There are many amazing feats in high school sports even though they don’t always get recognized like those at the college and professional levels.
The only amazing story amongst local sports in 2020 was the fact that we had little to nothing to report on in the middle of the COVID-19 Pandemic. The following is a list of hard –to-believe feats that have involved individuals from Burbank, Glendale, and Pasadena. Some are well known stories. But some are not.
Jeff Nelson Record-Setting Performance
In 1978, Burbank High’s Jeff Nelson started setting records at pretty much every place he ran. In the Mount San Antonio College Cross Country Invitational, the largest in the nation at the time, Nelson set the course record, going 14 minutes, 32 seconds over the difficult 3-mile course. What most people don’t know is that Nelson almost didn’t even make it to the starting line. Nelson was picked up by some Burbank alumni who knew Nelson and happened to be driving by on the freeway after the school bus broke down en route to Mt. Sac. Then at Mt. Sac, Nelson began to start to feel ill, believing it was the food he ate the previous night at a burger joint just blocks from the Burbank High campus. Somehow through all that, Nelson still ran the fastest time in course history. Nelson’s record stood for two decades when construction in the late 1990s at Mt. Sac changed the course slightly, making it shorter. This explains why some times at Mt. Sac seem much quicker than they once did.
Odds Against Sanchez
Freddy Sanchez’s road to becoming a Major League Baseball Player, let alone the 2006 National League batting champion is quite remarkable. Sanchez had problems with both feet as an infant and some doctors told his parents we would never walk. He underwent surgery to repair those problems. At Burbank High, he played under three coaches in four years and was on a team that constantly struggled in the Foothill League. A 1996 Burbank grad, Sanchez also played at three colleges before being drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 11th round of the 2000 MLB Draft. Sanchez and his wife, Alissa, who was a Burbank High cheerleader, now live in Arizona. His sons, Evan and Ryan are now 15 and 12 and would look good in Burbank blue.
Erik Kramer Backup Burroughs Quarterback
Kramer transferred to Burroughs from St. Genevieve for the 1981 football season. But he did not win the starting quarterback job as that went to Richard Strasser, who earned All-CIF honors. Kramer did play quarterback when he went on to Pierce College and later at NC State, before playing in the NFL.
Coach Greg Switzer’s All-Americans
Switzer spent many years coaching cross country and track and field at Burroughs and later at Hoover High, winning a number of league titles at both schools. Switzer, who still lives in Burbank, had four runners qualify for the Kinney (now Foot Locker National Championships). This was back when there were no national team championships, so it was a ‘true’ national championship for individuals. Just eight competitors from 12 states in the western region qualified. Switzer’s four runners were spread out, so he had at least one All American or All American to be on his team over the course of 15 consecutive years.
Eliazar Herrera (class of 1990) qualified for the nationals in 1989, Margarito Casillas (class of 1993) won the Western Region title in 1991 as a junior, David Lopez (class of 1997) and Anita Siraki (class of 2001) qualified for the nationals in both 1999 and 2000. And perhaps the most amazing thing of is that none of Switzer’s runners had running experience prior to high school.
Goffredo Tragedy, Miracle
Former Burroughs basketball player John Goffredo had a long and successful career as the boys’ basketball coach at Crescenta Valley. His wife, Kathy, who was a Burroughs cheerleader, died of cancer in 1993. Less than a year later, John’s Falcon basketball team, which didn’t have a single returning starter from the previous season, finished fourth in the Pacific League and qualified for the CIF playoffs as an at-large team. Somehow Kathy must have been looking down on the team because they pulled upset after upset to reach the CIF Southern Section Division I-AA title game, which was the highest division at the time. Eventually, CV couldn’t stop Long Beach Poly in the final, falling 71-60. But the run was nothing short of incredible. The Falcons also couldn’t even play in their own gym due towards the end of the season due to damage from the Northridge Earthquake in January of 1994.
Detroit Lions With Local Quarterback Trio
The Detroit Lions are not one of the NFL’s elite franchises. But in the early 1980s and early 1990s, they operated with three quarterbacks with local ties, Erik Kramer of Burroughs, Bob Gagliano of Hoover and Glendale Community College as well as Rodney Peete of USC.
The Lions went 4-12 in 1988 and needed to upgrade at quarterback. The Lions improved to 7-9 in 1989 with Peete starting eight games and Gagliano starting seven. Their work was made easier by the presence of rookie running back Barry Sanders, who was a Heisman Trophy winner out of Oklahoma State and later became a Hall of Famer.
Two years later in 1991, out went Gagliano and in his place was Erik Kramer, who split the duties with Peete, each starting eight games. The Lions went 12-4 in the regular season and came one game away from the Super Bowl, losing 41-10 to the Washington Redskins in the NFC Championship game.
Kramer completed 21 of 33 passes for 249 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. The Redskins second leading rusher for the game was Ricky Ervins of Muir High and USC. Ervins had 13 carries for 53 yards.
Burroughs Baseball Pipeline to USC
Burroughs baseball developed a pipeline to USC in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Trojans were coached by the legendary Rod Dedeaux, who lived on Kenneth Road in Glendale.
Ron Stilwell was the leadoff hitter and shortstop on the 1961 National Championship team. He briefly played in the Major League Baseball. His went on to coach at Thousand Oaks High School for many years. His son, Kurt, was the second overall pick in the 1983 MLB draft and was on the 1988 American League All-Star team.
Stillwell wasn’t the only Burroughs graduate on the 1961 USC team. Mickey McNamee was the starting center fielder for the Trojans and actually led the team in home runs that year. McNamee went on to coach at San Marino High for 44 years, where he won five CIF championships.
Following right behind Stillwell and McNamee was Pete Hillman, who played on USC’s 1962 and 1963 teams.
He has the lowest earned run average on the Trojan pitching staff in 1963, when they won yet another national title.
Hillman later raised his family in Glendale and his son Joe later became a basketball sensation, as well as a minor league baseball player.
Dwight Stones Doesn’t Hold His Own Middle, High School Records
Dwight Stones once set the national high school record in the high jump while at Glendale High in 1971, going 7 feet, 1 ½ inches or 2.17 meters. Stones was so good, he even won the bronze medal at the 1972 Olympics and a second Olympic bronze during the 1976 Olympics. In all, Stones broke the world record three times and was once the American record holder in the event. But as impressive as these accomplishments were, along came Lee Balkin, who broke Stones’ records at Wilson Middle School in Glendale and later at Glendale High, as Balkin went 7-3 ½ as a senior, a state meet record. Stones now lives in Orange County and Balkin is still local as a realtor and has coached at Glendale College.
Michael Davis in the NFL
The trend is certainly moving towards many players in the NFL having attended private schools at the high school level. Current Los Angeles Chargers defensive back Michael Davis making it to the NFL is certainly not something anyone would have predicted. Davis graduated from Glendale High in 2013. Glendale has struggled greatly in football for many years, posting a 19-80 record from 2010 through 2019 and the Nitros have not been to the playoffs since the 1990s.
How Many Points Was That?
A lot of people don’t know that the 3-point line in high school basketball is relatively new, having started in 1987. Two shooting stars from Pacific League schools were Greg Goorjian of Crescenta Valley and Joe Hillman of Hoover.
Goorjian averaged 43.4 points per game as a senior in 1978, scoring 1,259 points. Fast forward a few years to 1984 and Hillman averaged 41.4 points per game as a senior at Hoover. Hillman is the son of the late Pete Hillman, who played baseball at Burroughs and USC. Joe Hillman also played baseball in the Oakland A’s farm system.
Where the Olympians Practiced?
Although it may be hard to believe, but Hoover High in Glendale was the practice facility of the United States Men’s Olympic Basketball team in 1984, as Los Angeles was the host city. Future Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin practiced at Hoover for an American team that was coached by Bob Knight, then also the head coach at Indiana University. Longtime Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski was as assistant coach. How team USA ended up at Hoover was because Knight did not like the practice facility that he had been assigned. Joe Hillman, who had just graduated from Hoover and was Knight’s first recruit ever from west of the Mississippi River, offered to see if they could move their practice facility. With the assistance of then Hoover principal Don Duncan, as well as athletic director Dee Kohlmeier and his son, longtime Hoover boys’ basketball coach Kirt Kohlmeier, the arrangement was made to allow Team USA to practice at Hoover. After practices the team got to cool down in Hoover’s pool. At 7-feet tall, Ewing was said to have jumped off the high dive that Hoover once had.
Late Bloomer in Basketball, Ryan Hollins
Hollins got cut from the basketball team at Muir High as a freshman, didn’t make the varsity until his junior year and didn’t even become a starter on varsity until his senior year. But with continued hard work and improvement, Hollins ended up playing basketball at UCLA and later had a solid 10-year NBA career, retiring after a brief stint in Europe in 2017.
Four From 1986 Muir Team to NFL
Muir High in Pasadena has had a long tradition of producing skill position players who have gone on to play football in college and in the NFL.
Arguably Muir’s best team, its 1986 team, produced four players who would go on to play in the NFL. On that team were Ricky Ervins, Marcus Robertson, Chad Brown and John Hardy, the last of whom later returned to Muir as a coach.
Not a Quitter?
Linebacker John Schachtner graduated from Hoover High in 1977. He went on to play football at Northern Arizona University. In 1979, Schachtner was attending a party after a football game when some uninvited guests tried to crash in. Schactner tried to prevent them from entering the home and was shot in the right shoulder. The bullet went down through his right lung and lodged in his liver. Schachtner nearly died. But he not only survived, he returned to football in 1980. However, upon his return Schachtner broke his right foot in his first game back. He continued to play three more games on the broken foot until the pain became unbearable. While his career could have virtually ended, Schachtner got himself back into shape in hopes of getting selected in the 1982 NFL Draft. He had a good workout with the team formerly known as the Washington Redskins, who had little film to see on him. But General Manager Bobby Beathard selected him in the seventh round because he loved his potential. Schachtner ended up playing only in the preseason, before going on injured reserve for the rest of the season. He got to travel with the team on its Super Bowl championship journey.