Quietly Enjoying Merced’s Angst, Alberta Rossi
Usually I drove to out-of-town games with Hank Beiden’s wife. On the day of the Merced game, however, she had a carload of girls to take, so I drove myself. When I arrived at the stadium, I took a wrong turn and sat down on the Merced side of the field. I had a good seat, though, so I decided to stay. Listening to the Merced fans proved entertaining, especially at one point. Two women seated in front of me were commenting on an unusual Visalia lineup, and one remarked, “Look at that formation. What the hell is that coach up to now?” The play produced a Visalia touchdown and I barely contained my merriment. I might have been rooting quietly for the best high school team and coach in the West, but listening to the anxiety expressed by Merced fans made up for my silence.
My Weekend with Adela Rogers St. Johns, Harold Dilbeck
Adela Rogers St. Johns grew up as the daughter of renowned criminal attorney Earl Rogers. (His fame made him the model for lawyer Perry Mason created by Earl Stanley Gardner.) She went to Hollywood High School, graduating in 1910, and soon became a celebrity reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. Later, she wrote screenplays, short stories, interviews and a biography of her father, Final Verdict, that was made into a television film. She returned to reporting at different times and covered such stories as the Jack Dempsey – Gene Tunney long count fight, the Lindbergh kidnapping, the Great Depression, the assassination of Huey Long and the abdication of England’s King Edward VIII. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1970. She remained active until late in her life, appearing on numerous television programs and as herself in the movie Reds. (Wikipedia, Adela Rogers St. Johns)
The following question probably occurs to you at this point: What’s the relevance to the Pioneers of ’49? Coach Rossi supplies the answer. He and his wife, Alberta, became acquainted with Adela and lived in a small house on her estate during their time at UCLA. The triggering event of my connection came after the last game of our regular season with Tulare. A knee I nursed through the season became a disabling injury after that game. A local physician of some repute counseled treatment of immobility coupled with heat, so I went to practice the following Monday on crutches. By Friday, the knee saw no improvement, and prospects loomed of my missing the championship game. On the weekend between the Tulare and Merced games, Cal and Alberta took me in tow on a sojourn to Southern California, where I would meet two memorable people. One was Adela, the other was Dr. Robert M. Loveland, a physician of Rossi’s acquaintance, who had a special interest in sports medicine.
After leaving Alberta and our gear at Adela’s, Cal and I went to Dr. Loveland’s office. He came in especially at Cal’s request that Saturday. After doing some x-rays and analyzing my condition, he applied a radically different remedy: sequential use of ice packs, walking as normally as possible for 30 minutes, followed by massage – which gave Cal something to do other than hope for my improvement, a job he took with good humor. We returned to Adela’s for one of the most scintillating afternoons of a lifetime. My sequential walking periods occurred in Adela’s large living room. It seemed every time I came in for a walk another accomplished person appeared to participate in sparkling conversation. Throughout most of the day, Adela appeared in a bathrobe she could have contributed to charity in good conscience. She was perfectly comfortable, however, and no one commented on her appearance. She spruced up for the evening, which included more conversation and dinner held around a huge table suitable for large parties. As I enjoyed the food and atmosphere, I fantasized about what famous posteriors might have honored the seat I occupied.
After another appointment with Dr. Loveland on Sunday morning, we had more ice packs, walking and massage before starting our return journey to Visalia. Exposure to Adela for the weekend left me overwhelmed with her wit, humor and spontaneity. I would watch her on television in later years and clearly understand why she so impressed me. Incidentally, Adela wrote a two part serial for Collier’s magazine entitled Goal to Go based loosely on Cal’s coaching in Visalia.
The greater impressions, however, were not made by Adela that weekend; they were made by Cal and Dr. Loveland. Through their combined efforts, I played all but a few plays in the Merced game and left the game with a knee in good condition. Dr. Loveland became a lifelong physician, counselor and personal friend. Cal earned my enduring gratitude for enabling me to participate in our crowning achievement of winning the Valley Championship. His overall coaching of our team, other advice he gave me about continuing my education and the impact of this experience and its connection to Dr. Loveland made him one of the most influential figures in my life.
The Fox Theatre’s Walk of Fame
The Fox Theatre held a special place for VUHS students, including football players. The first date usually took place at the Fox Theatre with seating in the lobby level. The second date occurred at the same place, but seating was in the balcony. The third date was at the Mooney Boulevard Drive-in Theatre. If a fourth date took place, you were going steady. The Pioneers’ Jerry Swan took the initiative to organize the team’s contribution to saving the Fox Theater through adding our square to the Walk of Fame.
How Silvani Became a Guard, Wallace McFall
The Pioneers’ backfield for the 1948 season used a T formation, and the starting lineup consisted of Bob Donkersley at quarterback, Fran Weddle at left halfback, Joe Hannah at fullback and myself at right halfback. Bob Donkersley graduated and left the quarterback position open for the 1949 team. Harold Silvani wanted to go out for quarterback, but when Cal Rossi brought the single wing to Visalia, the quarterback position changed radically. The backfield of our single wing consisted of a tailback, fullback, quarterback and wingback. While the quarterback position retained the play-calling role in Rossi’s single wing, there were far fewer opportunities for ball handling, and the position became primarily that of a lead backfield blocker for a concentrated attack on the defense. While I accepted Rossi’s view of my role as starting quarterback, this left Silvani without the prospect of a first team position, and he was uncertain of the role he wanted to play.
Sometime during the second week of practice and before our opening game with Exeter, we were having a workout session in Mineral King Bowl when the athletic director, Charlie Marshall, came out on the field and approached Rossi. They talked for a couple of minutes; then Hank Beiden, the line coach, joined them. After another minute or so, Rossi called out to Edmond “Nick” Flores, our starting left guard, to get himself over to them. As Flores approached he asked him loud enough for me to hear “How old are you, Flores?” Flores, with an immediate change in his usual cheerful demeanor, responded by telling the coaches he was 19 years old. Rossi, with a mixture of concern for Flores’s feelings and for the team’s performance, told him he was not eligible to play because of his age.
As a dejected Flores headed toward the locker room, Rossi and Beiden continued to huddle. After two or three minutes, Rossi looked around for Harold and shouted out to him “Silvani, you’re a guard.”
While his opportunity to quarterback a T formation would be postponed for a couple of years until he led the 1951 Giants at College of Sequoias, Harold Silvani performed well enough at guard to be named to the All Valley Team.
Tackle the ball, Bobby, don’t tackle the runner, Bob Line
The ball snatcher in this piece about the East Bakersfield game was Bob Line, and here is his story:
“I was on the sidelines when coach Rossi motioned to me. ‘Get in there and tackle the ball, Bobby,’ he said. ‘Don’t tackle the runner, tackle the ball.’ I went back into the game, called a defensive huddle to tell the other players, and when the next play came my way, I carried out his instructions. We then had the ball in East Bakersfield’s territory with the prospect of another touchdown.”
Hank’s Lucky Pants, Alberta Rossi
For reasons unknown, Hank Beiden did not wear his lucky pants to the East Bakersfield game. As we were driving to Bakersfield, Hank’s wife, Irene, told me when she realized he was not wearing them she decided to bring them to the stadium, just in case. At halftime, when the score was East Bakersfield 22, Visalia 7, Irene could be seen among the seats waving Hank’s lucky pants to show Hank they were at the game. We finally won, of course, and if Hank did not wear those lucky pants every game after East Bakersfield, he knew they were in Irene’s handbag.
Wally Flattened, Cal Heightened, Harold Dilbeck
Wallace Mcfall was our quarterback. (We called him Wally then, but that was before he became a high school principal.) The quarterback position in the single wing offense did not possess the pizzazz it held in the T formation. Wally did call our plays, however, and Coach Rossi was cultivating him carefully because, while Wally lusted after a greater ball carrying role, Rossi had him right where he wanted him.
Where he didn’t want him was where I put him during a practice session one night in Mineral King Bowl. We were engaged in an exercise involving a tackler, blocker and ball carrier. I was in the tacklers line, and when my first turn came up I faced Wally as blocker and Ira Chriss as ball carrier. As the ball snapped, I got the jump on Wally, and the angle, as well, and flattened him with a shoulder blow that left him moaning, then tackled Chriss to perform perfectly the role of the tackler in this exercise. What impressed Rossi, however, was not my conquest, but seeing Wally lying flat on his back groaning something about never trying to take Dilbeck head on. The sudden prospect of having his quarterback injured before playing our opening game caused Cal to lose it. He shouted at me asking “What are you doing?” I pointed out to him, somewhat defensively, that I had done my job and tackled the ball carrier. This did not mollify Cal, and we did not resume practice until he felt reassured Wally would survive to play Exeter.
The next morning, he saw me before one of my classes to apologize, saying it had been a bad night for him, his outburst was inappropriate, and he recognized I had done nothing wrong. I accepted his apology, and we parted in good humor, but I decided not to try to flatten Wally anymore during practice. Wallace and I, and some other teammates, continue to amuse ourselves at times with this story. It demonstrated a quality in Cal that made him human to us.
Line Up in Front of the Kicker, Harold Dilbeck
As a consequence of the prior story, during the last practice session before our first game, Coach Rossi looked around and said “Where’s Dilbeck?” I acknowledged my location, and he proceeded to give me a special assignment. “Harold, when Exeter kicks off, I want you to line up in front of their kicker, put your shoulder into him and knock him down. If he gets up, knock him down again. The next time he kicks off, we want him concentrating on you and not the ball he’s kicking.” I did this during the Exeter game, but since we kicked off about seven times to Exeter’s two, I did not get much practice.
The next week we played Hanford, and on their first kickoff I met the kicker at midfield and knocked him down. He got up, I knocked him down again. We were on the third or fourth round of this dance when an official came running up to us blowing his whistle and telling us the play was over. We had been creating our own little drama at midfield to the amusement of the crowd, oblivious that the play had stopped on the north side of the field at Hanford’s 40 yard line.
About four years later, we both happened to be stationed at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station near Santa Ana, CA. He heard I was on the base and came to see me. We had a good laugh about our scene stealing episode.
My Lingering Impression of the Merced Game, Harold Dilbeck
The write-up of the Merced game has the following:
What stopped Melcher was the application of my 177 lb. right shoulder to his 185 lb. right thigh in a collision leaving my right shoulder grateful for a half-time rest. No part of my body felt more stunned the entire season.
Video Scenes at Mooney’s Grove Picnic, 2011