Mike Noakes, winningest baseball coach in Central Section history, produced many great teams at Bullard, but this one was his favorite. The Knights went 31-1-1, won the school’s first section championship, had three players -center fielder Rex Hudler, shortstop Dave Meier and pitcher Steve Ellsworth - reach the major leagues, and another player, left fielder Joe Cooper, play in the National Football League.
Reflecting the Knight’s reservoir of talent: Meier, catcher Craig Campbell, second baseman Don Erikson and first basemen Eric Hardgrave would sign to play baseball for Pacific-10 power Stanford, and pitcher Bill Hawkins would sign with the University of California and pitch in the College World Series.
Bullard’s dominance earned it a No.5 national ranking, a No.1 state ranking and the top spot in the heart of Noakes, a 1996 Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame inductee and a two-time national coach of the year.
The Knight’s tie came against San Joaquin Memorial in a game called because of darkness, and they later defeated the Panthers 11-0 with Phil Flanigan on the mound. The lone loss was inflicted 3-2 by McLane. Other than that, the Knights were perfect - even rallying from an eight-run deficit by scoring nine runs in their last at-bat without making an out to edge Madera 14-13.
The team: Asst. Coach Keith Herzog, Mitch Eisner, Craig Campbell, Asst. Coach Jon Anabo, Head coach Mike Noakes, Rob Baldwin, Kelly Brown, Steve Ellsworth, Don Erickson, Steve Nichols, Mgr. Mike Bird, Pat Millett, Bob Smith, Philip Flanigan, Joe Cooper, Dave Meier, Mike Cornelisen, Kevin Hirayama, Nick Papagni, Lee Jacobsen, Jim Papac, Scott Fjelstad, Rex Hudler.
Fresno can claim Mike Agostini as one of its own after the world-class sprinter flew into town on a whim. Agostini, who once owned the title of "The Fastest Man in the World," competed in the Melbourne Olympics and was ranked among the top ten sprinters in the world by Track & Field News for seven straight years from 1953-1959. Currently, Agostini lives in Australia where he has authored ten books after having his own radio and television shows in Sydney during the 1960s. He founded the Sydney Marathon and is Executive Director of the Sydney-to-Melbourne Ultra-Marathon.
Soccer was the family game of choice in Trinidad. His father was captain of the soccer team for the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in the 1930s and all of his sons dominated the sport in high school, but they also competed against each other in foot races and set school speed records. Mike chose to pursue track and field. Agostini was Trinidad and Tobago’s Ages 14-16 National Champion. He was top-ranked in the Ages 16-19 group while only fifteen and won his first national title at age seventeen. He traveled to Kingston, Jamaica in 1952 to run against U.S. and Jamaican Olympians Harrison Dillard, Andy Stanfield, and Herb McKenley. He beat Stanfield and also Jim Gathers to become a world-famous prodigy. The following year he equaled Jesse Owens’ world Under-19 record of 9.4 seconds for 100 yards in Kingston. He was called by a British track and field magazine, "the world’s fastest schoolboy."
Agostini was heavily recruited and chose Villanova University with veteran coach Jumbo Elliott. In his first indoor meet at the Boston Gardens, he defeated Olympic 100-meter champion, Lindy Remigino, and Andy Stanfield in the 200-meter with spikes borrowed from Harrison Dillard. But Fresno was soon to be his home. "After one season, I had it up to my gut with the cold weather and heavy emphasis on Roman Catholicism, so I decided to transfer," Agostini said. "I met Fresno coach Flint Hanner at a meet and he urged me to come to Fresno." Hanner received a call at his home at five a.m. one morning. It was Agostini, who had arrived unannounced at the Fresno airport. "I told Coach Hanner, ‘I’m here.’ So he came, picked me up and took me to his house. The next morning, I enrolled in school and he took me to a dormitory. It was the beginning of a productive three years."
Agostini said some of the best years of his life were those spent at Fresno State where he enrolled in 1954 and competed for three seasons. During his sophomore year, Agostini raced in the third Pan American Games in Mexico City, winning a silver in the 100 meters and a bronze in the 200 meters. He also won the first of three straight California Collegiate Athletic Association 100- and 220-yard races for the Bulldogs. Agostini also ran on the Fresno sprint relay teams.
In 1956 at the opening of the new track at Bakersfield College, he ran a world record 20.1 seconds in the 220-yard race. The mark was never recognized because there were not enough AAU officials timing the race. Fresno State Assistant Coach Dutch Warmerdam had to fill in. Next, he competed against Dave Sime of Duke University in a special meet in Sanger. Sime set a world record of 20 seconds flat for 200 yeards and Agostini was second at 20.3.
During the CCAA championships in Long Beach, he equaled the world 100-yard record of 9.3 seconds, but once again, it was not recognized due to the same lack of AAU timers. Several timers had gone to the Los Angeles Coliseum to see the great Australian miler John Landy run. Agostini finished third in the NCAA championships and earned All-American honors. He represented Trinidad in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics placing sixth in the 100 meters and fourth in the 200.
In 1957, he badly injured his right knee while trying to do the triple jump, but he won his third straight CCAA sprints title to conclude his senior year. He then went to Cardiff, Wales for the Commonwealth Games to compete for Canada (Trinidad was unable to finance a team) and captured the bronze medal in the 100. Always a free spirit, he left Fresno State two units short of graduation and traveled the world. He represented the West Indies Federation in the Chicago Pan-Am Games and won a silver in the 100 meters behind Ray Norton and a bronze in the 200. His motto? "Have spikes, will run."
Bobby Fries spent two years in the Marines after graduation from Fresno State where he competed as a distance runner. He coached track and field for thirty-six years beginning in 1955 at Fowler High School where he started the school’s cross country team. In 1956, he took over the track and field and cross country teams at Fresno High School where he spent nine years. His cross country teams were undefeated for five years and won League and Valley championship titles. Fries' dual meet record was 35-5 and his 4 X 880-meter relay team missed the national record by less than a second on two occasions.
Bobby was hired by Fresno City College in 1965 and coached there for over twenty-six years. During his tenure at Fresno City, he won fourteen conference track and field championships, three Northern California titles, and was runner up in the state meet in 1970. His dual meet record was 159-36. He also helped to popularize women's running competitions, leading the women's cross country team to a second place finish in the 1978 State Meet and seven conference titles. The ladies had a 30-8 dual meet record.
As an instructor with the Olympic Development Team clinics, Fries gained respect from his fellow coaches by being able to teach them how to pole vault in just one hour. During the eight years he was associated with the clinics, he also taught sprints, triple jump, and distance running. Bobby was ranked number one instructor by his peers and the coaches he worked with. Fries had the ability to convey his enthusiasm for competing and winning to his athletes, inspiring them on to greater athletic achievement. He said one of his fondest memories was coaching 5'5'" sprinter, Jeremiah Wheeler. At Fresno City College, Fries worked hard to lengthen Wheeler's stride and taught him to "pop the track" and not just run over it. Within one year, Jeremiah took less strides in the 100-meter race than runners that were 6' tall. Wheeler made it the finals of the Olympic Trials, but lost a spot on the U.S. team by inches. Wheeler's best time was 10.17.
Coach Fries also mentored Olympic gold medal 4 x 400 relay winner Maxie Parks as well as NCAA and AAU champion hurdler Jery Wilson, who won two state JC titles and ran 13.4 in the high hurdles. Along with his tenure on the Olympic Development Team, Fries said another career highlight was being selected to coach the 1977 United States Indoor Track Team in Milan, Italy. Fries was inducted into the State Community College Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2000. His legacy in Fresno was founding and organizing the Father's Day Run which attracted thousands of participants for over forty consecutive years.
Fries learned to play golf when he was a caddy starting in 1940 at Sunnyside Country Club. In 1972, he decided to see how fast he could play eighteen holes. He carried just five clubs and ran between swings, shooting 81 and finishing in fifty-two minutes. Three months later, Jim O'Neal, with the help of three runners, claimed a world record of forty-seven minutes. Pat Ogle, who worked at Channel 24, urged Fries to try and break the world record. With the help of Hall, Nicholas, and Fertig who were his runners, they blazed around Fort Washington Golf Course in 38:12, shooting 81 and setting the world record.
Fries won three club championships at Fort Washington with his third title coming at the age of sixty-eight. He has qualified for the Senior Northern California Cup team seven times from 1999 to 2006. In 1994, he shot 72 at Sunnyside Country Club to qualify to play in the U.S. Senior Open championship in Pinehurst, North Carolina where he played a practice round with Gary Player. By 2008, Fries had made eight holes-in-one and in 2009, he made four that year to bring his total to twelve. Fries started scoring his age when he was sixty-seven and stopped counting at 150. He shoots his age almost every day and holds a handicap between two and four. In both track and golf, Fries combined his skills as a student of the sport with natural athletic talent and intuition.
George Holland displayed his talent early when he won the Grand National 80cc Modified Expert Class Motocross at age eleven in 1977. But that was just the beginning for the Kerman resident, who became a legend in his sport before an injury forced his retirement prior his 25th birthday. By fourteen, Holland had won some 200 trophies and a Suzuki sponsorship. His successes quickly outgrew the family trophy case. In 1980, he jumped to the forefront of the sport with something no one else has ever been able to accomplish: he won every motocross in his age class during the National Motorsport Association Championships in Ponca City, Oklahoma.
Holland continued to triumph after turning professional in 1982 with a fearless performance that netted him AMA Rookie of the Year in the 125cc class at the Outdoor Nationals and the 250cc division in the Indoor Nationals. Forced to sit out the 1983 season with a broken leg, Holland returned to the top echelon of the sport in 1985, winning the 125cc Outdoor Nationals in Gainesville, Florida, and finishing third for the season in his class. These wins set the stage for a monstrous year in 1986. The highlights were two AMA victories and the 125cc World Motocross Grand Prix title in Suzuka, Japan. Now established as an international celebrity, he won three AMA events in 1987 and finished fourth in the 250cc Indoor Supercross Stadium Series.
Holland and other motocross super stars of his era paved the way for today's highly popular and equally dangerous X Games. In 1988, Holland showed no signs of the wear and tear on his body when as a member of the American Honda team, he captured four 125ce AMA events, the season championships and the coveted first place for the following season. He also rode bigger bikes often enough to place third in a 250cc Supercross indoor event. Holland's rocket-like rise to fame ended in 1989 when after taking the title at three national events and leading the season points total, he injured his left shoulder at Mt. Moris, Pennsylvania. This injury and a sore left knee gave him no option, but retirement.
Professional Athletes often try to hang on to their careers, even after their playing skills have diminished, but Rodney Horn, an All-American from Fresno, walked away from football just as his career was taking off. Horn played at Hoover High School, University of Nebraska and two years with the Cincinnati Bengals in the National Football League. His last game was the zenith for NFL players, Super Bowl XVI at the SilverDome in Pontiac, Michigan, where the Bengals lost to the San Francisco 49ers. Three days after that 1982 game, he told team officials he would not be back, so they could draft someone else to fill his position. He went on to pursue a career focused on his other passion, natural resources.
Horn was born in Fresno. He was a three-sport athlete at Hoover, excelling in football, wrestling, and track and field. He dropped wrestling his senior year, but set a school shot-put record of 63'7" that still stands. He placed fifth in that event at the Junior Nationals held in Peoria, Illinois, but football was his premier sport. By graduation, he was 6'4" and weighed 260 pounds and was named a Parade magazine All-American. He had offers from Utah State and Nebraska, and considered Washington State, but Horn was impressed with the Nebraska facilities and Coach Tom Osborne.
After playing on the freshman team, he started at defensive tackle the next three seasons. "I am really glad I chose Nebraska because I was able to major in my second love and receive a Bachelor's of Science degree in natural resources and-except for the years I worked for billionaire Steve Forbes on his huge Montana ranch. I have been in Nebraska," Horn said.Horn was Nebraska's weight-lifter of the year as a freshman. During his three varsity seasons, he was a real force for Osborne's teams, which went 28-6 and played in the Orange, Cotton, and Liberty Bowls. He was named the defensive MVP in the Senior All-Star Bowl. "The things I remember most about Rod were his strength, speed and competitiveness," Osborne said. "He could eat amazing amounts of food. His other quality was that he was a tough person to handle on the field, but a gentle giant off the field."
The Bengals drafted him in the third round in 1980, and Coach Forrest Gregg took the Bengals from the basement to the penthouse in just two years' time. Gregg was surprised by Horn's decision to leave the team after just two years. After all, the 6'4", 268-pounder had been the starting nose guard following his graduation from Nebraska, but Horn was impressed with the way Gregg responded to his decision.
Gregg knew of Horn's keen interest in natural resources, a profession he had spent summers learning in Wyoming. Gregg told Horn: "I've always thought that football was a springboard for the next event in life." Horn said Gregg's words resonated with him. "What he said is true," he said during a 2006 interview. "Football is a young person's game and you can play it only so long. I had been involved in contact sports for twelve years, over half of my life. It was a great experience, as a team, to go to the Super Bowl. We would have liked to have won, but it was quite a feat for a team that had been sub-par for so many years. lt was a tremendous two years. We had a lot of great athletes on the defensive line."
After leaving the Bengals, Horn worked on Forbes ranch, where he policed the large herds of elk and other animals. He also raised the ire of some poachers, and decided he was a pretty big target. As a family man, he decided to quit. Today, he lives in the tiny town of Sidney, where he is General Manager of the South Platte Natural Resources District of Nebraska. Horn was inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame in 2003.
Picture a smiling Irishman with a cigar protruding from the side of his jaw and you have Tom Menan. Meehan has worn many different hats, met more world-recognized people, and tried more professions than anyone around. He did everything from promoting a Chocolate Thunder candy bar for NBA client Darryl Dawkins to receiving a private audience with Pope John Paul II in the Vatican. This Portland, Maine-born bundle of energy came to The Fresno Bee from the Hanford Sentinel, where he was sports editor, and stayed eleven years, covering everything he knew about and some things he didn’t. He has more stories than a mystery writer about his two years in the Marines, the highs and lows of managing well-known professional athletes, and as a police officer for a year in Port Hueneme.
One job offer he regrets turning down was from Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis to become Raiders General Manager in 1978. The Bee was far and away his longest stay on any single job, although he managed athletes for twenty years. He always had something else in the back of his mind days while performing whatever he was doing at the time. One of the first athletes that he signed was Daryle Lamonica, the former Clovis High star whom he had recruited for Notre Dame. Lamonica became an All-American at the Golden Dome and the "Mad Bomber" during an “All-Pro career quarterbacking the Oakland Raiders. In the late 1980s, he branched out to representing entertainers and had several movie ideas, but the Russians, who were going to finance the proposed films, backed out. During President Jimmy Carter’s administration, he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to the United Towns Organizations, a worldwide project headquartered in Paris to promote peace. While in the Marines, he met the likes of Ted Williams. Jerry Coleman, and Lloyd Merriman. He was the founder, general manager, and president of the professional basketball team, the Fresno Stars of the Western Basketball Association. He received numerous awards including the John Euless Hot Stove League trophy. Currently, he is a proud husband, father and grandfather and loves to reminisce about the good ole days.
A quick 5-foot-4 point guard with a flair for big plays, Martell led Fresno State women’s basketball team to prominence in the 1980s, as the Bulldogs won 81 of 118 games during her four seasons.
She was a hit the moment she stepped into the South Gym following a standout career at North High in her hometown of Bakersfield. Before the school retired her No. 34 jersey, she would rewrite Fresno State’s women’s record book - setting 14 marks, earning All-America honors and being named the 1987 Pacific Coast Athletic Association Player of the Year. She left Fresno State having scored 1,595 points.
Martell averaged 13.6 points and 4.1 assists per game and made 78%of her free throws during her career. But the numbers offer only a hint of her importance to the women’s progrm. Martell’s wizardry helped the Bulldogs attract the sellout crowds to the tiny gym holding about 900 fans, and her glowing personality made her a role model for children and teenagers throughout the San Joaquin Valley.
Wrote the Bee’s Ron Orozco in 1987: "They stood in line to get her autograph or catch one of her smiles up close after every FSU home game. High school girls tried again and again to pull off ‘Wendy’ moves in their games. Anything to be like Wendy."
Said her coach, Bob Spencer, when she became the first Fresno State female athlete to have her number retired: "There is no one who has done more for the women’s basketball program at Fresno State than Wendy Martell." In 2001, she was honored as one of Fresno State’s greatest 25 athletes of the 20th century.
Martell excelled in the classroom, too. She made the Academic All-American team in 1987, graduated with a 3.7 grade-point-average as a physical-education major and won an NCAA postgraduate scholarship as Fresno State’s PCAA Scholar/Athlete of the Year.
Following her senior year, Martell signed to play in France. An Achilles’ tendon injury ended her professional basketball aspirations, so she returned to college, earning a Master’s Degree in marriage and family counseling.
In 1989, Wendy married Lance Taylor and they have four children: Bailey, McKenna, Sawyer, and Reese.
When Billy Vukovich III was fifteen years old, he announced to his parents that he wanted to drive race cars for a living. It was not a surprising goal: he was the son of racing champion and veteran Indianapolis 500 participant Bill Vukovich, Jr. and the grandson of racing legend and two-time Indy 500 winner Bill Vukovich. Still, Bill Jr. was concerned for his son. He knew of the dangers that lurked around the corners and on the straight aways of the racetracks when driven at such incredible speeds. He had firsthand experience as a driver of these fast machines, and remembered what it was like for him, at age twelve, to lose his father to a terrible racetrack accident. Bill Sr. was on his way to winning a third consecutive Indianapolis 500 title when he was killed.
He certainly didn't want to lose his son. But Billy lll persisted and showed that he was willing to take it one step at a time and learn everything about the racing business. He started out working as a member of the crew, learning the dynamics of racing, and then drove midgets, modifieds and super-modifieds. He was a fast learner and had a good "feel" for the track. In time, his father and mother, Joyce, could see that he was a talented driver, and as the championships started to pile up, they recognized that he was accomplished in the art of racing as well as its technical aspects.
Billy began his professional racing career in 1981 at the age of eighteen. He won numerous championships in Central California and collected Rookie of the Year awards in idgets, modifieds and hen supermodifieds in 1982 and 1983. His first major race was in 1984 at the Phoenix Speedway the next couple of years, Billy dominated the United States Auto Club’s super-modified division, winning twelve of the seventeen races while tying the ESAC record for consecutive victories held by Hall of Famer A.J. Foyt. This record earned Billy a shot at Indy, and he was ready.
In 1988, Billy finished 14th in his first Indianapolis 500 race, earning the Indy Rookie of the Year award, just like his dad had in 1968. His appearance at "The Brickyard" also established the Vukovich trio as the first three-generation Indy 500 family. The next year, Billy finished 12th in the world-famous race and in 1990, a blown engine forced him out and he finished 24th. At twenty-seven years old, Bill had gained recognition as a premier driver who would be a main focal point of auto racing for years to come. A little over five months later, in November 1990, Billy died while testing a sprint car at the Mesa Marin track in Bakersfield.
His death was shocking. Not only did he have a great future ahead of him in racing, he was known for his unassuming and kind manner. His untimely death saddened so many, from his hometown of tiny Ahwahnee to race fans throughout the world. At Yosemite High School, where Billy Ill graduated in 1981, the auto shop is named in his honor, as is the school's new electric signboard, which greets students and visitors every day. His parents put on a golf tournament in his name every year that raises half a million dollars for the school in scholarships as well as various other charities. The many friends and fans will never forget the smile and easy-going manner of Billy Vukovich III.