Eligibility rules were a little different when Fowler product John "Casey" Kazanjian played two years at fullback for the first two football teams in Fresno State history. Three years later, he enrolled at Stanford University and played guard for two years. Today, he would have had to complete his four years in a five-year window and probably would have lost a year on the transfer rule, but those were the days when colorful St. Mary's coach Slip Madigan used to pick up players at various locations when the train carrying the Gaels would stop en route for games in the Midwest or East Coast.
Kazanjian was a one-man gang at Fowler High School where he won sixteen letters while participating in the football, baseball, basketball, and track squads. The late Emory Ratcliffe, who helped Arthur W. Jones, with Fresno State's first grid team in 1921, insists Kazaniian could have played fullback on any Bulldog team and was one of the best all-round athletes in the school's history. Ratcliffe's words carry more credibility after what Casey achieved at Stanford. The opposition at Fresno State included high school and junior college teams. Stanford played a strong schedule including bowl games. For all his heroics achieved at Fresno State, Stanford, and later at the San Francisco Olympic Club, Kazanjian gained more publicity in 1,200 professional wrestling matches during a seven-year career.
He was a headliner at Fresno's Ryan Arena, also performing in Madison Square Garden and the Boston Garden. Kazanjian was built like a bull and played sixty minutes for every Fresno State game except one when he sustained a knee injury. Casey was a member of the two Indian Bowl teams but according to statistics in The Rose Bowl Game by Rube Samuelson, Kazanjian didn't get playing time in either game. He did toss the sixteen-pound shot for Stanford and won the Pacific Association championships in 1928 and 1929 in the shot put and hammer throw. He was second in both events at the AAU Nationals. Kazanjian found a home in the four-cornered ring in wildly popular professional wrestling. In 1936, he retired from athletics and became a rancher in the Exeter area, growing peaches, grapes and oranges.
Dale Messer inherited some of his drive to excel from his father, but most of his early sports instruction came from then Island Elementary School principal Marion Jones. Messer became a famous track and football star at Lemoore High School, College of the Sequoias, and Fresno State, through the teaching and inspiration of Jones. The young principal had a wooden leg but few at Island Elementary knew it. Jones had lost his leg to a hay mower at a young age "Mr. Jones-a native of Iowa-was a good athlete," Messer said. "He could hit, run, and play shortstop like anyone else. He played softball and basketball with us at the elementary level. He had a little limp and his ankle wouldn't move, but we never noticed that."
When Messer reached the seventh grade, Jones realized he had a special athlete because of his speed. Jones went to Lemoore track coach Tuffy Burton and got five broken hurdles. Messer's father and Jones repaired the hurdles and Messer took his first step toward winning the state high hurdles championship in his senior year at Lemoore High.
Messer ran the high and low hurdles, long jumped, and ran on the relay teams at Lemoore. He also played baseball in his junior year and he said that's a story in itself. "I would work out in track during my free period and then play baseball at the end of the day," Messer said. "I really enjoyed baseball. I played center field and hit .500 that one year. Then during the state track finals that year, I was leading in the high hurdles, hit the last two hurdles, and finished fifth. That really upset me and I made up my mind no more baseball. I was just going to concentrate on track and it paid off because I won the state highs at Chico. I should have won the 180-yard lows in the Los Angeles Coliseum in my junior year. I was leading over the last hurdle, but Willie White of Centennial High in Los Angeles caught me in the final twenty yards." Messer regrets giving up baseball because he enjoyed it so much and had the feeling he could have gone further in that sport professionally than football. Messer's speed also made him a highly recruited football running back.
University of California was Messer's first choice, but the idea of going to Fresno State, staying closer to home, and being able to play three years won out. "I was married by then and had a summer job in Fresno, but the fact I could play three years after two was the deciding point." Messer said. "Wayne Crow and I played in the high school All-Star football game together and he tried to get me to go to Cal." Football was a different story. Playing three seasons, one under Clark Van Galder and two with Cecil Coleman, Messer set several career, single season, and single game scoring, rushing, and total yards records. He was also an excellent pass receiver, kick-off returner, and defensive back. He led the team in scoring and rushing all three years. He was named the FSC Athlete of the year in 1960. His #21 jersey was retired to honor him. In his senior year, Messer scored twice on runs and twice on pass receptions, all in the first half of a 66-0 blowout against San Diego State. He stayed on the bench in the second half.p This was the day when the Cal Poly football team crashed on takeoff at the Toledo Airport, killing seventeen people and injuring twenty. That tragedy spawned the Mercy Bowl in the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1961, resulting in a historic Fresno State victory against heavily-favored Bowling Green in a 36-6 romp. Proceeds went to Cal Poly's victims' families. Messer had a three-year rushing average of 5.8 yards per carry with twenty-five touchdowns. He scored thirty-five total touchdowns and added twenty points after kicks. His versatility is mirrored in his 3,856 all-purpose yards with 1,912 rushing, 992 receiving, 569 kickoff returns, 297 punt returns and eighty-seven yards on interceptions. When Messer to played his final away game as a Bulldog in muddy Spartan Stadium in November 1960, he was a one-man gang. Veteran San Francisco Examiner sports writer Bob Brachman wrote that, "Dale Messer did everything, but pump up the football."Messer stated, "I scored, intercepted a pass, and quick kicked.
They sent a boy to do a man's job and they got a surprise. Lloyd A. Sciaroni was only a freshman at Fresno High School when he tied the 410 shotshell world record in 1938 at the Western Open Skeet shoot. From 1935 to 1940, Sciaroni competed against the best in California. There was no "junior class," so the young Fresnan was forced to compete against adults. It made little difference because he won a number of state championships in the twelve and twenty-gauge competitions. During 1939 to 1940, SCiaroni was a member of the championship Five-Man National Team. He solidified his ranking by being named to the official All-American team as well as the Sports Afield All-American team. Sciaroni enrolled at Stanford University in 1942 and was captain of the Indian Rifle and Pistol team. With World War lI in full flame, Sciaroni joined the U.S. Air Force where he established a .45 colt automatic course record at the Santa Ana Pre-Flight School and qualified as an expert marksman in all Air Force weapons. During his time as a range officer in Guam, he received a commendation for forming and maintaining a gunnery training program for the 331 Very Heavy Bombardment Group. In 1946, he was a member of the championship All-Pacific Air Force Five-Man team. He later became a recognized medical doctor in Fresno.
Grizzled veteran and pioneer of the Fresno chapter of Ducks Unlimited, J. Martin Winton was known as "Mr. Duck." He probably knew more history about the days of the so-called "market hunters" and the heydays of the Dos Palos and Los Banos Grasslands Duck Clubs than anyone in the local area. Winton testified before Congress on water bills that enhanced the wetlands and protected waterfowl. His many stories about hunters from San Francisco who would take the train to Los Banos, who would spend the weekend partying and shooting ducks, and drive back home to sell the birds to Chinese restaurants on the waterfront. He worked with Tony Coehlo and the Grasslands Association representative who helped Winton pass bills to protect waterfowl and Winton remarked about Tony, "He's our boy."
Winton established Vista Pharmacy across from Roosevelt High School and instituted the idea of delivering products to the customers. Winston's son, Jim, now runs Vista and his grandson Michael owns Winston's Professional Pharmacy. He built one of his first cabins at Huntington Lake and spent a lot of time with his family in that picturesque setting. Winton was instrumental in pushing the building of the San Joaquin Fish Hatchery in Friant. Winton was at the forefront of fish planting in the high country when the fish were carried to the backcountry lakes by burros. He and several other members of the Fresno County Sportsmen's Club accompanied biologists from the State Department of Fish and Game on these trips. Winton also was far ahead of his time in warning that all the pesticide-tainted water sifted off farm lands would be a disaster for waterfowl.