years, winning a WCAL title in 1968, and never suffering a losing record. In 1974, he welcomed back four returning seniors: forwards Juan Mitchell and Tony Passanisi, center Michael Bowie and point-guard Dan Buick. This group had helped lead SI to an impressive 20-win season and a second-place finish the year before. It was not, however, a championship, and Drucker continually reminded his players of this as the ’74–’75 season progressed.
Joining the returning seniors were a powerful group of players moving up from the JVs: forward/center Billy O’Neill; forwards Kurt Bruneman, Tom Stack and Bob Enright; and guards Mike McEvoy, Craig Bianchi, Louie Carella and Dan Abela.
During pre-season play, Drucker tried to find the right mix. The team struggled early on against Marin Catholic and Redwood before earning comeback wins. As the pre-season progressed, the team improved offensively. Buick and Bowie started to develop some chemistry with Buick looking to give what was called the “Bowie Lob” as often as he could to the 6-foot, 7-inch senior. SI finished the 12–0 pre-season, with 30-point wins over Mills and Carlmont.
As always, the WCAL would be a tough fight every night. Right away, SI was matched up against archrival Sacred Heart at Kezar. On January 3, 1975, a capacity crowd of 5,000 watched one of the great basketball games in the storied history of the two schools. During regulation, no team led by more than 6 points. With Bill Duffy and Bill Duggan, the Irish hung in there with the ’Cats and, with 26 seconds left, pulled ahead 52–50. Senior Tony Passanisi responded and nailed a jumper from the corner to put the game into overtime.
Duggan returned the favor for SH by hitting a 30-footer at the buzzer to send the game into a second overtime. As the second overtime wound down, SI trailed 61–60. With less than 10 seconds left, Kurt Bruneman fired up a shot that bounced off the rim. Out of nowhere came Bill O’Neill, who pulled down the rebound, and put it back in to clinch the victory. Looking back at all the games he coached, Drucker called this a classic.
The ’Cats then rattled off seven more wins, including a 90–32 trouncing of Bellarmine. SI clinched the regular season WCAL title, whipping St. Francis. In the final regular game of the season, SI traveled to Serra hoping to be the first city team to go undefeated since Wilson in 1968. A hostile “Jungle” crowd helped the Padres move out to an early lead. Juan Mitchell led the ’Cats back to send the game to overtime. Unfortunately, Serra guard John O’Leary hit five free throws, and Serra pulled the upset, ruining the perfect season.
After the game, Drucker told the press: “It’s like getting the monkey off our back. When the guys left the locker room, I could see relief on their faces. We’re going to be all right.” SI’s colorful coach was prophetic.
In the WCAL semi-final playoff game the following week, Michael Bowie poured in 33 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and had three blocks as SI clobbered Mitty 70–40. Drucker’s crew was then paired up once again with Serra in the finals at USF. With 5,000 mostly SI partisan fans looking on, SI jumped out to a 47–36 lead before hanging on to nip the Padres 54–52, earning both revenge and the WCAL title.
SI then moved to the Central Coast Section Tournament. First up in Region I was San Mateo High, featuring star forward Sylvester “Sly” Pritchett. Holding Pritchett to eight points, the ’Cats pulled away late and won 84–75. Unfortunately, SI lost Dan Buick for the rest of the playoffs to a broken hand.
Facing Westmoor in the next round, Drucker worried about the loss of Buick and about his team growing overconfident, as SI had beaten the Rams earlier in the season. As they had all season, the team responded. Stepping in for Buick, junior guard Mike McEvoy recorded 19 points and five steals to lead the ’Cats to the Region I title.
Not satisfied, SI then advanced to the CCS final tournament at Maples Pavilion. In the semifinal contest, the Wildcats took on Region III champ Gilroy. Showing great leadership, Billy O’Neill led SI with 13 points in a defensive struggle as the ’Cats prevailed 57–40.
In the season finale at Maples Pavilion, SI faced Cupertino, led by All Northern California performer and future Los Angeles Laker Kurt Rambis. Rambis, a junior, had played superbly all season in leading Cupertino to a 27–1 record, nearly identical to SI’s 28–1 record. In front of a sold-out crowd of 6,500, SI’s front-line held the Pioneers’ big man in check and the ’Cats matched Cupertino point for point.
As the game wound down to the 1-minute mark, Juan Mitchell committed his fifth foul, putting guard Mike Saladino to the line. Saladino missed the free throw, but Rambis tipped in the basket, giving Cupertino a 61–60 victory. Despite the CCS final loss, SI ended with an incredible record of 28–2. No St. Ignatius team had ever won so many games.
With the beginning of the 1975–76 school year, Drucker said good-bye to starters Mitchell, Bowie, Passanisi and Buick. The 1975–76 team returned McEvoy, O’Neill, Carella, Abela, Bianchi, Enright and Bruneman, who gained so much experience from the year before. Drucker now added Craig Wallsten, Alan Smoot, Chris LaRocca, Brad Levesque, Dan Hurley, John Skapik and sophomore Tony Zanze.
The fantastic season the year before led to high expectations. SI was picked as the fourth-ranked high school team in Northern California by the San Francisco Examiner. Without Bowie and Mitchell, Drucker knew this team needed to win with defense and good outside shooting.
SI started the pre-season right where it left off the year before with impressive wins over St. Joseph’s, Marin Catholic and Washington. Despite a loss in the El Camino Tournament to Westmoor, SI finished the pre-season 12–1.
The ’Cats opened the defense of their WCAL crown against St. Francis. In what would be a typical, unselfish performance for this team, SI had five scorers in double figures, led by Mike McEvoy with 18 points. SI won 68–59.
SI continued its winning ways and eventually took on archrival Sacred Heart. Extracting revenge for a JV championship loss two years earlier, Bill O’Neill scored 20 points and SI whipped SH 68–56 at Kezar. After cruising past St. Francis and Riordan and edging Serra twice, an undefeated WCAL season came down to the final game against Mitty. A year earlier, the ’Cats had fallen just short of this goal. This time McEvoy and O’Neill saw to it that there would be no letdown. Combining for 34 points, the senior leaders led SI to win 68–50 and the perfect league record, a feat never before accomplished in the history of the WCAL.
The Wildcats went on to face Bellarmine in the WCAL Tournament’s final game at USF. SI kept the Bells close in the first half, shooting just 11 for 31 from the field. In the second half, playoff hero Craig Bianchi came through, scoring 17 points to lead the ’Cats to their second straight title with a 47–40 victory.
Drucker’s boys, now an amazing 26–1 returned to the CCS tournament to face a familiar opponent, Westmoor, which had an impressive 25–1 record. The Rams took it to SI early on, leading 30–27 at the half. The Wildcats then tightened their defense, holding Westmoor to eight points in the third quarter. McEvoy, Bruneman, and O’Neill once again came through with big shots down the stretch and the ’Cats, avenging their early season loss to the Rams, claimed the Division I title for the second straight season.
Next up for SI was Region III winner Carmel. Again playing great defense, the Wildcats allowed their lowest point total of the year, winning 49–31 and setting up another showdown with Kurt Rambis and Cupertino in the CCS final at Maples Pavilion. SI kept Cupertino’s high powered offense under control in the first half, but simply could not generate enough offense. Eventually, Rambis, who would score 27 points and grab 12 rebounds, wore SI out and led the Pioneers to a second straight CCS title over a disappointed Wildcat squad.
The loss was especially tough for senior O’Neill. “We didn’t really care about Carmel,” O’Neill told Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Examiner. “I mean Carmel is where you go on your honeymoon. Nobody plays basketball there. But Cupertino was the big one for us.”
SI’s season did not end with the loss to Cupertino as it had the previous year. The ’Cats were invited as an “at-large” team to the Tournament of Champions. It was SI’s first invite to the tournament since 1965 when the ’Cats were led by Bob Portman. As Drucker would lament later, his team was simply not able to get over the Cupertino loss. With an ill O’Neill playing only limited minutes, the ’Cats lost to Del Mar in the first round, playing their worst game of the season.
Showing typical pride, SI rebounded in the double elimination tournament by whipping St. Mary’s of Stockton in the next game 81–46, giving the Wildcats their 29th win of the season and earning another shot at Rambis and Cupertino. Unfortunately, SI would have little left in the tank, losing to the Pioneers 64–55. The loss did not erase the accomplishments of the long season, which included the WCAL title, the perfect conference record, the all-league performances of O’Neill, McEvoy and Bianchi and the tremendous showing in the CCS.
Over the 2-year span, SI had won 57 games and lost 6. From the inside play of Bowie, Mitchell and O’Neill to the outside shooting of Passanisi, McEvoy and Bianchi, they had played at a level of basketball that had not been seen before at the Prep. It may never be seen again.
The SI track and field team took league championships seven times in the 1970s with Terry Ward ’63 coaching most of those teams. Ward got his start at SI by running the 4×800 relay with three seniors and setting the school record in his sophomore year under coach Roger Hoy. In his senior year, Ward competed for Fr. Ray Devlin, SJ ’42, who took over the program. (His brother, Fr. Joe Devlin, SJ, was the track coach at Bellarmine.) In 1963, SI sent five athletes to the state meet, and Ward became city champion in the 800-meter event.
After studying and coaching at SFSU, Ward joined the SI faculty in 1969 and coached track for Gil Haskell until 1973 when they shared the head coaching job. Ward ran the program between 1974 and 1978, but credits his coaching staff for much of the program’s success. “We had guys like Gil Haskell, Tom Kennedy, Jim Walsh, Mike Lewis, Br. Charlie Jackson, SJ, and Dick Howard,” says Ward. “They paid attention not just to the stars but to all the athletes.”
While some of SI’s success can be attributed to the depth of the program, Ward also credits the boys’ attitudes. “We loved having stars, but we also loved working with kids who weren’t stars. These guys sometimes worked all summer and came back as ready to go as some of the previous year’s standouts.”
Ward let his athletes know his priorities by making sure, at the end of a race, to congratulate the runner who finished last and then move up the line to congratulate the first-place runner.
Ward enjoyed coaching at SI. “It always seemed like a family affair, especially since I had so many relatives on my teams. If a problem arose, we could talk about it because we all knew each other. It was always fun being with those guys.”
Ward left SI for Bellarmine in 1980 for a change of climate, thinking that he would stay there for 10 years before moving on. He has never left and now serves as Bellarmine’s athletic director.
Track Stars of the 1970s
Coach Terry Ward sang the praises of many of his athletes, including the following:
All-Americans: Chris Cole ’72, Mike Porter ’72, Dan Graham ’72, John McVeigh ’73 and Jim Hannawalt ’78.
School Record Holders: David Gherardi ’72, Chris Cole ’72, Paul McCarthy ’75, Bruce Parker ’78, Brendan Ward ’71, Julius Yap ’74 and Paul Roache ’78.
State Meet Qualifiers and Finalists: David Gherardi ’72, Chris Cole ’72, Xonie Lloyd ’73 and Bruce Parker ’78
Sprinters: Dan Magee ’76, Gil Pacaldo ’79, Charles Taylor ’88, Mike Kelly ’72 and Brian Sampson ’78.
Middle Distance: Dennis Burns ’76, Pat Linehan ’76, Aleo Brugnara ’79 and Tony Fotinos ’73.
Pole Vaulter: Frank Lawler ’71.
Shot and Discus: Peter DeMartini ’76, Aldo Congi ’72 and Tom Lagomarsino ’72.4
Distance Runners: Yannick Loyer ’80, Ernie Stanton ’81, Mark Gillis ’81, Phil Bennett ’77 and Bill Magee ’74.
Hurdlers: Juan Mitchell ’75, Bill Ryan ’77 and John Goldberg ’75.
Jumpers: Peter Imperial ’77, Jim Paver ’74, Sean Laughlin ’82 and Don Vidal ’77.
All Time Team Leader: Rob Hickox ’72.
By Julius Yap ’74
The 1970s cross country and track and field program at SI had perhaps the biggest impact on the person I have become today. All SI athletic experiences have a positive effect on its students but Cross Country and Track and Field are unique in that freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors all work out together. I learned the values an Ignatian is supposed to have by watching the upper classmen live those values every day, so I grew up not only learning those values but also understanding that it was my responsibility to make sure that those who followed would find those values in me. Coach Ward and Coach Haskell also provided the model for me to follow as I returned to teach and coach here at SI. I have had some success here during my 25 years at the prep, and I owe much of that to my two coaches at SI. They taught me the value of hard work. The most important value an SI coach should honor — and this is the top priority of an SI coach — is to care for the student as a person first and an athlete second.
In 1974, Coach Jim Keating retired and Jim Dekker ’68 stepped in to lead the Varsity Boys Baseball Team for the next 20 years (with the exception of a 3-year leave of absence when Len Christensen was head coach). Dekker played three years of varsity for Keating starting in his freshman year. As a junior centerfielder and .375 lead-off hitter, he made the all-city team and helped his team take the league championship with a 20–1 record. (That record stood until Dekker’s last year as a coach in 1993 when his team won 25 games.)
In his junior year, Dekker won the race for student body president and was being eyed by scouts for professional baseball. Any hopes of turning pro, however, were crushed the summer between his junior and senior years when a car accident left Dekker severely injured. That Dekker can now walk is a tribute to Dr. C. Allen Wall ’46, a vascular surgeon. While recuperating, Joe DiMaggio came to visit Dekker and present him with the batting trophy from the first-ever Joe DiMaggio League that Dekker had won that summer.
While a student at Santa Clara University, Dekker commuted to SI to coach with Keating, and after graduating with his degree in English, he returned to SI to teach and coach. When Keating retired in 1974, Dekker took over and led his team in numerous successful seasons, including the 1977 season when SI tied for first place with Serra at the end of the round-robin in the WCAL. Team leaders included George Torassa ’77, who eventually signed and played three years in the San Francisco Giants’ farm system.
In 1967, Luis Sagastume began teaching Spanish and coaching soccer at SI. He came to the U.S. at age 11 from Guatemala and played soccer at USF. As captain there, he led that school to an NCAA national championship. His assistant, Fr. Francis Stiegeler, SJ, wrote in a 1974 Genesis article that “his professional attitude and low-key personal approach immediately injected a transfusion into the moribund soccer program and the subsequent revival of the program has been truly phenomenal. From one team of 18 players in 1969, the soccer program has grown in 1974 to six teams with more than 140 participating players. Along with its growth in size, SI soccer has dominated the WCAL since its inception, winning the varsity title three times in six years and compiling a remarkable record of only six losses in 67 league matches.”
Sagastume’s 1973 team went undefeated, earning 43 goals and allowing only four against them on their way to a second-place finish in the CCS. The following year, the ’Cats went 12–1–1 to win the league with offensive stars such as Bill Magee ’74 (a high school All-American and league MVP), Jim Paver ’74 (who scored 13 goals in the ’74 season), Connie Konstin ’75, Bob Bustamante ’76, John Kolenda ’75, Dan Salvemini ’75 and Rob Fetter ’74.
Sagastume left SI for Chico State in 1975 where he received a Master’s degree in physical education and returned in 1977. That fall, word got around school that Sagastume had invited a few students out to West Sunset to kick around a few soccer balls. “That word spread around campus and more than 40 students showed up,” said Joe Totah ’78. “Everyone wanted to be on his team as he had become a legend.”
Totah was among those who played for him in 1978 when SI came in second in the league. He praised Sagastume for emphasizing technique and strategy. “He brought each individual player and the team as a whole to a new level. He made sure each player understood his position and was as skillful as possible.” Sagastume also taught by example the virtue of good sportsmanship. “He was very patient on the sidelines,” recalls Totah. “He wasn’t animated, running up and down screaming. He was very quiet and let the team play. He carried himself professionally and demanded the same of his players both on and off the field.”
Sagastume also coached at Chico State and SFSU before leaving for the Air Force Academy in 1979, where he continues to coach soccer. Since then, he has led the Falcons to more than 270 victories in 26 seasons. Taking over for him was Rob Hickox ’72, who continues to head the Boys’ Soccer Program. He led the ’Cats to championships in 1981 and 2005 and many CCS semifinals.
In addition to Sagastume, Fr. Paul Capitolo, SJ ’53, has played a large role in SI soccer starting in November 1973, when Steve Nejasmich and Fran Stiegeler, SJ, asked him to coach in the newly-formed soph-frosh program. He and Dennis Sweeney coached the SI Tigers until 1982 when the WCAL expanded to include a freshman soccer component. Fr. Capitolo moved on to become moderator for the entire boys’ soccer program, and is known affectionately by players and coaches as “Cappy Bear” and “The Grand Pooh Bah.”
SI, which had won six league victories in golf between 1951 and 1961, finally got back on track, capturing three league crowns between 1977 and 1979, as well as the CCS championship in 1979, led by Fr. Roland P. Dodd, SJ. Standouts on the team included Tom Sheppard, Manuel Neves, Mike Cinelli, Joe Slane, Joe Vetrano, Sean Sarsfield, Kevin McWalters, Mike Modesti, Pat Doherty, Russ Tominaga, Matt Healy, Glenn Schuldt, Joe Vetrano and Joe Luceti.
Over the years others would step in to coach boys’ golf, including Bob Drucker and Julius Yap, who, in 2001, oversaw the creation of the girls’ golf program, which won the league, CCS and NorCal championship in 2003.
By Stephen Finnegan ’88
(This article was first published in the Summer 2003 Genesis IV to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Lacrosse team.)
As Will McMinn ’79 gazed out the window toward the Pacific Ocean from Fr. Dominic Harrington’s math class in the spring of 1979, he heard an announcement over the PA that perked up his senior year at SI and his college years at UC Santa Barbara.
“All those students interested in forming a lacrosse club, please report to the student activities office after school.” McMinn daydreamed as he continued to look out over the sand dunes that would later become the field where SI would play many of its lacrosse games. McMinn hoped that his father, who had not let him play football, would let him play lacrosse.
On April 19, 2003, McMinn returned to SI and played in the 15th annual alumni lacrosse game on the new FieldTurf of J.B. Murphy Field. Before the game began, he reflected on his early memories of lacrosse at SI. He started by holding up the first jersey from 1979, which resembled a wool football uniform shirt, and then he and others thanked the many people who were instrumental in the program’s creation.
Ken Ross ’79 was one such pioneer who started the lacrosse team “to help the younger guys play an alternative to football or baseball that would make them proud and build their confidence.” He went to Chuck Murphy ’61, the student activities director at the time, and asked about buying gym mats for a wrestling team. Murphy told Ross that he was concerned about the “liability of a bunch of guys throwing each other around.” Then Ross remembered reading that football legend Jim Brown had played lacrosse along with football while at Syracuse University. Ross returned to Murphy, who always listened to students, and asked about forming a lacrosse club.
Murphy gave the go-ahead, but because lacrosse did not begin as an official school sport, he could offer no funding. Ross’s father made a large contribution, and Ross solicited donations from Financial District law and accounting firms. He found that SI’s reputation helped him in his fund-raising efforts.
Ross sought advice from University High School Lacrosse Coach Mike Gotlieb (who would be a perennial rival), and he referred him to Bruce Nelson, who coordinated lacrosse leagues around the Bay Area. He assisted Ross in purchasing discounted lacrosse equipment. All Ross needed now was a coach.
By this time Sam Coffey ’74, who had played football for Dartmouth College, was teaching history and coaching freshman football at SI. He had heard about Ross’s search for a coach and introduced him to John Carney, who had played football with Coffey in college and also played lacrosse at Dartmouth as an All-American.
Carney agreed to coach the “lads” as Ross remembered Carney’s term for the ragtag group of SI players (delivered in his East Coast accent). Ross went to every class to recruit players and found nearly 30 athletes who, along with McMinn, showed up to the first meeting.
“We had guys playing in their corduroy pants and button down shirts,” said Ross. “A couple of times, midway through the season, we would trade for players with the opposing team to level the talent pool.”
Bruce Burns, a freshman at the time, was one of the team’s best ball handlers. “We had Jim Hill, John Kapulica, Frank Hseih, John Clark, Rich Alden, Jim Kearney, Tim McInerney, Bill Mazzetti, Mike Patt and many others. The one player on the team who exemplified what we were all about was Kevin Barberini, who, sadly, passed away from cancer several years out of SI. Kevin had a great sense of humor that represented the positive attitude of our program.”
In the spring of 2004, SI lacrosse celebrated its 25th anniversary. There have been so many players, coaches, parents and friends who contributed over the years, not only to SI lacrosse, but also to the overall growth of the game on the West Coast.
Many players have handed down their old lacrosse gear to their younger brothers. Bruce Burns ’82, who later went on to expand lacrosse at UOP, gave his old gear to his brother Todd ’87. Jim Kircher ’82, who started lacrosse at Humboldt State, handed down his gear to his brother Glenn ’87.
Steve Wynne ’90 (younger brother of lacrosse alumnus Ed Wynne ’84) came back to SI as a coach to help Dave Giarrusso lead the Wildcats to three of their four state championships.
Other Lacrosse alumni include Willie Wade ’85 and his brother, Yancey ’88, who was named High School All-American. Trevor Buck ’93 went on to play at Hobart; his father, Stockton Buck, helped build the SI program as a coach for many years.
One family best represents the SI lacrosse tradition. The Merrion clan, who all showed up for the 2003 game, includes Mark ’82, whose son and daughter played catch with lacrosse sticks after the game, John ’86, who was named High School All-American, and Paul ’92 who looked up to his older brothers playing lacrosse. These brothers all took the field and scored goals in this most recent game.
Each year when the varsity and the alumni come together to play, we remember and honor those who came before us. When we pray the prayer of St. Ignatius, we honor the founder of the Jesuits whose missionaries and martyrs were some of the first Europeans to see the game of lacrosse.
We know that we are part of a large extended family of SI alumni, and we wish future teams good luck. We are grateful to the parents and SI for providing us with a beautiful field. We look forward to future seasons and say thank you to McMinn, Ross, Coffey, Carney (now lieutenant governor of Delaware) and all those who made the first 25 years of lacrosse at SI possible.
By Tom Hsieh ’83
More than 100 alumni, along with family and friends from across the country, attended the 35-year SI Lacrosse Reunion on April 17, 2015, and after back slaps and bro hugs, many left with the promise of resting a little easier knowing the slights of the past were finally reconciled.
The source of the slights? These men never received block letters for playing high school lacrosse, as it was considered a club sport, not a varsity sport, between 1979 and 1986.
They finally received their blocks on a night “that was a long time coming,” noted Sam Coffey ’74, the team’s first general manager. “We did not know back then what SI lacrosse would become.”
He was referring to the national dominance of the SI boys’ varsity lacrosse program, which this year finished among the top five teams in the nation, and, along with the varsity girls’ program, won a first-place state ranking. In addition, the boys’ teams have won six straight WCAL titles and two state titles and have sent more than 50 athletes to compete on the college level.
The only quiet part of the night was when former dean of students, Br. Douglas Draper, S.J., took the microphone for the event’s blessing and scanned the room. “Tonight gentlemen,” he said to the relief of all, “I will not name names.”
Coffey went on to describe the origins of SI lacrosse in terms the faithful could understand. “In the beginning,” he said solemnly, “there was nothing.”
He went on to recount how on the first day “the great Ken Ross ’79 — student body president, idea guy and football player — wanted a lacrosse team to keep football guys in shape during the off-season.” Ross himself had broken his leg at the beginning of his senior year and missed the football season but desperately wanted to get back onto the field.
On the second day, Ross and Coffey went to John Carney, who would later serve as lieutenant governor of Delaware and who now serves as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, to convince him to be the first coach. The Dartmouth All-American served as SI’s lacrosse coach from 1979 to 1981.
On the third day, Coffey described how he went to visit Athletic Director Leo La Rocca ’53, who presided over an era of tremendous success in football, basketball and baseball. There was little room for a sport unknown on this side of the Mississippi, but he gave Coffey permission to organize a lacrosse club and offered $500 and some old football jerseys. Lacrosse players, however, would have no access to the field.
On the fourth day, Coffey and Carney, with their rocker long hair and brush mustaches, went to Trader Sam’s on 26th and Geary to establish a strategy for the upcoming season.
On the fifth day, Coffey handed the reins of the new program to Carney and gave him the authority to launch it forward, which Carney did with unforgettable gusto.
On the sixth and seventh days, Coffey noted, “we rested because back then lacrosse was not a seven-day-a-week program like it is today.”
On that first day of practice, according to a history of lacrosse written by Stephen Finnegan ’88 and published in Genesis, the players wore only corduroy pants and button down shirts. The club classification and lack of formal financial support formed a renegade ethos among the first teams. It built bonds and grit among players who had to buy their own equipment, organize rides to away-games and rally students, some of whom were reluctant to recognize the athletes as a real part of the school.
“We left our guts out on those fields because we represented SI,” said Mike Patt ’82 as he crouched into a linebacker pose the night of the reunion. Patt played on Team One in 1979 and was a football convert.
“I know what kind of game we played in 1979, and nothing I saw on the field today resembled it,” added Carney. “We promised the football players we were trying to recruit a helmet, a stick and the ability to hit guys.” He taught and promoted a brand of hard knocking lacrosse that seemed a far cry from the speed, finesse and power of SI’s current varsity team.
Although old school in comparison, Carney’s coaching approach was no less effective in the first three seasons. A strong leadership figure who commanded respect, Carney promoted a rigorous regimen that included wind sprints, stick skills, pick and rolls and fundamental plays that could be called out from the sidelines to the captains. With strong athletes and daily practices at the Polo Fields or Speedway Meadow, Wildcat lacrosse turned into a contender within the first few seasons.
At the beginning of the third season in 1982, Carney went back to the East Coast, and the team was left without a coach. Bruce Burns ’82, one of the best players, effectively ran the team along with Chris Edmonson ’82 as team manager. Halfway through the season, an interim coach named Parker Selmer took over and the Wildcats were on their way to their best season of that era.
SI played Novato High in what was the equivalent of the Northern California championships. Carney returned to the big game but didn’t want to interfere with the new coach; however, he ran up and down the opposite side of the field to offer advice. Novato scored with less than a minute to go in overtime to secure the win, and though the loss was heartbreaking, that game boosted the confidence of the team and garnered the attention of the entire school.
Fast forward to 2015: The anniversary evening took an emotional turn when Athletic Director John Mulkerrins ’89 presented honorary block letters and senior pins to more than 35 alums who played from 1979 to 1986. Calling them up individually and by class, Mulkerrins thanked those players who helped to pay it forward.
As grown men hugged each other, current head coach Chris Packard said that “this program owes a debt of gratitude to all of you tonight.” Since 2002, Packard has steadily built the program into a national powerhouse.
This year’s season was arguably the team’s best, as it included an 18–1 record, a win over the second-ranked team in the country, a sixth WCAL championship, a program high number-4 USA Today national ranking and leadership from two of the finest captains to have played the game in seniors Nick Stinn and Matt Klein, who will continue to play the sport at, respectively, Notre Dame and Stanford.
“None of the tradition has been lost on these young players,” said Packard. “They have forged unbreakable relationships, win or lose.”
After Stinn and Klein addressed the alumni, Mulkerrins was presented a proclamation from the office of Mayor Ed Lee declaring “SI Lacrosse Day in San Francisco,” and a conga line of players came to the microphone to speak about their coaches and memories of deceased teammates. It was both heartwarming and cathartic, an off-script outpouring of gratitude and emotion from the past three decades.
In 1977, SI won the WCAL All-Sports Trophy for the first time. The WCAL gave the award to the school that won the most league championships in one year. The WCAL in the 1980s discontinued that award as the two most powerful schools in the league — Bellarmine and St. Francis — typically traded the trophy each year.