Johnny Baker, an outstanding athlete at Kingsburg High School, etched his name in USC Trojan football history books in 1931 when he booted a thirty-three yard field goal to beat Notre Dame in South Bend and end a twenty- six game Irish win streak. The victory propelled the once-beaten Trojans of coach Howard Jones to the national championship and Baker, a solid guard for three seasons, to the All-American Team.
USC trailed 14-0 with six minutes to play, but cut the Notre Dame lead to 14-13 by driving again. There was one minute left on the clock when Baker broke Irish hearts with his winning kick. It was the first time that USC prevailed over Notre Dame in South Bend. After the game, Jones took his entire team to visit the grave of his friend, legendary coach Knute Rockne in Highland Cemetery. When the Trojans returned home, they were treated to a ticker-tape parade in downtown Los Angeles before several hundred thousand Angelinos. USC used the upset victory to launch an eighteen-game win streak of its own.
Following his graduation from USC, Baker was an assistant coach at Denver University and head coach at Sacramento City College before joining the AirForce. He coached the Fourth Air Force team to the National Service Championship. After his discharge, he was an assistant for the professional Los Angeles Dons and the University of Washington before finding a permanent home in 1951 as head coach of Sacramento State College. In ten years, he built the Hornets into one of the top small school programs in the state. He was elevated to Sacramento State College Athletic Director in 1961. Baker, who died in 1979, was inducted posthumously into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and was in the third class of Trojans from all sports to be inducted into the USC Hall of Fame in May of 1997.
For thirty-five years as Fresno State track and field coach, John Flint Hanner produced five NCAA champions and seven world record holders. His crowning achievement was helping to found the West Coast Relays and installing the lightning-fast clay track in Ratcliffe Stadium. Hanner directed the WCR which earned the title "Where World Records Are Broken" until his retirement in 1960 when he turned the meet over to his successor and most famous student Cornelius "Dutch" Warmerdam. Hanner eventually formed a large committee of loyal helpers, but it was a standing joke that the only vote that counted on any WCR-discussed issue was his and he always said it was unanimous. Even with the Coliseum Relays in Los Angeles, the Compton Relays, San Diego Relays, and Modesto Relays, the Fresno West Coast Relays event was internationally acclaimed. The best relay teams in the country converged in Fresno along with entire teams from USC, UCLA, Cal, and Occidental, providing exciting competition, especially in the sprint relays. Fresno's meet was also the breeding ground for many Olympic and world champions.
Hanner was born May 21, 1898 in Greensboro, North Carolina, but after high school graduation, he found his way west to enroll at Stanford University. His specialty was the javelin throw and he won the event in the first NCAA Championships in 1921. Hanner graduated from Stanford in 1922 and became a coach at Fresno State in 1925. Bob Van Galder, a Bulldog football quarterback who eventually became assistant athletic director, recalls his first close contact with Hanner. "Here I was a twenty-five year old rookie who had just been hired as a coach at Fresno State and they put me in the same office with Hanner, van Galder said. "It was an experience. He was a real character." In the meetings of the West Coast Relays committee, Hanner would make a motion on the way to handle any number of items. There might or might not be any discussion, even some who disagreed, but he would always say the motion is approved as presented. Hanner was a good recruiter and the school was quick to hire Warmerdam, who was an elementary teacher at the time, as an assistant. Because of the presence and expertise of Warmerdam, the school always had good pole vaulters. Hanner tapped the junior colleges for middle and long distance runners and the local high schools for sprinters, hurdlers, jumpers, and throwers.
The dean of California’s boxing and wrestling referees until his retirement earlier this year, Frank Manfredo estimates he officiated more than 3,500 matches in 35 years as "the third man in the ring."
Born in Tyler, Pennsylvania, January 28, 1893, Manfredo was a top boxer himself. A tough featherweight, he began his career in the Pittsburg area and won 14 out of his first 15 fights.
After moving to Fresno, Manfredo fought "bootleg" fights on ranches and in alfalfa fields; boxing was then illegal in California and bouts were held at times and places where the law was least likely to interfere.
One of Manfredo’s most cherished memories is a six-round fight with Kid Beebe, a Madera favorite, on a ranch in western Madera County. "It was 112 degrees in the shade," he recalled years later. "And I can tell you, we weren’t fighting in the shade."
Manfredo hung up his gloves in 1917 to handle his brother Ralph, also a top fighter. Shortly afterward, he began refereeing amateur boxing matches and in 1926, made his debut as a professional referee. During his officiating career, he drove an estimated 350,000 miles to referee boxing and wrestling matches in Central California.
This 1919 Fresno High School graduate became the first sports writer and author to be inducted into the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame. Samuelson rightfully earned the title "Mr. Rose Bowl" after covering the game for three decades. His book The Rose Bowl Game recounted the first fifty years of the New Year's Day classic and today is considered as the most authoritative book on the history of what is called " The Granddaddy of Bowl Games." Samuelson spent fifteen years doing research before writing the book about a tradition which began in 1902. After Fielding "Hurry Up" Yost's point-a-minute Michigan Wolverines chewed up Stanford 49-0 (touchdowns in those days were only five points), Michigan gained 1,463 yards in 142 plays. Yost used just eleven players with the immortal Willie Heston as a decoy. Fullback Neil Snow scored five touchdowns.
Even though the initial game was a financial success, the rout was considered extremely boring. For the next thirteen years, football took a back seat to chariot races during the Tournament of Roses Festival. It wasn't until 1916 that the second Tournament of Roses football classic was played. The game was dubbed the Rose Bowl in 1923 when the stadium seated 52,000 and was horseshoe-shaped. The contest survived two World Wars, a depression, the outbreak of several diseases, and wars in Vietnam and Korea. It was the first bowl game and has been imitated, but not matched, by more than 100 others worldwide. Samuelson was a longtime sports editor for the Pasadena Independent Star-News. During his journalistic career, he was president of the Football Writers Association of America, a member of the president's Physical Fitness Committee, and a member of the Helm's Foundation in Los Angeles. His stories and columns were carried in newspapers from coast to coast. Rube was born in Minneapolis on December 2, 1901, but the family moved to Fresno County when he was still very young. He attended schools in Selma and Fresno before graduating from Fresno High. He became a close friend to John Voenes, who was the first president of the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame and a co-founder of the Hall. At Voenes' invitation, Samuelson emceed the first nine Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame dinners. In 1961, he lost his eyesight due to a mysterious illness but continued to write his daily column and to attend the Hall of Fame dinners.
Nearly 40 years after his graduation, I.F. (Crip) Tooney is still rated one of the top football players ever produced in the San Joaquin Valley.
Born in Fresno on Nov. 10, 1895, Toomey won 10 letters in four major sports and was noted for his ability in track as well as football.
At the University of California, Toomey concentrated on football and was one of the stars of Andy Smith’s "Wonder Teams" of 1919, 1920, and 1921. He started in two Rose Bowl games (against Ohio State in 1921 and Washington & Jefferson in 1922) and set a school record for points after a touchdown that lasted 30 years before it was broken by another Fresno County Athletic Hall of Fame member, fellow Fresno High alumnus Les Richter.
Toomey began his coaching career as UC freshman coach in 1922. He also coached at Hanford and Taft High Schools before taking over as football and basketball coach and athletic director at Cal Aggies (now the University of California at Davis) in 1928. He retired as football coach in 1937 but continued as athletic director until his death on June 28, 1961.
Fresno was a small, young town when Del E. Webb was born in 1899. He learned carpentry as a hobby, but like many young boys of the time, he developed a love for the game of baseball. Webb was born into a family of means, but before Del had completed his freshman year in high school, his father's company developed financial problems. He was forced to drop out of school and become a carpenter's apprentice. He still yearned to become a professional baseball player and only agreed to work for carpentry companies that fielded a baseball team. In 1927 at twenty-eight, Webb contracted typhoid fever. He reluctantly agreed his dream of playing baseball had ended, so he put all his energy into carpentry.
On the advice of a friend, Webb and his wife, Hazel, moved to Phoenix, Arizona to recuperate. He reluctantly agreed his dream of playing baseball had ended, so he put all his energy into carpentry. One year later, he founded his own company. Some of the employees that he hired worked for him for twenty years. His company was at the forefront of numerous defense contracts for the government and he worked on federal peace-time projects following the war. It was then that he met the eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes. Webb joined Hughes and his golfing buddies, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, along with Robert and Barry Goldwater for games of golf. With friends like that and Webb's home-building reputation, it wasn't long before he was receiving contracts in Arizona to build entire towns.
In 1945, the opportunity to invest in the game that he loved presented itself. Del with Dan Topping and Larry MacPhail purchased the New York Yankees. Before selling the storied franchise to CBS in 1964, the Webb-Topping Yankees they bought out MacPhail in 1947) had won fifteen American League pennants and ten World Series. Perhaps Webb's best-known project opened on January 1, 1960. He had taken a cotton field and built Sun City, Arizona, a community designed exclusively for retired people. The opening attracted 100,000 people-five times more than he had hoped. Webb also came back to his hometown to design and build the Del Webb Building in downtown Fresno. Del E. Webb died in 1975 at the age of seventy-six.