his is the time of year when it’s hard not to think about youth basketball, especially with Crescent Elk Middle School winning the AA championship at last weekend’s Jaycees tournament. These last few weeks the recreation-sponsored basketball league for fifth- and sixth-grade kids has been held at Crescent Elk gym on Saturdays. The Recreation Department gym across the street is hosting the third- and fourth-grade kids.
I am proud to say that I helped get the fifth- and sixth-grade program off the ground in 1969 as a seventh- and eighth-grade physical education teacher and coach. Working with the Rec Department, we hired the Warrior varsity players as coaches. When not coaching, their teams would officiate, score or time the games.
It was a great experience for the varsity players as coaches and mentors, and the young players who looked up to their Warrior heroes. In later years, the third- and fourth-grade program was added to give these young kids a positive and healthy outlook.
My grandson, Chase Blackburn, son of Danny and Star Blackburn, plays in the fifth- and sixth-grade league. I have watched him and his teammates involve themselves more deeply in the game since their third- and fourth-grade years. The parents’ role in both of these leagues is to just sit back and enjoy these young athletes. I have also watched my grandson “Colee” play in the younger league. He goes 100 mph every game.
Watching these little ones play brings back great memories of my 33 years of teaching and coaching in Del Norte County. In the fall of 1961, I proudly stepped in to work with the mighty proud Redwood Raiders in Fort Dick. An opportunity came up to move into the Crescent Elk Physical Education Department in 1966 after my dear friend Larry Amos moved up to Del Norte High School in physical education and as athletic director.
I spent a successful 10 years at “Cougarville,” only to get a bug to move on to Del Norte High School. I was already coaching golf at the high school — 18 years as golf coach. After coaching with basketball coach Dale Thomas for four years I had an opportunity to take over the varsity girls job for four years.
It was a delight to work with these dedicated young ladies. Their energy, enthusiasm and emotion always impressed me in their play. I then proceeded to spend the last 10 years of my career back at good old Crescent Elk and retired in 1994.
I also was broadcasting Warrior football and basketball over KPOD and continued well after my retirement from teaching.
I reminisce a lot these days at 76 years old, and I think a lot about my first years at Crescent Elk. We were blessed with a fine program, outstanding kids, a supportive principal in Don Biggers and a great group of parents. We were given the opportunity to schedule games outside the county.
We also formed the Crescent Elk “Bs” to play in the county league and Principal Biggers took all the kids that didn’t make the “B” team and formed a “C” team. That was the kind of guy Don was back then. We had fine teams in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Names such as Rocky Schneider, Donnie Olson, Tom Gandy, Joe Wallace, Sam Davis, Jay Cope, Kevin Hartwick, Ted Long, Mac Robertson, Joe and Jr. Guiterrez, Char Byers, Marc Clausen, Robbie Russell, Randy Martindale, Marty Maciel, Spencer Nelson, Troy Freeman, Danny Blackburn, Mark Lanning and Norbert Huber all contributed to the Cougar way.
Our motto was, “Let’s be winners even if it must be occasionally in defeat.”
One team really stands out to me at Crescent Elk and that was our 1972 team as seventh-graders and 1973 as eighth-graders. Under coach Wayne Bricco’s guidance, these kids went 15-0 in 1972. Wayne was a great inspiration to me as seventh-grade coach and assisting me with the eighth grade.
The year 1973 was definitely a dream team year as we were still looking at winning the Jaycees tourney title after taking a couple of seconds.
This was a special group of young athletes who liked each other and enjoyed success as a group. Marc Johnson and Larry Wadsworth were the guards. They were intelligent and understood the game above their age level. They took pride in their offense and defense.
Clifton Jones and Mark Byrne were our forwards and each was good one-on-one driving to the bucket. Mark was a pure shooter from the right wing. Clifton, a Yurok, had so much fun and energy that he was a joy to watch.
Doug Cairns was our starting center and was outstanding on the boards. His backups were Mike Daigan, now a chef in Brookings, and our tallest player Charles Kring.
All of our kids contributed in our games and I played a lot of kids. Chris Taylor, Craig Nilsen, Steve Mealue, Ron Baldwin and our managers Leonard Lafazio and Ron Orr, who I always considered “team.”
We went through our regular season of 19 games undefeated, many of the games with 20- to 30-point margins, but in a return trip to Gold Beach late in the season, my good friend Sam Sharp played us tough and we won 42-32. Sam knew his kids played their hearts out. Those coaching friendships are so important in good competition.
March 1973, was time for the Jaycees Tourney. We were ready. We faced McKinleyville and my friend Dave Mather, and advanced with a 59-32 win. The second game usually is tough because of two games on Saturday. We played Fortuna in a 1 p.m. game and turned it up a notch and won 57-35. Now let’s get some rest and take on a tough Windship Junior High team from Eureka at 8 p.m.
This game we wanted badly for our first Jaycees championship. Windship had Bill Moore as its coach. Bill was a veteran and it was a pleasure to play his team. Marc, Larry, Clifton, Mark and Doug played outstanding defense shifting from man-to-man to 1-3-1 trapping zone and it helped us get offensive oriented.
We led by six at half and I told the kids the score was 0-0 and go out and win the second half. They hit big shots after unselfish feeds from their teammates and our shifting defense did present problems for them. Final score was Crescent Elk 46, Windship 30 — Jaycee champions at last. Now it was on to our first Alturas tourney and the schools from Redding and Lassen.
Our principal Don Biggers helped us get into the Alturas tournament. He had coached there for a few years. We raised money to make the trip and our caravan of team, coaches and parents hit the road. Boy, is Alturas way over there in northeastern California.
Wayne Bricco and I housed our kids in a comfortable motel and parents found various places to stay. Bill Stamps even hired an old broadcaster to bring back the games to Crescent City.
We played A team, Parsons of Redding, in the first game. They were tall, three over 6 feet. Guess what? We took care of that height with quickness and fast tempo. Mark Byrne used his center screens to hit one jumper after another. Parsons never got into the flow with our half-court trapping zone. Final score: 51-34 Cougars.
We faced a Lassen team with an eighth-grade center at 6-foot, 5 inches. Wow. It was a tough game trying to contain this guy underneath, but finally double-teamed him front and back. Our kids responded with a hard-fought win, 42-32.
Cottonwood was a well coached team and we rested up for the 7 p.m. championship game. Cottonwood tried to press us early but we were ready after two years of practice preparation. Larry Wadsworth and Mark Johnson were extraordinary for eighth-grade players and kept on their guards. Clifton, Mark and Doug had their finest moments, too, and what a feeling as the buzzer sounded.
Alturas title, Jaycees title and 40-0 for two years. Even Bill Stamps had a large reception party at Crescent Elk and was broadcasting it live over KPOD.
Thanks, Dream Team.