The Gym Rats Ruled

In 1971, when Dos Pueblos won a CIF title…





Photo by Dave King, Santa Barbara News-Press. The 1971 CIF basketball champs from DP thirty year reunion.

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.

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