Except for Benicia and Mt. Diablo, there aren’t many high schools around here that have fielded a football team for 100 years. Joining that elite group this season is Alhambra High School, formerly known as Alhambra Union High School.
The Martinez Historical Society has joined with the Martinez News-Gazette, the Old Alhambra Club and the Alhambra High School athletic department and student government to salute the tradition and honor the participants who have represented the community at “home” and “away” for all these years.
The 1909 yearbook, the first Alhambra Torch, pointed out that when the school fielded a team for the third year, half the members were not students. Since there were far fewer boys than girls enrolled, it was customary at many local schools to augment their teams with willing, working young men who obviously had flexible hours. And since there were few formal leagues that lasted for very long, to schedule 3 to 5 games a season was a real feat.
For the first 14 years of competition, Alhambra often played teams where no players were actually enrolled in the local high school. In 1919 a “fair (AUHS) team which lacked experience” went to play Berkeley High School only to be confronted on the field by a team of ex-World War I servicemen who handily beat the brave Alhambra lads. The sting of defeat was soothed by a banquet after the game. But, at least it was a game – the much anticipated 1918 season had been cancelled by the influenza epidemic because all of the participating schools had been closed “until further notice”.
Rugby competed with “American football” as the interscholastic game until the 1920s.
Alhambra students voted against participating in football in 1916 and 1917 because they wanted to play “American football” while a majority of the local schools including Mt. Diablo voted for rugby.
In 1913, Alhambra won the Contra Costa Athletic League Championship defeating Mt. Diablo, a tough competitor over the years, 23-0. Brentwood had to reschedule its game because the Southern Pacific train it boarded for Martinez broke down. But the most amazing team travel story occurred in 1915 when the Alhambra team took the train to Antioch to play Riverview High School. When they arrived, they found out they would have to walk the two miles to the school stadium. On the way, an automobile driver, going quite fast according to the Torch report, lost control and hit members of the team, including some of the senior “stars.” The most apologetic driver drove the injured to the local doctor but the favored Alhambra team lost 10-0 and the rest of the season was affected by the loss of key players.
American football became the game of choice in the 1920s when coaches such as W. B., “Butch” Knowles came to town and inspired so many players over the years that the school’s football field proudly carries his name. Knowles was himself inspired by football icons Glenn “Pop” Warner and Knute Rockne and under his leadership, Alhambra football became a symbol of town pride. Alhambra’s oldest living players, Carmelo Carone and Louie Delchiniof the 1934 season, still honor Coach Knowles as their inspiration.
Other coaches admired by their players to this day include Karl Drexel who began coaching at Alhambra in 1940. Charlie Tourville, himself an Alhambra star in the mid 50s returned as coach in the mid 60s. Tourville coached the one of the most outstanding teams in Alhambra’s century – the l969 undefeated team quarterbacked by Norval Turner. The current coach, Dave Silveira, was honored at the October 3, 2006 game for 25 years of inspirational leadership to Alhambra football players including the school’s first North Coast Championship.
And the stars…Claude Greerty wielded enormous influence in the County and in Sacramento on behalf of Martinez for years as Manager of the Martinez Chamber of Commerce. Today, only those who pore through the old newspapers and yearbooks know that his real claim to fame locally was as “Red” Greerty, star halfback of Alhambra’s 1925 Contra Costa High School League champion team. Anthony Pellegrini in the early 1950s came the closest of any Alhambra player to make it to the NFL but a knee injury suffered while playing football in the Navy ended his career.. During the 1959 season, Mel Carone, son of the 1935 team member Carmelo Carone, was the second highest scorer in the East Bay Division of the Diablo Athletic League and named to the All League first team with Dave Woodridge; Rich McLaughlin, a star on the ’57 and ’58 teams, was a coach, teacher, administrator in the Martinez Unified Schools for many years and Phil Satre on the ’66 team, and Dave Baum and Art Estradaon outstanding Bulldog teams in the 70s, all received football scholarships to Stanford. Satre played on the Rose Bowl team quarterbacked by Jim Plunkett.
And finally, Norval “Norv” Turner, quarterback of the undefeated ’69 team who was backup behind Dan Fouts as a quarterback at Oregon, was an assistant coach under John Robinson at USC, offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboy Super Bowl champion teams of the early 90s, head coach at Washington and Oakland in the NFL and currently the offensive coordinator of the 49ers as they work to make their comeback as an elite team.
Football became so much a part of the town life and of the athletes who participated that for many years under the leadership of the late Ben Griffanti and Sid Lippow and the Cabral brothers, the Alhambra Alumni became a major community organization fielding competitive teams that played other community football teams made up of high school graduates who still wanted to play. The Alumni raised money, sponsored parades and generally provided opportunities for athletes who were not attending a four year college to keep playing for a few more years. The development of the ‘junior colleges’ in the late 1940s supplanted the community team structure. Now Alhambra football alumni belong to a more casual group, Old Alhambra Club, which holds a yearly fundraiser to provide some extra funds to the high school team.