Basketball: SI Wins its First State Title
SI’s basketball teams enjoyed great success in the 1920s. By 1921, SI took first in the city in the 145-pound division with a 67–1 victory over Mission. The unlimited (or varsity) team of 1922, led by “Scotchy” Hamilton and “Goat” Turner, went undefeated to win the league title. In the 1925–26 academic year, Frank Needles led the 145 team to an 8–0 record and then asked state officials if his team could compete in the California Interscholastic Federation playoffs for the state championship. He received permission to play and to include members of the unlimited squad as reserves.
In CIF competition, SI beat Tamalpais Union High School (25–17) and Pacific Grove (31–22) before taking to the road to play Palo Alto High School. Standouts such as Tom Feerick and Ray Maloney helped SI win 32–14. Next came Napa on that school’s home court, and SI eked out a 18–16 victory after a tough competition. SI beat Marysville for the Northern California championship at a neutral court in San Francisco. Senior George Olsen helped SI take the day with a 34–22 victory. “A group of us went to Napa on a bus to see SI win,” recalls Jack O’Dea ’28. “George Olson intercepted a pass and went for a lay-up to win the game. When we got outside, the Napa fans were so angry that they began taking it out on us, riding their motorcycles through our crowd.”
Next, on April 3, 1926, came Lemoore, the best team from Southern California. SI won 20–11 in what proved to be the lowest-scoring state championship game in California history. It was also the first state championship for any SI (and San Francisco) team, but not the last; in the 1990s, SI’s cross country, crew and lacrosse teams would earn state titles.
SI would continue to shine in basketball, with another league championship in 1927 when the unlimited team beat Galileo 21–18. The Depression would eventually cause SI to reduce the number of teams to four — the 110, 120, 130 and varsity), but they would not enjoy league supremacy again until 1943.
In 1923, the school hired Jimmy Needles, (“one of the leading half-backs of the Pacific Coast,” according to the September 13, 1923, Red and Blue) to serve as football coach for both the college and high school teams. Two years later, when Jimmy decided to work exclusively with the college athletes, the high school hired his younger brother, Frank Needles to replace him. Frank, a star at Gonzaga University, coached both football and basketball for six years. George Malley, the father of Pat Malley ’49, succeeded him in 1929. (Pat Malley, a star athlete in his own right, went on to coach football at SI and at SCU where he eventually became athletic director. He was honored posthumously in 1985 with the Christ the King award — SI’s highest honor to a graduate.)
Baseball & The Birth of the Wildcat
The SI baseball team turned in a strong showing in 1924, led by coach “Fat” Varni, taking second to SH in the San Francisco Athletic League led by junior outfielder Frank McGloin, who would later captain the team in his senior year and manage it from 1930 to 1942. (His son, John Bernard McGloin ’29, would graduate from SI, join the Society of Jesus, teach at USF and author several works including Jesuits by the Golden Gate, a primary source for this history.)
In 1927, the baseball team, under coach Lorenzo Malone, SJ, won the AAA championship. The following year marked the birth of the term “Wildcat” as the name for the school’s athletic teams. Before that, the teams were called the Gray Fog, a name given to SI by a sports writer. Later teams facetiously called themselves the Foglets and Fogletettes (for lightweight divisions). Sometimes, when they lost, they were known as the Drab Drizzle, according to the January 25, 1928, issue of The Red and Blue. That article went on to note that “with the separation of college and high school, it has been found desirable to distinguish the teams more strongly. Since the college was originally dubbed the Gray Fog, the Board of Control thinks it fitting that the college lightweights be called the Foglets, and the name has already been applied to them.
“This leaves the high school in an advantageous position…. and now we have the opportunity to rechristen the teams permanently…. The name Wildcats has been decided upon, as best symbolizing the spirit of the high school teams. They have always been lighter than their opponents, and always been noted for their fighting spirit when in difficulties. Their goal line defense, and last-minute rallies on the basketball court, have been proverbial.
“Moreover, it seems to be the universal custom to name teams after some animal — St. Ignatius can now take her place with the Cogswell Dragons, the Commerce Bulldogs, the Poly Parrots and the Galileo Lions.”
Swimming, Track & Tennis
Swimming began in 1924 when football coach Jimmy Needles created SI’s first team, though he only coached them that one year. The 1924 Ignatian reported that “There is not too much material, but several boys among them being Cole, McGibben and Murphy, are showing quite some form and speed in practice.”2 The team had its first formal coach in 1927 when SI hired Tom Kiernan “a noted developer of many national stars.” That year, too, saw the team practice in a new location at the Young Men’s Institute.
The track team continued to excel in the ’20s, with the 1924 juniors, coached by Charley Hunter, beating Mission 133–24. The following year the lightweight track team beat Lowell in a dual meet.3
The tennis team, competing in the courts at Golden Gate Park, won the city championship in 1926 and went on to CIF competition and won the AAA championship in 1928.