This article commemorates the 56th anniversary of the start of the 1959 football season for the Hawthorne High Cougars. In this Cinderella season, the Cougars went undefeated in eight regular season games, two post-season play-off games, and squared off against the mighty Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits for the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) championship in front of 14,906 fans at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Friday, December 11, 1959. In a happy coincidence, dates and days of the week are the same this year as they were in 1959.
The night before Soviet Premiere Nikita Khrushchev landed in Los Angeles to begin his historic visit to the United States, Hawthorne High students had a decidedly less global event on their minds. The traditional Kick-Off Dance was held in the boys’ gymnasium Friday, September 18, from 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. The dress code was dressy cottons for girls and slacks and sport coats for boys. It was the first social event of the new school year and was designed to get the student body pumped up for the first football game of the season the following week.
Football wasn’t the only sport played at Hawthorne but, as in every high school then and since, it reigned supreme. “The first day you walked into Hawthorne High, they stamped a cougar on your forehead,” recalled Rich Sloan, Brian Wilson’s friend and classmate. “You weren’t just a student, you were a Hawthorne Cougar, because football was the dominant force. Where you sat in the priority of schools depended on your football record, and Hawthorn was the dominant football school at the time.”
High school football and its social implications have kept psychologists busy ever since the sports’ inception. And there was no lack of football teams at Hawthorne High in the1950s. There was the B (or Bee) team, the C (or Cee) team, the Junior Varsity, and the Varsity. What team you tried out for, and hopefully made, was largely dependent on your height, weight, skill level, and, to a lesser extent, your grade level. You’d have to be exceptional to play varsity ball as a freshman.
Hawthorne High School present-day aerial. Sports has always been a significant presence and still is.
Neither Al Jardine nor Brian Wilson tried out for football their freshman year in fall 1956. But they both made the B team their sophomore year in fall 1957. This was the football season during which one of the earliest Beach Boys’ legends was born. Here’s the story.
The Hawthorne Cougars B team played an away game against the Culver City Centaurs on the evening of Friday, November 8, 1957. Late in the game, with a very comfortable lead, Otto Plum, the Cougar coach, began sending in second and third string players to give them some playing time. Brian was sent in as quarterback and Al as fullback. A play called for Brian to pitch the ball to Al, but the players got their signals crossed and, in the ensuing chaos, Al was tackled and either injured or broke his leg. Bob Barrow, who played on the B team that year, recalled, “They put Al on a stretcher and put him on the side of the field. He laid there until the game was over and he came back with us on the bus. It was a traumatic fracture of his femur. I think today they would have hauled him off in an ambulance. I understand when he arrived at the hospital they had to cut off his football pants.” But it wasn’t the type of horrific injury that sent shock waves through the school. “I was on the junior varsity team at the time and was unaware of it,” recalled John Hagethorn.
John Hagethorn played with jersey #73.
“And, since the Inglewood Daily News did not cover Bee team sports, I don’t think there was any mention of it in the paper. But when I met Al in Las Vegas a few years back, he told me about it. He said he was hobbling out to the bus after the game and Otto Plum, the Bee team coach, said something like ‘Suck it up.’ Al didn’t care much for Plum after that.” Hagethorn added, “But if he was walking on the leg, it was probably not that serious of a fracture.” The Cougars beat the Centaurs 45-13.
Years later, Al recalled, “I went to a high school reunion. Our half back confessed to me it was his fault. He interfered with Brian’s ability to get the ball to me because he ran into the wrong hole. And Brian had to turn the other way. Well, I saw Brian turn the other way, so I assume, you know, he blew the play. It was supposed to be a pitch left, a real simple pitch out. And I kept waiting and waiting and waiting. What the heck, why’s he going the other way? And then Brian lobbed it to me. He just threw it to me instead of pitching it to me. And God, this guy was—anyway, it was pretty obvious where it was going. And Brian’s been living with that for, oh, like fifty years. Yeah, that was pretty serious. It must have been traumatic. I know it was for me.”
At the start of their junior year in fall 1958, Al played on the B squad again while Brian moved up to varsity. As their senior year began in fall 1959, both Al and Brian were part of the Varsity. Playing for the varsity meant a rigorous practice schedule. “Football practice was four days a week,” recalled Hagethorn. “Monday was offense in full pads, Tuesday was defense, Wednesday was offense and defense, and Thursdays were no pads, but that’s when you practiced kick-offs and punts. Thursday was a good day. They’d keep us out there late. I remember so many days practicing and it was dark. You couldn’t even see. The coaches would be saying, ‘One more play, one more play.’ They’d keep us out there until we got the play right. We’d start practice at 3:00 p.m. and go until 6:00 p.m. or 6:30 p.m.”
Trying out for the C team in fall 1959, was fourteen-year-old freshman Dennis Wilson. Naturally, Dennis was well aware of Hawthorne’s winning football record and had watched his older brother Brian play two years for the team. He also knew football players tended to date the prettiest girls in school. Ironically, the soon-to-be undisputed sex symbol of the Beach Boys, was cut early from the team. John Rout, one of Dennis’s classmates, recalled, “Dennis was trying out for the C team. His locker was next to mine. One Friday I came in from practice and Dennis was sitting there crying. I asked him what was wrong and he said Coach [Bruce] Halladay had cut him. I told him to talk to the coach to see where he was weak and to give him another chance. He did, Halladay did, and the next Friday Dennis was clearing out his locker again, but this time he was okay with it. Considering the kind of guy Dennis was, seeing him crying was the most shocking thing I had seen up to that time.” The C team would finish their ’59 season with an impressive 5-0-1, a half-game out of first place behind the Santa Monica Vikings.
Just as football reigned in the hierarchy of high school sports, the Varsity reigned within football. And coaching varsity football was Hal Chauncey, a legendary figure in the history of Hawthorne High. Chauncey graduated the University of California at Santa Barbara with a degree in physical education. He worked with Hawthorne kids at the Club Gunga Din Youth Center, later renamed the Hawthorne Recreation Center. He was one of the school’s first faculty members and taught mathematics in the early years. But he was best known as the varsity football coach from 1951 to 1959. HalCap Field was named after him and assistant football coach Dave Capelouto.
“In 1951, when Wally [Nyman] was appointed principal of the new Hawthorne High School,” Chauncey recalled, “I was one lucky guy to have been chosen to be on the new faculty. Wally had the gift of ‘knowing’ people. The twenty he selected were a mix of seasoned and first-year teachers. I first met him at the Rotary Club when I was director of the old Gunga Din Club. One day he told me that he wanted to put Hawthorne High School on the map through education and athletics. He knew football season was the first activity of the school year and that school spirit and tradition, plus community support, started there. He was really a friend of the kids. He attended every athletic event, enjoyed every art show, applauded the musical programs, and appreciated all the effort that went into each shop exhibit.”
Chauncey made good on the promise he made to Nyman to put Hawthorne High on the map through a top-notch football program that would attract prospective students, instill school spirit, and raise the academic bar. Chauncey soon assembled a winning football team and led the Cougars to four Pioneer League championships.
The 1953 Hawthorne Cougars outscored their opponents 272-74. They finished the regular season 8-0 and cinched their first Pioneer League championship by scorching arch-rivals the Morningside Monarchs 44-6 on November 16 on the field at Leuzinger High. In that game, Joe Contestabile, Hawthorne’s 5’10”, 170-lb quarterback, completed 23 of 41 passes for 400 yards and six touchdown passes, four of them to Gerald Schweitzer. On November 27, the Cougars shut out Carpinteria High 18-0 in the first round of the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Northern Group play-offs. Contestabile tossed two touchdown passes to Phil Murphy, bringing his total to 29, breaking Ronnie Knox’s 1952 Southland record of 27 touchdown passes in a single season and Jim Martin’s state record of 28 touchdown passes set in 1951. But the Cougars undefeated season came to a hard-fought end as they fell 47-34 to Paso Robles High in the second round of CIF play-offs.
The ’54 Cougars went 7-1 for their second Pioneer League championship. They capped their season by winning both CIF play-off games, including a 35-20 vindication against Paso Robles, and went on to beat Basic 39-13 for the CIF championship. The ’55 team, despite a winning record of 6-1-1, did not advance to the CIF play-offs. The ’56 team went 6-0 and finished co-champions of the Pioneer League along with Beverly Hills. In 1957, the year Al and Brian began playing for the B squad, the varsity outscored their opponents 269-124 behind All-CIF quarterback senior Mike Gillespie. They finished 6-2 and won their fourth Pioneer League championship. They secured a CIF play-off berth by defeating Morningside 26-14, but were shut down 26-0 by Whittier High in the first round of CIF play-offs.
The ’58 football season left Coach Chauncey a little shell-shocked. Fourteen of his senior lettermen had graduated, including QB Mike Gillespie. Hawthorne was predicted to finish third behind El Segundo and Morningside. But the Cougars limped by with an embarrassing 1-6-1 record. It was their first losing season. The only bright spot was a 25-0 shellacking of Beverly Hills. In their six losses, the Cougars were outscored 109-46. An especially difficult loss was a 33-7 tarring from league rivals the Morningside Monarchs. In the 1959 El Molino, Hawthorne’s yearbook (the name means “The Mill,” reflecting the area’s agricultural and Spanish roots), there is a picture of quarterbacks Steve Andersen and Bryan [sic] Wilson sitting alone on the sideline hanging their heads as the Monarchs rumble over the hapless Cougar defense.
With the ’58 season over, the Cougars were relegated to spectators at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Friday, December 19, as the Santa Monica Vikings met the Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits for the CIF Championship. Both teams were undefeated and it promised to be a good game. Locals sometimes referred to Santa Monica High as SAMOHI and the students as Samoians. The Vikings were the 1958 Bay League Champions. In front of a smaller than predicted crowd of 14,152, the Hares beat the Vikes 31-19 behind the running of juniors Willie Brown and Alonzo Irvin. The Hares rushed for 192 yards compared to the Vikes’ 31 yards. It was their sixth CIF crown since 1916 and their first since 1936. In a prophetic note, Jack Hefley wrote in the Los Angeles Times that Brown and Irvin would be “back to terrorize Poly foes next year.” For the Cougars watching in the stands, the names Brown and Irwin would return to haunt them.
The only good news coming out of the ’58 season was the Cougars might finally be playing on their own home field next year. Since the school opened, home football games had been played at Leuzinger High. The school district estimated the cost of the new stadium to be $240,000 based on $24 per seat. Although the stadium would ultimately hold 10,000 people, the initial plan called for only 1,000 seats in the first phase of construction. When the ’58 season came to its inglorious end, Chauncey and his assistant coaches started working on rebuilding a champion team. But every sports writer in the greater LA area thought the Cougars didn’t have a prayer for the ’59 season.
High school football was extremely popular in the Southland and everyone was aware of Hawthorne’s bleak prospects. The California Grid Index, a local publication covering some 400 local teams from professional to high school, predicted the Cougars would finish no better than 6th place. Fans could pick up a copy of the Grid Index for a dollar at any of the local sporting good shops and there were plenty of them along Hawthorne Boulevard, including Bob Ketcham’s Sporting Goods (10227 Hawthorne Boulevard, Inglewood), Lyons Sporting Center (263 North Hawthorne Boulevard), Shaw’s Sporting Goods (4727 West Rosecrans), and A.B. & S. Sporting Goods (738 South Hawthorne Boulevard and 1111 South La Brea). Bob Ketcham, and three other sports writers, had weekly grid pick columns in the Inglewood Daily News.
The ’59 season would be the team’s toughest yet for reasons beyond its control. During the off-season, a reorganization of high school athletics moved Hawthorne from the Pioneer League to the stronger, more competitive Bay League dominated by the Samohi Vikings. As 1958 Bay League Champions with eight returning lettermen, the Vikes were clear favorites to remain victorious in 1959. They had a virtually unstoppable running game behind Jim West, known to score four touchdowns in a single game, and Kenny Graham, a bruising, 185-lb back who scored 88 points in six games. Rival teams that lost only one game a season usually fell to the powerful Vikings. The Cougars would meet the Vikings for the first time in their eighth and final game of the ’59 regular season. And it would be played on the Vikings home turf.
Every high school coach dreads the natural attrition known as graduation. Chauncey had lost his best running back, his best lineman, and his most inspirational player––seniors Gary Atkinson, Roy McNally, and Gary Winfrey. But all was not lost. He had ten returning lettermen. Assisting Chauncey were Ron Sevier and Otto Plum. Sevier had helped coach the disastrous ’58 team. Naturally, the players had strong opinions about the coaches. “Coach Sevier just liked to see people beat the shit out of each other,” recalled John Hagethorn, starting offensive and defensive tackle. “He didn’t care about anything else. If you couldn’t beat the guy, then you weren’t any good. He would make fun of anyone that wasn’t that good. He had a way of making fun of you without saying anything. Chauncey was a good guy, always telling jokes. He was the good cop. Dave Capelouto was the bad cop. He retired after my sophomore year and then in my junior year they brought in a bunch of guys that were not much in my opinion. Then when I was a senior, Chauncey took over again, and basically said this is the way it’s going to be. Chauncey only had one losing season in nine years.”
For the ’59 season, the school recruited some expertise from the National Football League by hiring twenty-nine-year-old, former Los Angeles Ram Alex “Boom Boom” Bravo. “Bravo coached the linebackers and the safeties,” recalled Hagethorn. “He was very good. He was very emotional. During a game, he’d get emotional.”
Born in Tucson, Arizona, Bravo’s family moved to California where he attended Santa Barbara High School and graduated California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo in 1954. He was voted Cal Poly’s Most Valuable Player of the 1953 football season and made the All-California Collegiate Association for three consecutive years. He was tapped by the Los Angeles Rams in the ninth round (106th overall) of the 1954 NFL draft, but the Rams did not start him. In 1956, he played professional ball for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Canadian Football League and rushed for more than 500 yards. He returned to the Rams and played in all twelve games of the 1957 season, but only took the field for three games in 1958. He was cut from the Rams and Sevier, who played tackle on the same team with Bravo at Cal-Tech, offered him a position at Hawthorne High teaching physical education and driver’s training, and coaching football.
Two new driving instructors at Hawthorne High this year were Sidney Semon and Donald Kasten. Semon helped coach varsity football when Sevier was moved over to handle the Intramural sports program, including flag football, wrestling, basketball, softball, and volleyball. There were also individual intramural sports such as ping pong, hand ball, badminton singles, tin can golf, basketball foul shooting, horse shoes, and tennis. The 6’2″ blond Kasten was born in Bakersfield, but raised in nearby Torrance. At Torrance High School he was a three-year lettermen in football and track, and vice president of the student government. He majored in physical education at University of Southern California and played fullback on the football squad. After graduating in 1958, he married his sweetheart, Cathy, and took his first teaching job at Hawthorne High. He may have been a little apprehensive about his driving instructing responsibilities. “Women drivers are okay and only a few make me nervous,” he admitted in the Cougar.
If local sports writers had misgivings about Hawthorne’s chances, they weren’t alone. The team had its doubts as well. Writing in the September 25 Cougar about their season opener against the Lynwood Knights, starting safety Jerry Daquila wrote, “Coach Chauncey will hope to find all or most of our weaknesses and plug them up fast. The various newspapers in the locality of Los Angeles pick Hawthorne as sixth place, but I have a feeling we will take no lower than third.”
There were forty-two players on the ’59 Cougars when the season began. Since only eleven can play at any given time, and many boys played both offense and defense, this meant there were multiple players for each position. The starting offensive line for the Cougars was Paul Knoblauch and John Hagethorn, left and right tackles, Royal Lord and Bob Barrow, left and right guards, and big Dean Stafford anchoring the line at center.
Stafford was team captain and would be voted the most inspirational player of the season. With his imposing size and engaging smile, he was respected and liked by everyone on campus. He was the epitome of cool and a fashion trendsetter. When he began wearing a white, pullover, hooded sweatshirt he bought at the Army Surplus store, within days everyone was sporting one. He was the first to wear his Ray Bans indoors. When he cut his hair super short, a cut called a “butch,” and shaved a small patch on top near his hairline, boys flocked to Pat and Lee’s Barber Shop on El Segundo and asked for a “Dean Stafford.” Janet Humphreys, a ’62 alum, recalled seeing Stafford on her first day as a lowly frosh. “He was the first ‘Big Man on Campus’ I remember seeing. He looked like something out of a Hollywood movie with his All-American good looks and larger-than-life presence. But most of all, I remember his tremendous smile.” Another alum recalled seeing Stafford marching confidently across campus in a yellow short-sleeved, button-down Penney’s Towncraft shirt, untucked of course, blue Levis, and white Jack Purcells (the Canadian world champion badminton player who designed a canvas and rubber sneaker still popular today). Stafford dated fellow senior Penny Ashby, but many girls were smitten with him because he was so nice and likable. The guys admired him and, years later, his classmate and fellow grid ironer, Vic Zaccaglini, whose father was Hawthorne’s Mayor in 1954, named his children Dean and Deana in tribute to Stafford.
At 6’1″ and 170-lbs, senior Al Gevernick was written up in the Los Angeles Times as Hawthorne’s “best hope for a pass receiver this season.” But Chauncey wasn’t looking to the air for a successful season. He had decided he would pin this season’s hopes on a group of running backs coached in the fundamentals from playing on Otto Plum’s perennial champion B team. Warren Turnbull observed in the Inglewood Daily News that “Without big ‘horse type’ backs to bull their way through, the Cougars have depended on precision line play up front to open holes for the short, aggressive ball carriers.”
Al Jardine played with jersey #31
As the season began, Al Jardine was slotted as starting fullback. “Al Jardine was my hard driving fullback!” recalled Coach Chauncey. “Big Al Jardine, all 145 pounds of him.I’m lucky we didn’t get him killed. But he didn’t realize he was 145. He thought he was 200 pounds and played like it.” In 2000, at the 40th Reunion of the Class of 1960, Chauncey ribbed Al by teasing, “I can’t believe I picked you as my fullback.” For the record, Al was listed in the Cougar as 5’8″ and 165-lbs.
At half-back, Chauncey usually started the 5’7″ and 160-lb Jim Reale and the equally diminutive Bob Hunter at 5’7″ and 150-lbs. But if one of his starters got winded or injured, or if he changed formation, he called on Fred “Scooter” Ragatz (5’7″, 165-lbs), Rich Sloan (5’8″, 155-lbs), or Jerry Daquila (5’10”, 175-lbs). If the team had a comfortable lead, he ensured other backs received playing time and sent in Bernie Pressburg, Joseph Gay, or Jim Holton.
“Jim West was playing fullback on offense and tackle on defense,” recalled John Hagethorn. “The coach wanted a big, bruising back. West was a good football player, but he didn’t want to do it. So, after two or three games that experiment didn’t work so they just left him on defense. After that change, Al [Jardine] got more playing time.” When Al started in a game, he was always designated as fullback. But Bob Hunter was clearly their backfield star. He was a powerful back and difficult to tackle.
At the quarterback position, Coach Chauncey also had unusual depth. In the pre-season, seniors Steve Andersen, Mike Wood, and Brian Wilson, along with sophomore Ron Petch, were locked in a four-way competition for starting quarterback. Wood and Andersen were given the nod as alternating starters, Brian was slotted into third string, and Petch completed what the Cougar called “Hawthorne’s quarterback foursome.” Petch could also kick the ball and was called upon for the extra point attempts.
On defense, the Cougars were Russ Jacobsen and Leif Enochson, left and right ends; Paul Knoblauch and John Hagethorn, left and right tackles; Bruce Johnson and Bob Barrow, left and right guards. Linebackers Jim Reale and Bobby Hunter flanked Dean Stafford at middle linebacker. Johnson and Stafford could also play center on offense. Safeties Jerry Daquila and Al Geverink guarded against the pass. It’s important to note that many players started for both offense and defense.
The season opener against the Lynwood Knights was scheduled to be a home game, but the new outdoor lights and poles purchased for Hal-Cap Field did not meet earthquake requirements and had to be returned to the east coast manufacturer to be strengthened. So an arrangement was worked out whereby the Cougars would play their home games at El Camino Community College, Sentinel High School in Inglewood, or Leuzinger High School. As it turned out, their home games were played at El Camino. The players and fans enjoyed that because the college’s Murdock Field was enclosed, spacious, and brightly lit. Hawthorne High’s treasury was spared any extra expense as the school district picked up the tab. The problem with the lights also impacted Lennox High which was scheduled to play their home games at Hawthorne and now had to be moved to the Leuzinger field. In late November, 1959, the Centinela Valley Union High School District approved spending $78,000 for permanent grandstand seats and rest room facilities for HalCap Field. They would be installed in time for the 1960 season.
Football games were an important social outlet for teenagers in 1959. You went primarily because it was fun. And most kids were not overly conscious of the social implications of seeing and being seen. But certain aspects of adolescence like fitting in and wearing the right clothes, were as important to teens in 1959 as they are today. The popular fashion choice for girls this semester was bulky knits and pleated skirts, and fashion-conscious girls showed their school spirit by wearing Shu-Poms, a small pom-pom that slipped onto their shoes. Shu-Poms could be customized with your school colors and initials, and cost one dollar at Innes in the South Bay Center at 2001 Hawthorne Boulevard. Another dollar would make you the proud owner of a Cougar Rooter hat and entitled you to sit in the special roped-off section in the stands. And if you wore your Cougar Rooter, you had better behave. Student behavior was monitored by league officials on a score sheet totaling 100 points. Students were rated for overall sportsmanship and things like cooperation with yell leaders and song queens. Attaining 93 points in a given week would allow Hawthorne to fly their Bay League Victory Banner at the following week’s game. Unsportsmanlike conduct tarnished the school’s reputation and was heavily frowned upon through peer pressure. And what constituted poor behavior? Well, for starters, throwing confetti. It was considered inconsiderate to the maintenance personnel responsible for cleaning the stands.
Week 1: Friday, September 25, 1959
Hawthorne Cougars v. Lynwood Knights
The Cougars take the field, including Al Jardine, #31, second player from the right.
At 8:00 p.m. on Friday, September 25, the varsity Cougars began their ’59 season against the Lynwood Knights. The Hawthorne Pep Squads formed a corridor on Murdock Field at El Camino Community College through which the Cougars charged onto the field. The Pep Squads consisted of three dozen girls on the Drill Team, two male Yell Leaders, and nine Song Queens, including Carol Hess, Pat Bell, and Brian’s heartthrob Carol Mountain, Head Song Queen.
In the stands, the Cougar Marching Band, led by Drum Major Kit Stevens, fired everyone up for the game. Stevens led the band during impressive half-time activities on the field. Formed just four years ago, the marching band had quickly earned the reputation as one of the finest in the Southland. Under the direction of music teacher Fred Morgan, they were voted the most outstanding football band in Los Angeles County in 1958. “Music is fun and challenging to all,” said Morgan. “It is through the cooperation of the community and the students that the band has accomplished the success it has achieved.” The band prided itself on never performing the same half-time show twice. They participated in many school functions including two annual concerts, the Christmas program, community concerts, parades, the American Field Services show, assemblies, and dances.
Although the Knights had finished in last place in 1958, they were now favored to dominate the Pacific Coast League. But Knights’ Coach Tex McGeon would be without the services of his starting fullback, returning letterman Ted Page, who was sidelined with a hip injury. Although this was not a league game, the Cougars were intent on avenging a 13-7 loss from last year’s home opener.
Coach Chauncey was feeling confident about the new season. His squad was working well together and they had a successful scrimmage against Lennox High earlier in the week. For the season opener, Chauncey started Mike Wood at quarterback. Wood had backed up Steve Andersen in the ’58 season. “I have always liked to play the game ever since I attended Cabrillo Elementary School,” said Wood, who checked in at 6’2″ and 160-lbs. “There seems to be something coming at you all the time whether it’s a ball, a would-be tackler, or a runner.” If Wood got in trouble early, Chauncey would replace him with Andersen, who had a powerful and accurate arm, and had made the varsity team his sophomore year, a coveted achievement for an underclassman. Although Brian also had a powerful arm, he was less reliable. “He could throw the ball a long way, probably farther than anyone else, but Brian was flaky on the field and couldn’t hit the guy he was throwing at,” said teammate Bruce Griffin, a third-year student and one of Brian’s friends. Coach Chauncey recalled, “Brian was one of my quarterbacks. But he had no hips. He loved to carry the ball and after he would get up from the bottom of the pile, his hip pads were turned around half-way and he’d be looking through the ear hole of his helmet. He was a competitor though.”
Perhaps it was the adrenalin rush from playing at El Camino stadium, but the Cougars trounced the Knights 20-0. The Knights fumbled six times in the backfield and the Cougars converted three of those missteps into touchdowns. Mike Wood scored on the ground in the first quarter and the Cougars went into the locker room at the half with a thin 7-0 lead. Halfback Fred Ragatz added another six points in the third quarter. Ron Petch added the extra point. With just minutes remaining in the game, Chauncey put Petch in as quarterback and the team capped a drive as halfback Jim Holton ran the ball into the end zone. After hitting for two extra points, Ron Petch’s third attempt fell short after a fifteen yard penalty had moved the ball back to the twenty-yard line. Chauncey’s running game strategy had paid off as his backs rushed for 254 yards to the Knights meager 90 yards. But the Cougars were less impressive in the air. Wood completed only two of six passes for 31 yards and one interception.
After the game, right tackle Paul Knoblauch said, “I think that this team can go all the way if we keep improving the way we have in the last few weeks.” Knoblauch was 6’1″ and 195-lbs. He was born in Zanesville, Ohio, and his family moved to Hawthorne in time for him to enroll in sixth grade at Williams Elementary School. He then attended Hawthorne Intermediate School where he played football, basketball, and softball. He played defensive tackle for the ’58 Cougars and now played tackle on both defense and offense. He lettered in football both years and baseball one year. He was a member of the Knights, the Varsity Club, and a past member of the House of Representatives. The Cougar reported, “Some night if you are driving around, you might run across Paul in his ’51 Ford or making it down the hill on his genuine ball bearing skate board.”
Week 2: Friday, October 2, 1959
The football team enjoyed an early bye week and did not play October 2. Instead, they rested, practiced, and prepared to travel for their league opener against the Inglewood Sentinels October 9. This would be the first time the two teams had played.
Around this time, Brian quit the football team and joined the varsity cross-country team. “Boy, Hawthorne was something, it was very competitive in sports,” Brian recalled. “The guys playing sports there were very rough about it. But that teaches you about having to get back on your feet again and keep playing.” Despite encouragement from his teammates, Brian was not dissuaded from his decision. “That was the first time I’d ever seen him get so emotional about something,” recalled Bruce Griffin. “I really didn’t know what was going on.” Rich Sloan said, “Brian didn’t like to run into people. He didn’t really like people running into him when they would tackle him.”
Brian had already played two football seasons, the B team his sophomore year and third string varsity quarterback his junior year, so he should have had experience being tackled. “I heard Brian knew he wasn’t going to get any playing time so he never bothered going out,” recalled John Hagethorn. “In four years there were a lot of guys who came and went. If you’re not going to play, a lot of guys felt why go out and get beat up for nothing. And some got tired of it after a year or two. In those days, a lot of guys had jobs after school to help out their family.” In 2009, Jardine recalled, “Brian seemed a little frail to me. He didn’t have a lot of enthusiasm for the game. I think the year after I broke my leg he quit the team.” [note: It was two years after Al broke his leg.]
In 2006, Brian weighed in on his decision to quit the team. “I was real friendly with Rich Sloan, but probably my best friend was Steve Andersen. He’s just a guy from Hawthorne High School, a nice guy. He was our quarterback. I was really jealous of him because he was first string and I was third string. I was 165 pounds and six-feet two. That was pretty lanky. I got hurt one time and I quit the team. I was a good thrower, but I wasn’t a very good runner. I got knocked over a couple of times.”
But in 1988, Brian was considerably less kind in his recollection of Hawthorne. “It was the damned boondocks. I walked around paranoid that somebody was going to pound the hell out of me every second. The kids were bullies, angry and insecure about living in this ugly place instead of Malibu or Beverly Hills or Santa Monica. I tried to escape with sports like football and I was quarterback on the second-string team, but the punishment and competition were too much and I quit the squad. Then I tried baseball, which I loved, because I used to stand out there in center field and kinda sing to myself in between pitches.”
In 1971, Carl Wilson recalled, “Brian was a tremendous student. He was interested in music more than anything, but he was into sports quite a bit. He was really a very good athlete. He quit the football team his senior year because he wanted to do music and the coach got so pissed off at him he wouldn’t talk to him for the rest of the year.”
There may have been several reasons why Brian quit the team. It seems reasonable he left football for a sport in which he could participate more fully. Perhaps his decision was also influenced by the Cougars dismal ’58 season or that two of his best friends, Keith Lent and Robin Hood, both ran cross country track. Or perhaps he was simply seventeen and, really, who knows what goes through your head at that age. Whatever the reason, his decision to quit the football team would deny him the opportunity from participating in one of the school’s most thrilling football seasons. When Brian quit, the quarterback foursome became Wood, Andersen, Petch, and Bruce Griffin.
On October 4, the Los Angeles Times reported Hal Chauncey had resigned from the Wiseburn School District board of trustees. “Chauncey, who has been in bitter disagreement with the major policy changes voted by the board since it took office in June, said he was resigning because of a heavy school schedule.” Chauncey was also sharpening his administrative credentials by taking evening courses at USC.
Week 3: Friday, October 9, 1959
Hawthorne Cougars v. Inglewood Sentinels
On Friday, October 9, the well-rested Cougars squared off against their cross-town and now league rivals, the Inglewood Sentinels. The eight o’clock game was played on Sentinel Field. Chauncey started Mike Wood at quarterback and Fred Ragatz at fullback. The Sentinels took the opening kick-off and threatened at the Cougar twenty-two yard line. They fumbled, Al Geverink snapped it up, and Hawthorne drove to the Sentinel thirteen, but was denied the end zone. Ron Petch split the uprights for a twenty-nine-yard field goal to put the Cougars ahead 3-0.
In the second quarter, the Cougars made it 10-0 as Al Jardine bulldozed into the end zone from four yards out. Al carried the ball fourteen times for a total of 60 yards averaging 4.3 yards per carry. He was the Cougar’s third leading scorer behind Jim Reale and Bob Hunter.
The Sentinels roared back as quarterback Troy Winslow tossed a forty yard strike to Paul Burleson who scampered the remaining thirty-five yards into the end zone. The half ended 10-7. In the third quarter, Russ Jacobson wrestled Petch’s twenty-two yard pass away from the Sentinel defenders for another Cougar six. The conversion failed and the score was 16-7. The Sentinels pulled within two when Winslow hit Burleson with a sixty-one yard pass and then connected with Gary Winslow, his brother, for a twelve yard toss into the end zone making it 16-14. But the fourth quarter was all Cougar.
Bob Hunter recalled, “In the Inglewood game, we had run the 88 trap a couple of times for good yardage. On the way back to the huddle, Russ Jacobsen told me, ‘Bobby, if you cut back toward me, I can get that free safety.’ Next time we ran the play (it was Chauncey’s favorite play) it went for big yardage.” Hunter went on to score from the two yard line and, later, Reale ran it in from the eleven to seal a 30-14 Hawthorne victory.
Week 4: Saturday, October 17, 1959
Hawthorne Cougars v. Leuzinger Olympians
From the time Hawthorne High opened in February, 1952, local football fans had eagerly anticipated a game between the Cougars and their Lawndale rivals, the Leuzinger Olympians. For years, as Hawthorne took home championships in the Pioneer League, the Olympians struggled in the Bay League often taking a pounding from the mighty Santa Monica Vikings. But with Hawthorne now in the Bay League the two would finally meet. Local sports writers all picked Hawthorne to win by one or two touchdowns. Writing in the Inglewood Daily News, Jack Simpson wrote “the Cougars have real quickness in the back field in the persons of veterans Jim Reale, Bob Hunter, and Neal Jardine.” In an odd twist, the paper printed Al’s older brother’s name, Neal, who graduated Hawthorne High in 1957 and did not even play football. Jardine was listed in the newspaper as the starting Cougar fullback.
A capacity crowd was expected and fans were advised to arrive early to ensure seating. It was another all-important League game the Cougars needed to win if they hoped to keep pace with Santa Monica and Morningside. Their defense had one goal in mind—to contain half back James Valmore whose lightning speed threatened to break any game wide open. Valmore, touted as one of the best backs in the Southland, had been held scoreless this season and the Olympians were 0-3. Leuzinger fans hoped all that was about to change.
At 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 17, the Olympians faced the upstart Cougars before 7,000 eager fans packed into Murdock Field at El Camino Community College. The Olympians had the first chance to score, but a field goal attempt failed and the first quarter ended scoreless.
In the second quarter, Leuzinger fumbled twice resulting in two scores on the ground by Fred Ragatz and the half ended 13-0. As the third quarter began, the Cougars marched sixty-two yards and Ragatz slipped in from one yard out to make it 20-0. On the very first play after Leuzinger took possession, Rich Sloan nabbed an interception and returned it to the Olympian thirty-nine. The very next play, Reale spotted daylight in the Leuzinger line and sprinted into the end zone to make it 26-0.
Chauncey had started Wood at QB and rotated Andersen in as well. Now with a comfortable lead, he sent Ron Petch in to call the signals as the Cougars took a punt at the Leuzinger forty-nine. After a series of running plays, Petch carried it in from the eleven on a beautifully executed fake to the right and bootleg to the left. After holding the Olympians scoreless for three quarters, a weak punt and a fumble allowed Leuzinger two fourth-quarter scores on the ground by Jim Valmore. But it was too little and too late. The game ended 32-13. Chauncey and the Cougars had trounced their cross-town rivals in a humiliating defeat. The tale of the tape revealed how they did it. Three different Cougar quarterbacks had gone to the air for only a combined three attempts. But the team rushed for more than 300 yards. Al Jardine turned in a solid performance, carrying the ball four times for 21 yards. It was the Cougars third win of the season. In league standings they were tied with Santa Monica at 2-0.
Week 5: Friday, October 23, 1959
Hawthorne Cougars v. Mira Costa Mustangs
Six days later, the Cougars were back at it as they squared off against the Mira Costa Mustangs on Friday, October 23, on their adopted home field at El Camino Community College. It was a game they were eager to play and confident they would win. The Mustangs were one of the weakest teams in the Bay League and were 1-3 for the season. But sports writers hedged their bets and favored Hawthorne by only nine points. Chauncey liked what he saw in Andersen’s performance against Leuzinger, so he gave him the starting nod this week. He also started Jardine at fullback. Earlier in the day, during an afternoon assembly on Hal-Cap Field, student body president John Blankenship announced that Pat Bell had been voted Victory Queen. But not everyone was pleased with the level of school spirit shown at the Victory Queen announcement. An anonymous writer to the Cougar complained, “When the Victory Queen and princesses were announced, each class was supposed to clap for her in turn. Only the seniors clapped enough to be heard.” Pat received her crown that evening before the Mira Costa game. She was escorted by Keith Lent and driven around the field in a late model 1960 car.
The underdog Mustangs silenced the crowd late in the first quarter as they recovered a fumble on the Cougar fourteen and scored on a one-yard run early in the second quarter. After a thirty-three yard kick return by Bernie Pressburg, the Cougars scored five plays later when Fred Ragatz skirted the right end for a thirty yard jaunt into the end zone. With less than two minutes left in the half, Andersen made it 13-6 as he snuck in from two yards out. Things were tense in the Cougar locker room as Chauncey cautioned his boys about being too confident. His pep talk worked as the second half was all Hawthorne.
Jerry Daquila took the ball on a reverse for a seventy-three yard punt return to make it 20-6. Reale scored on a thirteen yard run and Daquila’s fifty-eight yard punt return set up a seven-yard toss from Andersen to Bernie Pressburg for a rare aerial score. The Cougars now led 32-6. With a comfortable lead, Chauncey gave Bruce Griffin some playing time at quarterback. Griffin completed a twenty-yard pass to John Blankenship to the Mustang twenty-three yard line. But Griffin was sacked on the next two downs for big losses and a daring fourth down pass completion to Daquila fell short of the first down yardage.
But Chauncey was thrilled with his team’s performance. Hunter furthered his standing as their leading rusher by racking up 133 yards on seventeen carries. Ragatz and Reale rushed for eighty and sixty-four yards, respectively. At starting fullback, Al Jardine carried the ball three times for fourteen yards. Sloan kept his personal record alive by snagging his fourth pass in as many games. The Cougars were now 4-0 for the season. However, they remained tied 3-0 with Santa Monica for first place in the Bay League as the Samohi Vikings defeated the Morningside Monarchs. Hawthorne and Santa Monica were the only two teams still undefeated in the Bay League.
Week 6: Friday, October 30, 1959
Hawthorne Cougars v. North High Saxons
On Friday, October 30, on El Camino’s Murdock Field, the Cougars battled the North High Saxons. Chauncey started Andersen at quarterback and intended to start Jardine at fullback, but Al was sick with the flu all week so the nod went to Jerry Daquila. The Cougars scored on their first possession as the Saxon defenders chased Bobby Hunter on a fake reverse as Fred Ragatz snuck through the middle and sprinted sixty-two yards for six points. The Saxons recovered a fumbled punt and inched twenty-five yards in ten plays. Four minutes into the second quarter, their quarterback snuck in from one yard out to tie 6-6.
The Cougars came roaring back and marched sixty-four yards in seven plays including a thirty-one yard scramble by Ragatz. Hawthorne threatened at the North ten yard line, but had to settle for a seventeen-yard field goal by Ron Petch to make it 9-6 at the half. The Cougar Marching Band performed a unique Halloween-themed half-time show and received an “excellent” rating in an inter-state band competition. Kit Stevens received a “superior” rating in the drum major division.
As the second half began, Chauncey sensed his squad was off its game and he feared his first loss would come at the hands of a team whose record was an unimpressive 1-2-1. Hawthorne missed three scoring opportunities on long passes that either just missed their intended receivers or were dropped near or in the end zone. The third quarter was scoreless.
But while the Cougar offense was dropping the ball, the defense did its usual fine job. In the final twenty minutes, they held the Saxons on six drives forbidding them to pass the Hawthorne twenty-five in twenty-seven offensive plays. Bruce Johnson had eight tackles, Dean Stafford had seven, and Leif Enochson and Jim West each contributed key tackles.
The Cougars were on their own twenty yard line with four minutes remaining in the game. It was third and fourteen. The score was 9-6. If they failed to get a first down here they would be forced to punt and the Saxons would take over with good field position and plenty of time to score the go-ahead goal. Chauncey sent Mike Wood in as quarterback with a play he hoped would be enough for a first down. Wood took the snap, rolled to his left, and flipped a short pass to the scatback Jim Reale on the twenty-seven. Behind key blocks, Reale turned on the speed and galloped seventy-three yards to the end zone. The Cougar defense protected their nine-point lead and the game ended 15-6. The headline of the sports column in the Inglewood Daily News was “North High Holds Cougars to Lowest Score of Season.” They had gone from not having a prayer to being the team to contain on the scoreboard. Reporter Warren Turnbull wrote, “The Cougar offense was hampered somewhat by the absence of starting fullback Al Jardine and first string end Russ Jacobson, both out with the flu.” The Cougars were now 4-0 in league play, but they remained tied for first place with the Vikings who had annihilated the Morningside Mustangs 53-0.
One aspect of high school sports that transcends time is locker room antics. Apparently, twisting a wet towel into a whip and snapping it on someone’s bare ass is comically appealing to teenage boys regardless of the era. So, to keep some semblance of order, coaches threatened and, occasionally, enforced corporal punishment. “I saw what the paddle could do if you got caught screwing around, like having towel fights,” recalled Russ Jacobsen. “Jim Hoel got caught. [Note: Jim Hoel was in the class of ’60 and played basketball all four years and ran cross country with Brian his senior year.] And Coach Sevier said, ‘Hoel, bend over and grab your ankles.’ He was flat nekked. Well, Jimbo had blood blisters on his butt from that one swat. But if your parents found out it was really big trouble if you got caught doing anything wrong in school. And you had to be tough. If you let your buds know you weren’t, you were in for some serious put downs and lip service.”
Week 7: Friday, November 6, 1959
Hawthorne Cougars v. Morningside Monarchs
On Friday, November 6, the Cougar running game ran head long into the famed aerial assault of quarterback Jim Hodge and the Morningside Monarchs on Sentinel Field in Inglewood. The Cougars had met their cross-town rivals eight times since Hawthorne’s first football season in fall 1951. It was the oldest rivalry in the Centinela Valley. Hawthorne emerged victorious six times, tied at 13 in 1954, and fell 33-7 in the disastrous 1958 season. During that blow-out, Steve Andersen was intercepted seven times out of 29 attempts. For their ninth meeting, the Cougars were seeking to avenge that embarrassing loss.
But the stakes were even higher now. They were Bay League rivals and Hawthorne needed a win to keep pace with the Vikings. Although predicted to be in CIF championship contention, the Monarchs were only 1-3 in league play. But statistics can be misleading. In four league games their offense racked up 900 yards. Even more impressive was that after not completing a single pass in the first league game, Hodge then completed 33 passes for 508 yards in just three games. In contrast, four Cougar quarterbacks completed a total of only 10 passes out of 22 attempts for 168 yards. But Cougar running backs accounted for 1,126 yards with Al Jardine contributing 95 yards on 21 carries.
Clearly, this intense rivalry would be an all-out air assault versus a punishing ground game. With Jardine and Jacobson recovered from the flu, the Cougars were at full strength. The Monarchs, however, had four injured starters including guard Neal Engdall, predicted to be all CIF this year, out with a knee injury. The Monarchs were dealt another setback when Bobby Pier, tied with Fred Ragatz as Centinela Valley top scorer with 36 points, broke his arm and was out for the season.
Chauncey started Andersen at QB and Daquilla at fullback. On the Cougars’ first play from scrimmage, Bob Hunter sprinted 64 yards for a touchdown, but a questionable clipping penalty at the 17 yard line against Dean Stafford nullified the score. Another Cougar drive ran out of steam on the Monarch fourteen. The first quarter ended scoreless.
In the second quarter, the Monarchs drove 45 yards in nine plays, but settled for a nineteen-yard Jim Hodge field goal after stalling at fourth and ten on the Hawthorne 13. The half ended with the Monarchs holding a tenuous 3-0 lead.
Chauncey went into the locker room and met with his boys. The Monarchs had held them scoreless for the first half. They had thirty minutes left to play and they needed to score and score fast. They would have to mix it up and go to the air more often. They would have to beat the Monarchs at their own game.
The Cougars opened the second half and marched seventy-seven yards down the field with Andersen making big yardage completions to Al Geverink and Russ Jacobson. On the three yard line, Andersen ran end around for the score. Petch’s extra point was good and the Cougars led 7-3. Six minutes later, the Monarchs fumbled a Hawthorne punt and the Cougars recovered on the Monarch twenty-five. Earlier in the season, Chauncey would have called a running play. But, on the very next play, Andersen hit Jacobson with a twenty-five yard pass for another six points. Petch’s point after was good and the Cougars led 14-3.
With 8:17 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Monarchs scored on a one-yard quarterback sneak after recovering a fumble deep in Cougar territory. Hodge’s extra point attempt was blocked and the Monarchs drew within five at 14-9. But on the next drive, Hawthorne clipped the Monarch’s wings on a drive that saw Andersen hit Geverink with passes of 22, 19, and 14 yards. At the Monarch six yard line, Andersen ran around left and pitched to Hunter who carried the pigskin across for the score. The game ended with the Cougars victorious 20-9.
The Cougar running game collected 171 yards with Bob Hunter accounting for 122 of them. Andersen completed eight of eleven passes for 156 yards. He could have been ten for eleven, but one sure completion was dropped and another, headed for completion, was erased on a possible pass interference penalty that went uncalled. The aerial game inspired confidence they could indeed have a multi-pronged offensive attack. The game was marred slightly by penalties with the Cougars racking up 115 yards and the Monarchs 95 yards. Al must have been pleased to read the Inglewood Daily News the next morning as it included an action photo of him and Dean Stafford closing in on a Monarch ball carrier.
The Cougars advanced to 5-0 in league standings (6-0 for the season). But their two toughest opponents, the Redondo Seahawks and the Samohi Vikings, still lie ahead. And both games would be played in enemy territory. The winning football season spilled over into the stands as even the Morningside principal complimented Hawthorne on their school spirit. “I have never seen such unison and cooperation in yells.”
Week 8: Friday, November 13, 1959
Hawthorne Cougars v. Redondo Seahawks
On Friday, November 13, the Cougars squared off against the Redondo Seahawks at the Seahawk Bowl. Like the Cougars, the Hawks were not expected to do much this year, but they had also proven the prognosticators wrong and were 4-1 in league play. Their defense held their opponents to a mere 53 points in five games and most of those points came in a bruising 40-6 loss at the hands of the Vikings who the Cougars would face next week. Chauncey planned to keep the Hawk defenders on their toes by using a diversified running and passing offense. But there was just one problem. His go-to quarterback, Steve Andersen, was sick with the flu. The coach started Mike Wood and asked Andersen to suit up in case he was needed. For the second week in a row, Chauncey started Daquilla at fullback.
In front of a packed home crowd, the Seahawks won the toss and elected to receive. The Cougars held and took possession. On their first play on offense, Wood pitched out to Jim Reale but the ball was thrown behind him and the Hawks recovered on the Hawthorne 27. Three running plays later, the Hawks led 6-0. The Cougars marched back but were stopped cold on the Seahawk eight. The Hawks found themselves deep in their own territory. On a third and eight from their own ten, the officials called a five-yard penalty against the Hawks. If Chauncey declined the penalty, it would bring up fourth and eight. Instead, in a bold move, he accepted the penalty which moved the ball back to the five and made it third and 13. The Hawks attempted a jump pass over the middle, but Bruce Johnson picked it off and scampered six yards into the end zone. Petch added the extra point to make it 7-6.
The second and third quarters were defensive struggles in which neither team scored. On the second play of the fourth quarter, the Hawks were on the Cougar 31. Their quarterback spotted a receiver alone in the end zone and fired the ball to him. Al Geverink stepped in at the four yard line, picked off the pass, and ran it back to the Hawthorne 17. Two plays later, Wood hit Geverink with a 64 yard strike that moved the ball to the Redondo 16. But on the next play, Wood fumbled and the Hawks recovered on their own 19. Once again, the Cougar defense held and a poor punt gave the Cougars the ball on the Hawks 39. With just 45 seconds remaining, Hunter got some key blocks and darted up the middle for the game’s final score. Petch converted and the game ended 14-6. The Cougars rushed for only 121 yards and passed for another 61. Neither quarterback was particularly effective in the air. Wood was one for four and 64 yards. Andersen saw playing time, but only managed one for three for a loss of three yards. Chauncey used four running backs (Hunter, Ragatz, Reale, and Daquila) and did not put Jardine in the game at all.
Hawthorne students continued to excel in their conduct as CIF league officials rated Hawthorne over Redondo 99-95 in sportsmanship. The Cougars were now 7-0 for the season and 6-0 in league play. They remained tied for first place as the Vikings crushed Inglewood 40-13. The stage was set. The undefeated Cougars would face the undefeated Vikings for the eighth and final game of the season. The winner would take home the Bay League championship and advance to the CIF play-offs.
After edging the Seahawks Friday night, gridiron seniors and members of the Class of 1960 were back at school the next morning for the first Senior Car Wash of the year. From 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. seniors washed and dried cars in the student parking lot for $1.00 a pop. But it wasn’t all business as Rich Sloan and Linda Alexander entertained their classmates by battling it out in a water splashing contest.
The Cougars take on the Seahawks, Jackrabbit, and El Rancho Dons
Week 9: Bay League Championship Game – Saturday, November 21, 1959
Hawthorne Cougars v. Santa Monica Vikings
On Saturday, November 21, anyone in the South Bay interested in local high school football had their eyes on the long-anticipated season finale between the Hawthorne Cougars and the Santa Monica Vikings. Each team was undefeated at 7-0. They had met only twice before. In a 1955 nail biter, the Vikings edged the Cougars 7-6. In 1956, despite being a three touchdown underdog, the Cougars shocked the Vikes 26-6. This year’s match-up was described as the “Game of the Year” that would most likely overshadow the CIF championship. The winner would be Bay League champs and the loser content with a very respectable 7-1 season. Despite Hawthorne’s amazing season, the mighty Vikings were favored by two touchdowns. An overflow crowd of 13,000 was expected to squeeze into the 9,000 seat Corsair Field on the campus of Santa Monica City College where the Vikings played their home games. Fans were advised to arrive at least two hours before the 8:00 p.m. kick-off if they didn’t want to stand.
The Vikings were called a “super team” by local sports writers because of the sheer depth of talent at every position. Heading their offensive attack was all-CIF Kenny Graham, one of the Southland’s top scorers and an outstanding runner and receiver. The Vikes also had eight starters returning from last years’ CIF championship loss to Long Beach Poly. They also had several players who had been selected all-Bay League last year.
The day before the game, in a carefully timed announcement, Hawthorne High Principal Wally Nyman told the student body that Coach Chauncey would resign as head football coach at the end of the season and become the school’s athletic director. “The school needs a full-time athletic director,” said Nyman. “It is too much to expect a person to coach football and take care of the school’s other needs as well. It was Chauncey’s choice.”
The announcement that this would be Chauncey’s last season as head football coach generated a wave of intense school spirit. It was a scene straight out of Knute Rockne, All-American, the 1940 film portrayal of the famed Notre Dame football coach and his star running back George Gipp. Rockne was portrayed by Pat O’Brien and Gipp by future California governor and United States President Ronald Reagan. Gipp contracts streptococcal pneumonia and dies. When Notre Dame is losing to the favored Army team during a key game at Yankee Stadium, Rockne delivers an inspiring half-time speech by confiding in his players Gipp’s dying words. “The last thing George said to me,” Rockne tells them. “‘Rock,’ he said, ‘sometime when the team is up against it, and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go out there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper.’” Nineteen years after the film, the Cougars turned that inspirational phrase into “Let’s win this one for Chauncey!”
On defense, the Cougars and Vikings seemed evenly matched. In their first seven games, they relinquished a comparable number of points (54 and 60, respectively). But on offense, the Vikings had racked up 249 points to the Cougars’ 143. Local sports writers predicted the Vikings would crush the Cougars by as much as three touchdowns. But there is a distinct advantage to being an underdog especially when your opponent has such low expectations. And then there’s the bane of every highly anticipated sports contest. The turnover.
To meet student demand for the game, Hawthorne High provided buses from their parking lot to Santa Monica City College. A round-trip was seventy-five cents and buses departed 6:30 p.m. for the 8:00 p.m. kick-off. More than 12,000 spectators filled the stands and along the sidelines. The Cougar Marching Band and Pep Squads fired up the Cougar fans. The Samohi players, still in their street clothes, jeered the Cougars as they came out to warm up.
After winning the coin toss and electing to receive, the Cougars failed to get a first down and were forced to punt. The first quarter was a hard-fought defensive battle. Kenny Graham, the Vikes’ all-CIF back, only carried the ball once in the quarter and fumbled it into the hands of the Cougars. The quarter ended with no score. Perhaps out of frustration, Graham began playing very aggressively and had to be warned about his behavior by the officials. The rough play continued, however, although he was never penalized for it.
As the second quarter got underway, the Vikings were just into Cougar territory at mid-field. But the drive ended when they coughed up the ball and the Cougars recovered. On the very next play, Andersen faked a hand-off that drew the defenders in toward the line. Meanwhile, Russ Jacobson slipped behind the safeties and Andersen uncorked a perfect pass. Jacobson caught it and had nothing but daylight in front of him. He galloped 52 yards for the score. Petch booted the extra point and the Cougars led 7-0. The home crowd was stunned. Once again, the Cougars had mixed things up offensively and their passing game had caught the defense by surprise.
Mid-way through the second quarter, the Cougar defense forced another fumble and the Cougars recovered on the Viking 29. But the offense stalled. After eight plays they had lost two yards and were forced to punt from the 31. But the turnover opportunities kept coming. Late in the first half, the Vikes fumbled again and Hawthorne recovered on their own 38. The Cougars were intent on scoring again before the half ended. In six plays, including a 32 yard pass from Andersen to Jacobson, the Cougars had first down on the Viking three yard line with less than a minute in the half. Rather than risk an interception, Chauncey went to his running game. But two quarterback sneaks didn’t gain any ground and a hand off to Ragatz lost a yard. There were now just seconds on the clock. On fourth down, Andersen handed off to Hunter, the team’s leading rusher. But the Viking defenders were ready and they denied him on the two yard line. In four consecutive attempts, the Vikes denied the famed Cougar running game and they headed into the lockers with the score 7-0.
The Vikings received the kick-off to begin the second half and started to drive. But three plays later, Graham fumbled again and the Cougars recovered it in Viking territory. The Cougars were in good position to score. But their advantage was short-lived as they soon fumbled and the Vikings recovered deep in their own territory. But on the very next play, as Vike QB Randy Carter dropped back to pass, Bruce Johnson and Jim West broke through the line and caused him to fumble. Two Cougar defenders chased the ball into the end zone and West fell on it for a touchdown. Petch’s extra point was good and the Cougars led 14-0.
On the next possession, the Vikings moved the ball 80 yards in 14 plays. They scored on a one yard plunge and apparently avoided an off-side call on the play. Graham stayed on the field to kick the extra point. He was considered the most reliable extra point man in high school football. In regular season play, he had converted 25 out of 27 attempts. But the Cougar defense rushed him and his kick missed the uprights. The third quarter ended with Hawthorne clinging to a 14-6 lead.
Mid-way through the fourth quarter the Cougars fumbled on their own 45 and the Vikings recovered. Carter went to the air, but safety Jerry Daquila intercepted it at the Hawthorne four and ran it back to his own 31. But an official called a double penalty on the play and nullified the interception. The Vikings got the ball back and scored a few plays later on an eight yard pitch-out to Mark Augustine. The Cougar defense again rattled Graham and his extra point attempt failed. The score was 14-12.
With four minutes left in the game, the Cougars had the ball on the Viking 45 with fourth and two. The Inglewood Daily News reported, “While everyone, with the Cougar coaching staff probably included, expected a punt, Andersen gave the ball to Fred Ragatz who turned the corner around his right side and raced 16 yards to the Viking 29.” But the Viking defense stopped them on four straight downs and their offense took over on their own 34. A touchdown or field goal would give them the game. Carter handed off to Augustine for a big gain. He then completed a pass for another big gain. Twelve thousand fans held their breath. It looked like the Vikings were going to be victorious in the final moments of the game. Carter took the snap, faded back to pass, and unleashed a pass. At the 26 yard line, Cougar defensive end Leif Enochson picked off the pass. And that was it. The mighty Vikings were vanquished. The Cougars simply ran the clock out. Cougar fans were ecstatic. Viking fans were speechless.
It was the first time the Vikings had been defeated in league play since 1956, a seventeen game winning streak. Although Graham was never penalized for his rough play, it was his two failed extra point attempts that cost them the game. The headline in the Monday, November 23 Inglewood Daily News registered the disbelief felt throughout the Southland, “COUGARS UPSET SAMO, 14-12, Over 12,000 Sit Stunned; Vikings Physically Beaten.” After the game, Viking head coach Don Kramer said, “There was no question that they were the better team on the field tonight. We’re a better team week in and week out. I don’t think Hawthorne will go very far in CIF. I just can’t see them doing anything.” Dick Turner, Kramer’s assistant, was a little more sportsmanlike and praised the Hawthorne line. “That was the difference in the ball game.”
If they selected the game’s most valuable player, it would have been Bruce Johnson. Here’s what the Inglewood Daily News said about him. “Certainly the finest man on the field had to be Hawthorne linebacker Bruce Johnson. The senior sensation, who has led Hawthorne in tackles all year, was a terror for the Vikings and an inspiration to his teammates with his play before the huge crowd. Johnson was credited with 10 unassisted tackles. Four of those tackles were behind the line of scrimmage. Another time he brought a Samo ball carrier down on a kick-off return when he was perhaps the last man who could have stopped him. On one Samohi drive it was Johnson who broke through the line and spilled Mike Hogan for a two yard loss on a crucial third down play. On another drive he nailed John West for a two yard loss and, on the next play, rushed through to trap QB Randy Carter for an 11 yard loss forcing the Vikings to punt.”
Samohi fans were dazed as they moped to their cars and buses. Some wept openly. As the Hawthorne buses rolled out of the parking lot, celebrating Cougars hung out windows chanting “On to the CIF!” Some Samohi fans threw whatever they could find at the Cougar buses. The headline in the special edition Cougar, out Tuesday, November 24, due to the Thanksgiving holiday, read “R. Petch’s Toe Launches Cougars to Championship.” The paper also took a few shots at the local sports writers who predicted their demise. “To the sports editor of the Inglewood Daily News who predicted Samohi would bounce Hawthorne by 14 points . . . were you at the game?”
The win kept the Cougars, along with Monrovia and Long Beach Poly, one of only three teams in the major CIF ranks with a perfect record. Writing in the November 25 Los Angeles Times, Jack Hefley praised Bruce Johnson saying, “5’10”, 185-lb senior was everywhere on the field scattering Viking blockers, upsetting ball carriers, and knocking down passes.” The paper named Johnson its Prep Player of the Week. Johnson made 11 unassisted tackles and was in on at least 18 assisted tackles, helped spike the famed Viking aerial attack by batting down three passes. Coach Chauncey was interviewed and added, “Johnson is actually playing with a bit of a handicap. This is only his first year playing varsity football. If we’d had him around last season he’d be extra terrific just on the added experience. Bruce has been a tiger all year. He’s our best tackler and thrives on contact. He’s a fine prospect because of his quickness and exceptional strength.” When asked about the Cougar’s season, Chauncey replied, “What we lack in ability and personnel, we make up in scrappiness and desire.” Johnson had played first string center on the 1956 B team, his freshman year. He did not play football his sophomore or junior years.
The Cougars finished their regular season with an undefeated 8-0 record, the Bay League Championship, and a berth in the CIF play-offs. All in their first year in the Bay League. The coaches, players, and the entire student body were stoked. Local sports writers were stunned. The Cougars had gone from 1-6-1 last year to beating every team in their path. A tremendous school spirit filled the hallways of Hawthorne High during the week as everyone anticipated celebrating Thanksgiving on Thursday, November 26.
Week 10: Quarter-final Playoff – Friday, November 27, 1959
Hawthorne Cougars v. El Rancho Dons
The Thanksgiving holiday mood was short-lived for the Cougars as the following day, Friday, November 27, they squared off against the El Rancho Dons of San Gabriel in the quarter-final CIF play-off game at Murdock Field at El Camino Community College. The Dons had finished 7-2 and, along with Montebello, were co-champs of the San Gabriel League. The threat from the Don’s offense was the passing attack of quarterback Marshall Adair and All-League receiver Mike Wixted. This was their first appearance in a CIF playoff game. The winner of this game would face the winner of the Glendale-Santa Paula game in the semi-final playoff. The winner of that game would go on to play for the championship of the Southern Division of the CIF. That morning’s Inglewood Daily News featured a full page on the game under the headline “Unbeaten Hawthorne Gridders Open Competition for CIF Championship.” Lining the edge of the paper were photos of 18 Cougars [note: Al Jardine was not among the players pictured.]
John Northrup Hagethorn was the biggest guy on the Cougar team that year. During World War II, John’s father worked at Northrup Aircraft, hence his middle name. This was his second year starting at right offensive tackle and he also started at defensive tackle. He threw shot put for the Track and Field team and was the 1958 Pioneer League champion shot put player. “The El Rancho game was the most exciting game I played in,” Hagethorn recalled. “Lots of fun playing for coach Hal [Chauncey], and coaches Plum, Bravo, and Semon.”
There were about 7,500 fans packed into Murdock Field at El Camino Community College for the first round CIF playoff game. On their first possession, the Dons scored on a 47 yard drive in nine plays in which Adair connected with Wixted for 20 and 13 yards. The Dons fumbled twice on the drive, but “quick whistles” robbed the Cougars of possession both times. Less than two minutes later, the Dons recovered a Hawthorne fumble on the Cougar 38. Five plays later, Adair hit Wixted on a 23 yard pass, the extra point bounced off the cross-bar, and the score was 13-0. Hawthorne fans were silenced. The Dons had scored twice in quick succession.
Jim Reale ran the ensuing kick-off to the Cougar 38. Bob Hunter then raced 36 yards to the Dons 26. Over the next five plays, the Cougars moved to the one yard line where Andersen snuck in for the score. Petch’s kick was good and with 13:48 left to play in the half the Cougars narrowed the lead to 13-7.
The Cougar defense held the Dons and, after a strong punt return by Hunter, Hawthorne took over at the Dons 44. Russ Jacobson nabbed an Andersen pass at the 16. It was Andersen’s only completion of three attempts that night. Three plays later Hunter slipped off left tackle and into the end zone. Petch’s extra point was low and wide, and the half ended with the score tied at 13. If a playoff game ended in a tie, the team with the most first downs was declared the winner. Each team had five first downs.
The Dons received the kick-off to start the second half. A few plays later, Bruce Johnson broke through the line, sacked Adair and caused him to fumble. Jim West pounced on the ball at the Dons 26. The Cougars used the clock to patiently grind out yardage. At the Dons three, Chauncey sent Mike Wood in as quarterback. Wood pitched the ball to one of his backs, but it was fumbled and the Dons recovered. However, Hawthorne caught a break when the officials called the Dons offside and penalized them half the distance to the goal. Chauncey sent Andersen back in and he scampered around left end for the score. Petch’s conversion was blocked and the Cougars went ahead 19-13.
The Cougar defense held the Dons in their own territory. The Dons punted to the Cougar 12, but the kick was nullified by an offside penalty. The second punt attempt was mired in controversy. The ball hit the 21 yard line and bounced high in the air. Hawthorne maintained a Dons player, attempting to limit the ball’s forward motion, smacked it into a group of players at the 35 yard line. The Dons maintained that, on the way down, the ball hit the back of a Cougar, bounced off, and was recovered by the Dons. The officials agreed with the Dons’ version of events. Two plays later, Adair hit Chuck Rogers with a 30 yard touchdown pass. This time the extra point attempt was good and the Dons inched ahead 20-19. There was 1:32 left in the third quarter. Still plenty of time.
The next possession Hawthorne marched 61 yards in 11 plays largely behind the running of Bob Hunter. From the two yard line, Andersen snuck around left end for the score. It was Andersen’s third touchdown of the game. Petch’s attempt was again blocked and the Cougars led 25-20. The ball exchanged hands twice with each team’s defense holding firm. On fourth down, Andersen punted from near mid-field. It was a good, high kick that drove the Dons back to their 11. The Dons went to their passing game. On first down, Adair hit Rogers but it was ruled out-of-bounds. On second down, Adair completed a pass behind the line of scrimmage for a two yard loss. On third and 12, with just three or four seconds remaining in the game, the Dons went with a trick play aimed for the end zone some 91 yards away. Adair took the snap, faded back, and hit Rogers on the far right side of the field and behind the line of scrimmage. The seconds ticked off. The game would end with this final play. As a Cougar defender rushed Rogers, he uncorked a pass to the wide-open Wixted. But the ball was poorly thrown. It was wobbly and hung in the air too long. Wixted had to come back for it. He caught it for a 42 yard gain, but the wait had been costly as he was pummeled by a horde of Cougar defenders as the gun sounded.
It was, perhaps, the most thrilling game of the season. The Cougars had come from a 13 point deficit to tie it up, then traded leads, and held on to win as the final seconds ticked off. It was a game that showed tenacity and teamwork. Hawthorne had rushed for 212 yards and Hunter accounted for 121 of them. The only other backs Chauncey called upon were Reale and Ragatz. Al Jardine did not get to carry the ball against the Dons.
Understandably, Hawthorne fans went crazy. Apparently, a little too crazy. An editorial in the December 4 Cougar explained. “At last week’s El Rancho High School game, Hawthorne students had no way of knowing that CIF representatives would frown on confetti throwing. A few bad sports in the crowd started the student section booing the officials and the El Rancho team, and the majority of students followed their example without realizing why. HHS’s student body has never and will never intentionally boo another team. In contrast, the student body cheered loudly not only for the Cougar Marching Band, but for the El Rancho Band as well. Hawthorne’s opponents will have a surprise coming to them tonight at the CIF play-off game. The student body has decided to band together to set an example for other high schools in the CIF play-offs, despite the fact that no sportsmanship rules exist at play-off games. The student body has decided that the CIF representatives need proof that no other school has a better sportsmanship attitude. Hawthorne students will bring no confetti to the game. The Hawthorne student body will team together and prove to all concerned that it can show the best display of sportsmanship in the area.”
Student Body President John Blankenship further advised students “In the past, Hawthorne students have always been commended for their outstanding conduct. Our record, however, was shattered last Friday night at El Camino as our students disregarded all the ethics of good sportsmanship. We had to compensate money from the student body fund in order to have the stadium cleaned. We realize that all sportsmanship rules have been dissolved, but this is no reason for us to forget our responsibility toward our school and community.”
For the semi-final CIF play-off game, the Cougars would face the Glendale Dynamiters of the Foothill League. While the Cougars had narrowly survived the El Rancho Dons, the Dynamiters had blasted Santa Paula 33-0. Some sports writers had the Cougars down by 13.
On Wednesday, December 2, about 425 Hawthorne High student athletes, parents, and faculty attended the Athletics Award Banquet at 6:45 p.m. in the school cafeteria. Although the banquet also honored water polo and cross country track, the focus was on football. The keynote speaker was Dr. Spud Harder who coached Chauncey when he was a student at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Some of Chauncey’s former players attended including Ron Mix who was recently drafted by the Baltimore Colts. When Chauncey was introduced, the crowd gave him a standing ovation and presented him with several gifts in appreciation for his work in building Hawthorne into a football powerhouse. After his gracious farewell remarks, Chauncey introduced Otto Plum as his replacement for next year.
During the ceremony, forty varsity football players received trophies in recognition for their fine season. Dean Stafford was awarded most inspirational player; John Hagethorn, best lineman; Bruce Johnson, most tackles; Fred Ragatz, most underrated, and Kendall Ruskitt, best attitude. The most improved player award went to Al Jardine.
Awards going to players, including most improved player Al Jardine
Bob Hunter was voted the most valuable player and best running back. In the ten games played before the CIF Championship, Hunter carried the ball 139 times for 811 yards and 24 points.
The water polo and track athletes merited only two short paragraphs in the Inglewood Daily News and nothing in the Cougar. Varsity letters were presented to eleven cross country athletes including Brian Wilson. Bob Sellers was named the team’s most valuable player.
Week 11: Semi-final Playoff – Friday, December 4, 1959
Hawthorne Cougars v. Glendale Dynamiters
On Friday, December 4, 8,000 fans packed Murdock Field at El Camino Community College as the Cougars faced one final opponent, the Glendale Dynamiters, for the right to appear in the CIF Championship Game. Chauncey would be without his speedy back Jim Reale, sidelined with the flu.
Hawthorne took the opening kick-off and marched 41 yards. They got as close as the Glendale 6, but were unable to punch it over for the score. On fourth down, with the ball spotted on the 14, Chauncey called upon Ron Petch to attempt a 24 yard field goal. It was a long kick for a high school athlete. The fans watched silently as the ball was hiked and placed. Petch took a few steps and gave it everything he had. The kick was high and straight, but it didn’t have the distance. It hit the crossbar and bobbled in the air. The fans held their breath. As it came down, it hit the cross-bar, took a Cougar bounce, and fell over the goalpost. The Hawthorne fans went nuts as their team took an early 3-0 lead. Neither team scored for the remainder of the half. The Cougar defense held Glendale to negative yardage until the final minute of the second quarter.
The second half was more of the same defensive struggle with neither team penetrating beyond the other’s 40 yard line. On the last play of the third quarter, Glendale punted from their 18. Rich Sloan fielded it on his 46 and ran it back to the Glendale 23. Five plays later, Fred Ragatz got a key block from Dean Stafford and bounded into the end zone. Petch’s attempt missed and the Cougars led 9-0. If the Cougars could hold for another 13:30 they would be in the CIF Championship Game.
But the Dynamiters were not done. After the kick, they went 66 yards in eight plays with quarterback Tom Seabold diving over the middle for the score. The extra point was good and Glendale pulled within two at 9-7. And there was still 6:50 left in the game. Plenty of time for another score. The Dynamiters held the Cougars on their next three downs, forced a punt, and took over on their own 29. In seven plays they moved the ball to the Cougar 43. There was a little more than a minute left in the game. Seabold, who had carried the ball 31 times on running plays, went to the air. His pass was intercepted at the Cougar 32 by Mike Wood. The Cougars simply ran the clock out and held on to a 9-7 victory.
They had done it. The Cinderella Cougars were in the CIF Championship Game. They would meet the Henry J. Moore League and reigning CIF champs, the Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits, on Friday, December 11, at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
With Reale out sick against Glendale, Al Jardine saw more playing time. He carried the ball three times for a total of 33 yards. Al must have been quite pleased when he read Warren Turnbull’s account in the December 5 Inglewood Daily News. “The Cougars got good performances from two quarterbacks and a reserve back . . . Al Jardine uncorked a fine 30 yard run from fullback post.”
But Al’s elation over the Inglewood Daily News mention would be soured just six days later by a comment in the school newspaper. The Cougar could be the team’s biggest supporter and toughest critic. The December 11 edition pointed out there were several missed scoring opportunities as quarterback Andersen had trouble controlling his accuracy and missed completing some passes by just inches. “HHS seems to just miss scoring opportunities by the inches and seconds. For instance, what I mean by the second, is Al Jardine’s fine power running wasn’t enough to spring him out of the reach of Glendale’s safety men when he found a big hole up the middle. If he had just a wee more spirit he could have gone all the way for six more points.” A wee more spirit? Ouch! More than 45 years later, that comment in the school newspaper still bothered Al as he recalled, “I made a draw play to go right up the middle and I had a wide open field and this kid caught me from behind. It’s one of those editorial remarks that devastate a young man when he’s trying to do his best. It wasn’t very encouraging, but it makes me laugh now.”
The week before the CIF championship game, Hawthorne High was filled with excitement and anticipation. Fueling excitement for the game were local newspaper articles that painted an intimidating portrait of the Jackrabbits. The Hares averaged 474 yards and 38 points per game this season for a total of 380 points, the highest recorded among class-AAA schools.
Local sports writers referred to the Poly backfield as ICBM—fullback Lonzo Irvin, halfback Harvey Crow, halfback Willie “Long Gone” Brown, and wide receiver Willie Martin. This fearsome foursome gained 3,897 yards rushing, averaging an astonishing 10.2 yards per carry. The average length of their touchdown-scoring plays was 36.4 yards. They were known for their blinding speed and each ran the 100-yard dash in ten seconds or less. This resulted in what was called the greatest “All The Way in One Play” offense in years. Meanwhile, the Hare defense yielded only four touchdowns on the ground all year while limiting their opponents to an average of 75.8 net yards rushing per game. And if that wasn’t enough for Chauncey to worry about, Jim Reale, one of his go-to backs, was still sick with the flu at game time.
If the Jackrabbits were the Giants, the Cougars hoped to be Giant Killers. Although not known for their speed, the Cougars were praised for their alert defense, ball control offense, and for not committing mental errors that led to turnovers. Their recovery of five of six Viking fumbles was crucial to their 14-12 upset over Santa Monica. One paper enthused, “The play calling of quarterback Steve Andersen has been superb.”
Even the Inglewood Daily News, hardly the Cougars’ staunchest supporter at the start of the season, believed the Cougars could now pull off an upset. The newspaper predicted, “The Cougars have the biggest chance of upsetting Long Beach, mainly because it is a repetition of the Santa Monica game in which the Cougs thrived on over confident offensive plays, scoring two touchdowns with extra points to cinch the Bay League pennant.”
The Jackrabbits were not short on confidence. “We should beat them,” boasted their coach Dave Levy. “We’re the better team. But they did go through ten games without a loss and they did knock off Santa Monica, and that means a lot. Hawthorne was lucky to win. They recovered all five of Santa Monica’s fumbles. [note: Hawthorne recovered five of six Santa Monica fumbles]. I think Santa Monica is the better team, but you have to give Hawthorne credit for being real scrappers.” Levy said the Hares would only practice only one hour a day in preparation for Hawthorne. “The boys know what they have to do.”
The Cougar players knew what they were up against. “We had no business playing Long Beach Poly,” mused John Hagethorn. “They were defending CIF champs and one of the best high school football teams ever. We were in the Pioneer League for eight years. I don’t know the politics of why they moved us into the Bay League unless it was just a realignment they were doing. Actually, three schools were moved into the Bay League [note: The other two schools were Morningside and North Torrance]. The week before the Long Beach Poly game a lot of guys were tired of football and didn’t want to play them because they figured we didn’t have a chance.” Even Hagethorn had his doubts. “The L.A. Coliseum has a tunnel at one end. It looks big, but it’s really not that big. Maybe big enough to drive a bus through. They had given us the LA Rams locker room. Nothing like locker rooms today. We were coming out to go warm up and the Long Beach Poly band was there in the tunnel. High school and college football bands are pretty exciting. They had ROTC and their band. We thought ‘Geez, they have more people in their band than we have in our high school.’ That’s how big that school was. People would transfer their kids to the area so they could go there. Their coach moved over to USC the next year. They did that a lot in those days. If the high school had some good players, to get those players to go to their college, they would take the coach with them.”
Week 12: CIF Championship Game – Friday, December 11, 1959
Hawthorne Cougars v. Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits
Digital Image taken on Thursday, 3/25/2004, Los Angeles, CA – Photo by Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times — Aerial view the Los Angeles Coliseum.
At 8:00 p.m., Friday, December 11, the Hawthorne Cougars took the field against the Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The local sports writers picked the Jackrabbits by three touchdowns. 14,906 fans plunked down their $1.50 (50-cents for students under 12 years of age) and packed the stands. The Cougar rooting section was on the north side of the Coliseum. The Hares were on the south side by the press box. But Cougar fans were vastly outnumbered as Long Beach Poly had some 3,500 students compared to Hawthorne’s 1,900. Even Coach Chauncey’s wife, Cathy, was a Long Beach Poly alum.
The Cougars won the toss and opted to receive. But after their first possession, they were forced to punt. The Jackrabbits moved down the field and threatened with first and goal inside the Cougar 10. The Hares ran the ball on first and second downs, and the Cougars held them to the four yard line. A third down offside penalty marched the Jackrabbits back five yards. On fourth down, rather than attempt a field goal, which was never a sure thing in high school sports, they went for the six points. They went to the air, but when the pass fell incomplete, the Cougars took over deep in their own territory. They had denied the mighty Long Beach offense any points from within the five yard line. Later in the first quarter, the Hares made it to the Cougar 25, but were unable to score.
Penalties played a big part in the Jackrabbit’s failed drives. During the game, the Rabbits were called 11 times for backs in motion or linemen offside. Warren Turnbull wrote in the Inglewood Daily News “the team’s rolling start got away with these infractions between 14 and 20 other times which went unpenalized.” The first quarter ended with no score and it looked like it was going to be another hard-fought defensive struggle.
“We held Long Beach Poly scoreless for one quarter,” recalled John Hagethorn. “We didn’t know of anyone who had done that. They were so big and overpowering. Lonzo Irvin must have weighed 240 pounds [note: Irvin was 215 pounds]. I caused Willie Brown to fumble, but it didn’t count because it was fourth down.”
By nearly mid-way through the second quarter neither team had put any points on the board. But then the Hares found their running game. They marched 51 yards in five plays. Big Lonzo Irvin found daylight behind his right end, Kennedy Lowe, and exploded for a 35 yard run into the end zone. Irwin ran in the extra point behind a block from bruising 225-lb tackle Mike Giers and Long Beach led 7-0.
On the ensuing kick-off, the Cougars came roaring back. Jim Reale handled the ball at his own 13 and, as the play was designed, started up the center to draw defenders into the middle of the field. Then he cut to the right sideline and, behind excellent blocking, scampered 87 yards for a score. Petch’s kick was wide by less than two feet and the score was 7-6. When Reale returned to the Cougar bench, Chauncey could see he was exhausted. Still battling the flu, Reale’s sheer determination had carried him into the end zone. But there was little reserve left in the tank.
The Jackrabbit fans were stunned. The Cougars had matched them score for score. But the Jackrabbits were not intimidated. In fact, they were angry. On the kickoff, their wide receiver, Willie Martin, described in the Cougar as a whirling dervish, returned the ball for a 72-yard touchdown. One Cougar defender got a piece of Martin at the Hare 42, but he broke loose and left him in the dust. A hush descended over the Cougar fans. Irwin ran over the point, but it was nullified by another offside penalty. On the second attempt, Brown took a pitch out and passed to Crow for the point. The Jackrabbits leapt ahead 14-7. The two teams had scored 20 points in 34 seconds. The fans could sense the momentum shift. “When they ran that kick-off back for a touchdown,” recalled Hagethorn, “that took the wind out of our sails.”
As the teams lined up for the kick-off, Chauncey asked Reale if he was up to playing. Determined not to let his Coach down, Reale said he was fine. Long Beach kicked off and Reale caught the ball around his twenty yard line. The plan was to repeat the same play that had resulted in the earlier score. He started up the middle and swiftly cut to the sideline. As he hugged the sideline, he was out in front of the Long Beach defenders. As he crossed into Jackrabbit territory, the defenders began to close in on him. Reale simply ran out of gas as the Hares caught up with him and dragged him down around the thirty yard line. Despite the excellent field position, the Cougars were unable to put any points on the board with that possession.
The Cougars were forced to punt and the Hares took over at their own 24. Irwin and Brown steamrolled the Cougar defense. The Hares marched 76 yards in seven plays, the key play being a 59 yard sprint by Irvin through the middle of the Cougar defense to the 17. Three plays later, with a minute and one-half on the clock, Irvin galloped five yards for the score. He also hit the extra point behind his right tackle. The half ended and the Cougars trudged into their locker room trailing a disappointing 21-6. One statistic did not bode well for Hawthorne. They had not run a single play inside the Long Beach 40 yard line.
“Coach Ron Sevier had done a fantastic job of scouting Poly,” recalled Chauncey. “He had picked up several keys. Our linebackers knew immediately where the ball was going and who was going to carry it. Our problem was that our kids were not fast enough to catch them. I remember telling Richie Sloan to move wider, so that those fast halfbacks couldn’t get outside for big yardage. Richie moved 4 yards wider and they still got outside. So much for speed. We moved the ball up and down the field, but something would always happen to keep us out of the end zone. We did have our chances at least three times. But Poly just had a great team.”
The Cougars kicked off to start the third quarter. The Jackrabbits continued to dominate with their running game. Using nearly nine minutes on the clock, the Hares moved the ball 66 yards in 12 plays despite two backfield in motion calls. Irvin scored from the 13. He then plunged in behind his right tackle for the extra point. At 28-6, the Hares were pulling away.
The Cougars got the ball back but were only able to move the ball two and one-half yards in three plays and were forced to punt. On the very next play, Willie Brown cut behind left tackle Ken Brewer, burst through the line, and charged 52 yards for the score. Crow ran the extra point and, when the third quarter ended, the Hares led 35-6. There were just fifteen minutes left in the game and it was looking bleak for the Cougars.
The Cougars rallied in the fourth quarter and moved the ball 69 yards in 10 plays with a good mixture of running and two Andersen completions. At the one yard line, Andersen snuck over for the score and Petch’s kick split the uprights to make it 35-13. They were down by more than three touchdowns and there was 11:30 left in the game.
The Hares got the ball back and moved 44 yards in eight plays. The key play of the drive was a 32 yard run by Irvin to the Cougar seven. Three plays later, Harvey Crow scored on a two yard run. Willie Martin passed to Willie Brown for the extra point and the score was 42-13. There was 7:30 remaining.
The Cougar offense was forced to punt on its next possession. Their defense held and Long Beach was forced to punt for the first time in the game. Hawthorne took over near mid-field. There was less than three minutes remaining.
Coach Chauncey began rotating other players into the game. Perhaps he felt the contest was out of reach and wanted all his boys to have some playing time in the big game. Hagethorn recalled, “Chauncey was going up and down the sideline asking, ‘Who hasn’t been in yet, who hasn’t been in yet?’ Just to get a guy in for one play. I always thought that was good of him. That was the thrill of a lifetime. You’re never going to play in the Coliseum again.”
Chauncey sent Petch in at QB and the sophomore signal caller invigorated the Cougars. The team moved the ball 51 yards in seven plays. At the Hare 12, the Long Beach coach sent in his reserve players. As Lonzo Irvin left the field, Jackrabbit fans gave him a standing ovation. On the very next play, Petch capped the drive and sprinted 12 yards around end for the score. He made the extra point and the score was 42-20. But with only 1:37 remaining, Hawthorne had run out of miracles.
The Hares took possession and the game ended as the second-string Rabbits threatened at the Cougar 20. The game ended 42-20 and the Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits had won the CIF Northern Group championship for the second consecutive year and the eighth time since 1919. It was Long Beach’s twenty-third consecutive victory. In the CIF Southern Group championship game, San Diego demolished the previously undefeated Monrovia 53-0. But due to a new arrangement in the CIF this year, the winners of the Southern and Northern Groups would not meet in one final determination of football superiority. However, when the two teams met earlier in the regular season, the Jackrabbits had defeated San Diego 13-0.
In the subdued Hawthorne locker room, Chauncey told his boys, “You have nothing to be ashamed of. You gave it everything you had. We took our best shots out there and they just weren’t good enough.”
“After the game,” recalled Chauncey, “Dave Levy, the Poly coach, congratulated us on doing the best job defending them that anyone had done. If we had been able to capitalize on our opportunities we would have been right there. We were very proud of the kids’ effort. They played their hearts out. They did all that was asked of them and more. All the coaches were proud to have been a part of that team.”
The Long Beach Press-Telegram, the Hares hometown paper, delighted in the outcome. “The Hares battered the Cougars up one side of the field and down the other,” wrote Doug Ives. “The beautiful broken-field run by Martin was the turning point in the game.”
The most telling statistic of the game was net yards gained rushing. The Hares outpaced the Cougars 484 to 139. Lonzo Irvin had his greatest game in three years at Poly. He carried the ball 21 times for 223 yards, three touchdowns, and three extra points. He averaged 10.5 yards a carry, helping to account for Long Beach’s fourteen first downs to Hawthorne’s ten. Willie Brown carried the ball 13 times for 124 yards, averaging 9.4 yards per carry.
None of the Cougar backs had those kind of numbers. Bob Hunter carried the ball 11 times for 44 yards, Fred Ragatz 8 for 34, Jim Reale 7 for 15, and Al Jardine once for five yards.
The Cougar players and their fans went home disappointed, but with every reason to be proud of their season. They went 8-0, captured the Bay League Championship their first year in the league, won two CIF play-off games, and had given the Jackrabbits a hard-fought contest. And they elevated the bond between athletic excellence and school spirit at Hawthorne High to an all-time high. Their Cinderella season is still talked about after more than fifty years.
At the end of the year, the Helms Athletic Foundation announced three twelve-man teams selected from among the 15 leagues in the southern CIF. The Foundation selected local athletes to form champion sports teams. It was started by Bill Schroeder and Paul Helms in Los Angeles in 1936. Willie Brown was selected as a running back on the first team and Player of the Year. Brown set a Long Beach Poly scoring record when he collected 140 points in 11 games. He carried the ball 126 times for 1,707 yards, averaging an astounding 13.5 yards per carry. Brown also completed 14 of 30 passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns. He scored 22 times himself and booted 8 extra points. Brown went on to play at USC and was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in 1964. Cougar Bruce Johnson was selected as a guard on the first All-CIF team. He was the first Hawthorne player to be selected for the All-CIF AAA Division. The players were honored at the 23rd Annual Football Awards at Helms Hall on January 16, 1960.
On Saturday, December 12, the night after the disappointing CIF loss, Hawthorne students had a chance to cheer up at the annual Christmas program held at the Leuzinger High Auditorium. The program featured singing, dancing, music, and a dramatic presentation. It was a collaborative effort that featured the various school choirs (a cappella, mixed, girls, and Madrigal) under the direction of Russell Wing and accompanied by Margaret Whitley. Fred Morgan and the band played Christmas numbers, Nita Cable’s modern dance classes entertained, and Raymond Mossholder’s drama club gave a presentation and provided appropriate lighting. “The tremendous spirit of the Cougars has been exhibited throughout the football season,” said Wing. “We know they will take time out to attend this program because they are such great kids. Since it’s free, no one can afford to miss it.” The finale brought everyone on stage for several Christmas favorites.
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Cougar, Hawthorne High School weekly newspaper, 1959-1960.
Endless Summer Quarterly, Hawthorne 1960, Fall 2005.
John Hagethorn, interview by author, May 23, 2010.
Al Jardine interview on WFDU August 24, 2014.
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