Photo Gallery-Photo Credits to Paul Shanklin, Rafael Maldonado and Bob Ponce.
Coach Don Volpi is interviewed by KNBC-TV sportscaster Tommie Hawkins following the win over Katella in a game televised throughout Southern California.
Coach Volpi tragically died much too young at the age of 49 on March 3, 1983 while playing in a recreational league game. Here is a link to an article about his induction into the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table Hall of Fame.
First major memory:
Night or two before our first game of the season (against the Agoura Knights, whom we knew nothing about as they were a new school from Ojai or somewhere small like that); the Boys Clubers were playing trampoline basketball (trampoline is placed under the basket, players pass the ball around and shoot it in an attempt to score against a goal tending defender). Minor injuries are common, jammed fingers, cut hands, but then Richard Stein slams against the rim, slicing his noggin open and requiring several stitches to sew up the gash. I am mad as all get out. Not because Stein may be out for our first game, that was no big deal in my mind (sorry Rich, but my first thought, with a shrug of the shoulders, was “well I guess Hope is starting and Danny’s moving to forward”. No, I was upset because I knew we would never get to play trampoline basketball again and it was such an awesome game!!!…..Sure enough, they took the trampoline down and I never remember playing again; something about it being toooo dangerous. (Only if you’re an uncoordinated geek said I!).
I’m still mad about that, but then that was the nature of our team. For all that mamby-pamby newspaper talk about togetherness and closeness, the truth be told, we were only tolerant of each other as long as you didn’t say something stupid, do something stupid, and/or failed to pull your own (self and group perceived) weight. Heaven help you if you slipped up in one of the above categories; it was verbal wolves to the flesh and leave the bones lying. And Richard (having done something stupid and on the verge of not being ready for that first game) was about to be given a good dose of our group love. So no one was surprised when Rich suited up (with only a minor complaint of a slightly head splitting headache). If memory serves me well, he ended up playing very well and we practically shut out a very weak Agoura team 51-9! Now that was playing defense with no mercy and still has to stand as a school record (if anyone keeps track of such things or even cares).
When it came to basketball, there was no such thing as sympathy in this group. Everybody thought they could play (they could) and everybody wanted to play (they couldn’t, only so much playing time). So that’s why I said we only tolerated each other. The underlining theme on this team was play hard, play good, and don’t mess up or everyone could and would jump on you; and someone else was more than ready and willing to step in for you. Our practices were consistently fierce and physical, with no love loss between certain individuals; Marc and Irving taking on Rich and Scott (at different times, in different combo’s), Barc and Danny going at it, Steve and Bruce, myself and anyone who played opposite me, but especially Greg (For some reason, I just loved to try and pound on him; probably because he was the only guy on the team who was just as skinny and slow as me). Just pairing the above names together brings back images of fore arm shivers, body slams, with plenty of yelling and swearing (under the breath, as only Stein would dare the wrath of Volpi with an occasional primordial scream of “f–k”).
Next up was getting demolished by Crescenta Valley in the fourth or fifth game of the year and just as we were beginning to think we were pretty darn good. (It’s funny how many of my memories were the same as Barc’s. I guess we were on the same team after all). They were bigger, faster, stronger, and better than we were. It was a very humbling experience, but I also think it was a very good experience in that are resolve to become a good team got even stronger. From that point on we never let up until we had clinched league and a very good Santa Maria team whipped our butts.
After that game we ended up playing Santa Barbara (a team I disliked greatly in that they always seemed to beat us and they had the arrogant, later to become a friend, Don Ford). At the end of the game we were down by one, I ended up with the ball as time was running out and had to take the last shot. I missed, but was very relieved and thankful that Scott and Richard tipped the ball in at the same time (they probably still would argue on which one tipped it in) as time expired. It was a great win for us as we got the Santa Barbara mystique off our backs.
I guess that’s why when we drilled Santa Barbara by “20” something a week or so later it was such a surprising break through for us. It was also such a fun game, seeing the looks of frustration in the faces of the team that had always destroyed us and tormented us.
Of course that was just the basketball. The biggest impression in that game was the huge hickey on Richard’s neck (yes he was our emotional leader). In my 30+ years of playing, coaching, and teaching I have never seen a larger one than that. It was indescribably large (Barc came closest with his size of the Russian map analogy, but even that wasn’t adequate). I remember looking at it with not a little bit of admiration. I mean it had to have taken some time to make. What also astounded me was I had no clue about who had given it to him. I remember thinking to myself how little I had seen of Rich off the court, since the basketball season had started. It was a “big” (no pun intended) revelation for me, in that I was still hanging out at the Boys Club and he had moved on to bigger and in my mind perhaps much better things. Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but somehow the thought of that made me play even harder than I normally did. I rate the second SB game as one of my top ten favorites. Thanks, Rich.
I really don’t have time to go through any more of the season. I have a job, wife, kids, and I’m not a writer. Suffice it to say it was one of those highlight seasons that you wish everyone could experience. Of course, when you realize that the season was really about the people involved with it and the friendships you make, then every season has parts of such a season every year. We were just blessed in that we had it all.
Seeing how I type two words a minute this is a major undertaking. There were so many great memories of that season. I remember we were all a little disappointed how badly we played in the finals at the sports arena. As we were watching the 4-A game between Verbum Dei and Crescenta it felt like we were the JV team. But the memories of the championship are very sweet today as I look back. I think the greatest memory I have is the wonderful friendship we had with one another. Barclay and I are still best friends to this day and I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone tomorrow night. I’ll list some of my highlights of the season.
We held a reunion at Richard Stein’s house in Santa Barbara on March 31, 2001. I had an original tape of the championship game, ugly as it was, and it was delightful how quickly we fell back into a hilarious critique of each other’s efforts. As you recall there was plenty to laugh about in that game, mostly on the shooting side. Surprisingly, besides the “short” shorts and our methodical, boring offense, I was surprised how tough we STILL looked defensively after all this time!
I’ll give you a few scenes that are “freeze-framed” in my mind from that year…
What made us so good? We all loved to play, and we all, despite some aforementioned jealousies, pretty much liked each other. There was enough “evenness” in talent to make practices intensely competitive. Mostly though, while not the most terrific bunch of athletes ever assembled, we were a HIGHLY INTELLIGENT group that really KNEW the game of basketball and particularly the subtleties and nuances of outstanding TEAM DEFENSE. The FEELING of what we often experienced that year has been elusive in athletics and later in life, but that feeling has been what I have strived for since as I have built my professional career and tried to instill some of the same qualities that came so naturally to that group.
Thanks for listening to my sharing!
SANTA BARBARA NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER
For several hours last Saturday, Richard Stein’s living room harked back over 30 years to the gym at the Goleta Boys’ Club. That’s where those Dos Pueblos High kids could be found playing basketball around the clock.
Even during the season, when they had practices and games, they’d go to the Boys’ Club at night to get in some extra playing time together.
Even during the season, when they had practices and games, they’d go to the Boys’ Club at night to get in some extra playing time together.
“They were gym rats,” said Sal Rodriguez, who opened the doors for them. “Eventually I had to kick them out so I could go home.”
Their passion for the game paid off in the 1970-71 season, when the Dos Pueblos Chargers went 27-2 and captured the CIF 3-A basketball championship.
“All the time we played together is what made us a great team,” said Stein, the team’s leading scorer. “We played more basketball in a week than I’ve played in the last 20 years.”
The 30th anniversary reunion marked the first time the Chargers had gotten together since their high school days. Stein, a local dentist, hosted nine former teammates at a dinner party in his Montecito home. They remembered when. . .
. . . They went across town to play the Santa Barbara Dons, with future NBA player Don Ford, and they scored a stunning 70-47 victory. “That was the point where we believed we were a good team,” Stein said.
. . . They won DP’s first championship of the old Santa Barbara County League, topping strong foes from Santa Maria, Righetti and Arroyo Grande.
. . . A capacity crowd in Westmont’s Murchison Gym watched them defeat Fermin Lasuen and Bob Gross, a future Portland Trail Blazer, 69-57 in the CIF quarterfinals.
. . . They faced Katella in the semis, a game televised by KNBC, with Ross Porter and Tommy Hawkins calling the action. After spotting Katella an 8-0 lead, the Chargers roared back to win 64-50.
. . . They smothered Bellflower 49-40 in the championship game, the opener of a doubleheader before 12,000 fans at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
“It was a pretty ugly game,” Stein said. “Our defense won it for us. I remember watching the 4-A final between Verbum Dei and Crescenta Valley and feeling like we were a JV team.”
That’s not the way athletes usually remember their glory days, but another distinguishing feature of the Chargers was their acumen. Only two of them went on to play basketball at four-year colleges — center Bruce Coldren at Oregon and guard Tom Henderson at UC Davis — but all of them have become productive citizens.
Their elders — people who were about the same age they are now — used to wonder if anything good could come out of the rebellious youth of the early ’70s. Don Volpi, the coach of the Chargers, recalled 10 years after the championship that “our school was getting flack from the community about being Hippie High.”
Volpi, who graduated from UCSB in 1960 after serving in the Air Force, was an old-school coach. Mark Looker, a student manager, recalled an incident at a DP practice: “Volpi sat down next to Stein and put his finger on Stein’s sideburns (such as they were) and said, ‘What do you think you’re trying to get away with?’ as if he were Charles Manson himself. . . That incident so incensed me that I wrote an essay about it for my English class saying something to the effect that Volpi was a fascist and how repressive team sports was.”
But the players grudgingly accepted Volpi’s discipline on the basketball court.
“We had friction with the coach because we wanted to play up-tempo, run and gun,” Stein said. “But then we lost to Crescenta Valley (70-46) early in the season, and we realized we couldn’t win playing that style. Volpi was a much better coach than we gave him credit for at the time.”
Stein would have liked to express that appreciation to Volpi’s face, but the coach died of a heart attack during a recreational basketball game on March 3, 1983. He was 49. Paul Yarbrough, another student manager during the championship year, covered the story for the News-Press. He is now a newspaper editor in Eugene, Ore.
Another person sadly missing from the reunion was Danny Melendez, a starting guard who could go on a tear with his line-drive jump shots. Melendez died in an auto accident on April 12, 1979.
Stein would like to hear from forward Scott Roberts. He left the area a couple years ago, and nobody knows what became of him. Reserve guard Brent McClurg was unable to attend the reunion. There were 10 former players on hand, enough to play five-on-five with their memories:
Stein (6-foot-3) moved to Goleta as a sophomore from Princeton, N. J. (“I caught free throws from Bill Bradley”), played some ball at City College, then concentrated on his studies. He has been a dentist here for 20 years.
Coldren (6-7) scored 25 points in the championship game. The only junior in the starting lineup, he had a deadly outside shot that later sparked Oregon to an upset of UCLA. He is athletic director at Lowell (Ore.) High. “Any team that has ever been successful has always been really close,” he said.
Henderson (6-0), also an AD at San Juan High in Fair Oaks: “We thought the championship was important at the time, but the big thing is the friendships you make. Basketball was the vehicle.”
Barclay Hope (6-0), president of a nationwide natural foods distributor: “Everybody knew their place on the team. We had talent –Stein and Coldren — and a lot of good role players. There were some tensions, but overall the chemistry was good.”
Marc Melendez (6-2), assistant golf pro at the Valley Club and Danny’s younger brother: “There wasn’t a selfish person on the team. You don’t see that nowadays.”
Greg Hanson (6-1 1/2), working in local real estate: “I helped push the seniors in practice and was able to start the next year. I remember seeing Lewis Brown of Verbum Dei at the Sports Arena, a 6-9, 230-pound center. He was smoking a cigarette while getting his ankle taped.”
Bill Irving (6-1 1/2), a building contractor in Anacortes, Wash.: “I was glad to hang on and watch these guys play. My elbow gave Scott Roberts stitches before the Katella game and got him going (Roberts scored 18 in the semifinal win).”
Steve Terry (6-2 1/2), a corrections officer living in Placerville: “Everything we did was with the team in mind.”
The presence of Richard Elliott and Jimmy Smit at the reunion was a testament to the closeness of the ’71 Chargers. They were among the kids playing in the Boys’ Club all summer, but neither suited up for the team. “I went to every practice because I didn’t want to mess up the team chemistry,” said Elliott, a carpenter who has two children at Dos Pueblos. Smit is owner of O’Malley’s Bar. He was the last player to see their coach. “I was a city firemen for six years,” he said. “One night we responded to a code blue at the SBCC gym. It was Volpi.” Sad and sweet, 30 years of memories poured out Saturday night. Thirty years. To think that as young people, they were told not to trust anybody who’d lived that long.