Perhaps the most dominating basketball teams in the Central Section history, the Panthers of Coach Tom Cleary won not only back-to-back section titles but also twice reigned supreme in the Tournament of Champions, the precursor of the state championship.
No central San Joaquin Valley team had played in the TOC until the ‘72 Panthers, fresh off a section championship victory over top-ranked East Bakersfield, earned an invitation in the tournament’s 26th year. Led by future NBA first-round draft pick Clifton Pondexter, Ben Lee and Dave Wenig, SJM swept over all three games, including a 61-41 victory over Hayward in the title game at the Oakland Coliseum. Cleary would shout, “Two in a row” to his team and Panthers fans the next season. His team swept again, claiming another TOC title with a 70-65 victory over Berkeley High before a tournament-record crowd of 32,047 at the Coliseum.
The All-American Pondexter scored 24 points against Berkeley, but it was a total team performance, as forward Nelson Beazley added 18 points and eight rebounds, guard Kevin Caston scored 20 points and Sam Pondexter had a team-high 14 rebounds.
The Panthers’ record over two seasons: 52-7 overall, 20-0 in the North Sequoia League, 12-0 in postseason playoffs and the TOC.
The players: Bill Allen, Nelson Beazley, Joe Bremer, Kevin Caston, Brian Cleary, Exell Cooper, Ron DeLuca, Dave Dunklin, Mike Durham, Robert Emler, Dennis Frye, Chuck Kass, Ben Lee, Bob McGuire, Richard Ochoa, Mark Paolercio, Pat Pardini, Clifton Pondexter, Sam Pondexter, Mike Trotter, Dave Wenig, coach: Tom Cleary, manager: Frankie Esquivel.
An interest in sports that began as a youngster listening to basketball games on the radio became a passion that produced a complete and accurate history of high school athletics in the central San Joaquin Valley.
Barnett began researching and documenting Valley high school sports in 1985 after being asked to help with the Edison High School Wall of Fame. He was soon poring over old newspaper articles -- some dating to the 1890s -- and expanding his records to other schools.
Central Section Commissioner Meritt Gilbert recognized Barnett’s talents and work ethic and named him the section’s official historian in 1992. Barnett filled a huge need in documenting the feats of high school athletes. Until he jumped to the task, local schools had incomplete or inaccurate records based on well-intentioned but hazy memories.
A stickler for accuracy, Barnett approached his work with this motto: "You don’t do hearsay. You have to prove it."
Barnett teamed with Nelson Tennis, founder of Cal-Hi Sports to incorporate records set by Central Section athletes and teams into the state record book. During an era when girls’ athletic were expanding, he devoted as much attention to their accomplishments as he did boy’s athletics.
At the time of his induction, Barnett had authored records books for football (1991), boys’ and girls’ basketball (1996) and baseball/softball (2000). In addition, Barnett and his wife, Norma, turned one room of their house into an unofficial Central Section Hall of Fame that includes Bob’s research and framed photos of championship teams.
In 2001, Barnett was honored with the Distinguished Service awards from the California Interscholastic Federation and, in 2005, he received the Lifetime Achievement award from the Fresno County Office of Education.
His name is synonymous with championships, defense, hustle, durability, and clutch 3-point shots for the San Antonio Spurs during their run to NBA glory during the 2000s.
A self-made player who wasn’t drafted out of Cal State-Fullerton, the 6-foot-7, 200-pound swingman played two years in France and had early stints with Miami, Boston, and Philadelphia. In his second stay with Miami, Bowen developed into a lock-down perimeter defender and improved his 3-point accuracy.
Signed by the Spurs, he became the glue of the team’s defense and a key contributor to the team’s three NBA titles during the decade (2003, 2005, 2007). Bowen was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive Team eight consecutive seasons, including first-team honors from 2004-08. That puts him in company with such elite swingmen as Scottie Pippen, Bobby Jones, John Havlicek, and Micheal Cooper.
From 2002 through2008, Bowen played in 500 consecutive games, a streak that prompted Sports Illustrated to name him the “Iron Man of the NBA.” In 2003, he led the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage (44.1) and finished his 13-year career at 39.3% on 2,082 3-pointers.
His NBA career regular-season averages: 6.1 points, 1.2 assists, 2.8 rebounds per game. Having overcome difficult family circumstances as a child, Bowen set up a scholarship foundation and is a two-time winner of the NBA Community Assist Award. After retiring, he joined ESPN as an NBA analyst. At Edison High, Bowen was North Yosemite League Player of the Year as a senior and led the Tigers to the Central Section title.
A two-time All-NorCal choice, he received a scholarship to CSU-Fullerton and was named first-team All-Big West his senior season, averaging 16.3 points a game for the Titans.
What began as a wish to play a team sport with her friends and was nurtured by hours of practice with her dad, Jerry, culminated in national championships, All-America honors, and MVP award in Japan Women’s Professional Softball League. She rose to stardom as a two-way threat, as an overpowering pitcher who could beat you with one swing of the bat for the Fresno Force and Bullard High School teams. Later, Dale-Boldt would lead UCLA to the 1999 Women’s College World Series title, capping one of the greatest pitching seasons in collegiate history. In the title game, a 3-2 victory over Washington, Courtney was the winning pitcher and hit a two-run home run. On that mound that season, she had a 33-1 record, with an 0.98 ERA and 218 strikeouts. She earned All-America and All-CWS honors and was named the Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year.
Teams with Courtney in the lineup dominated their competition. During her four years at Bullard, the Knights went 122-11 with a Valley championship in 1993. Her record: 73-6 in the circle, 347 batting average, four-time All-American, three-time All-Central Section, four-time league MVP and 1995 California Player of the Year. The 5-foot-10 Courtney also won ASA national titles with the force (under-16) and Gordon’s Panthers (under 18) and a world championship with the U.S. Junior National team.
A torn labrum and rotator cuff sidelined her in 2000, but she returned from what could’ve been career-ending surgery and won the Sharon Backus Award as the most inspirational UCLA player in 2001. Courtney’s name is all over the UCLA career leaders list. She finished 56-5 in the circle, with 370 strikeouts. At the plate, she had 110 RBI, 27 doubles and 17 home runs to go with a .290 average. In Japan, she was league MVP for the championship-winning Leo Palace 21 team.
The outfielder with a fiery streak was a prime example of how wrong the scouts can be. No speed and no power, the scouts said. Undrafted after his last season at Fresno State, he asked Fresno Giants General Manager Bill Thompson for a tryout. Gladden went from a Single-A chance to an 11-year major-legue career highlighted by winning World Series with the Minnesota Twins in 1987 and 1991.
At the end of his career, in one season with the Yomiuri Giants, his club won the Japan Championship Series. The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder proved he could hit, averaging .351 for the San Francisco Giants in 1984 after hitting .397 in Triple-A earlier in the season. The “Dazzle Man” proved he had speed, stealing 31, 32, and 27 bases in his first three seasons in San Francisco. Gladden sparkled on defense too.
In 1988, he led the American League outfielders in fielding percentage (.991) and was second in assists (12). During his career, he played all three outfield positions, was a designated hitter and twice took a turn on the pitcher’s mound. Gladden is the best known for the Twins under World Series pressure and twice being featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Game 7 of the 1991 Series is regarded as one of the most memorable in baseball history. Gladden stretched a blooper into a double and scoring the series-winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning.
In 1987, his first season with Minnesota, Gladden set the tone by belting a grand slam in the Series opener against St. Louis. Gladden’s career regular season totals: .270 batting average, 74 home runs, 663 runs, 446 RBI, 222 stolen bases. In 24 postseason games, he hit .279, with 17 runs, 1 home run, 15 RBI, and 7 stolen bases.
Arguably the best blocking back in NFL history, he paved the way for the 1,000-yard rushers over 11 consecutive seasons and was named to the All-Decade Team of the 2000s by The Sporting News. Neal, a fourth-round pick in the 1993 draft, created holes for some of the best tailbacks of the era, including LaDainian Tomlinson, Eddie George, Warrick Dunn, Corey Dillon, and Michael Turner.
Fullback is one of the most physically demanding positions on the field, but the 5-foot-11, 255-pounder proved especially durable over a pro career spanning 16 seasons. From 1994 through 2007, he played in an incredible 221 consecutive games - a streak that ended after suffering a broken leg.
The Lemoore High and Fresno State graduate was selected to four Pro Bowls and twice was named first-team All-Pro (2006,2007). Always in demand because of his ability to spring tailbacks and protect quarterbacks, Neal played for six NFL teams. His longest stints were with the San Diego Chargers (five seasons) and the team that drafted him, the New Orleans Saints (four seasons).
A reliable passcatcher, too, Neal had 199 receptions for 12 TDs during his career. He totaled 807 yards and six TDs on the ground. Neal came to prominence as a running back and heavyweight wrestler at Lemoore High, gaining more than 2,000 yards in a season and winning state wrestling title.
At Fresno State, he rushed for 2,405 yards in his career, twice was selected all-conference and was named the university’s Male Athlete of the Year in 1993.
His senior season, he was the Bulldog’s most valuable player in a Freedom Bowl victory over USC. He placed seventh in the 1992 NCAA wrestling championships.
A love of baseball, commitment to youth and loyalty to Fresno High School underpinned a coaching career that ranks among the greatest in Central Section history.
Papi had coached 37 varsity seasons for the Warriors at the time of his induction, winning 580 games, second-most in the section history, and among the Top 10 in the state.
Despite demographic shifts that turned Fresno’s oldest high school into an inner-city school, he continued the Warriors’ century-long tradition of baseball excellence. Papi, a catcher, played for Coach Len Bourdet at Fresno City College, then went on to play for both Coach Pete Beiden and Coach Bob Bennett at Fresno State, where he learned that executing the fundamentals and giving your all were crucial to success.
He was a member of the 1967 team was 38-10 and played in the NCAA torunament. After four years as assistant coach, Papi took command of the Fresno High program in 1975. Through the 20011 season, he had won one Central Section championship (1987) and five league titles (2002, 2003, 2004, 2009, 20011). The 2004 team finished second in the section.
A superb pitching coach, Papi developed two future major league hurlers: John Hoover and Bobby Jones, both of whom were All-Americans at Fresno State before signing pro contracts.
The Papi name is synonymous with the Fresno Baseball Easter Classic, which became one of the nation’s top prep tournaments under his leadership. Papi was the ALl-Metro Coach of the Year (1982, 1987, 2002, 2004) and the Northern California co-Coach of the Year (1987).
He is enshrined in the Fresno State Baseball Hall of Fame, California State Basebal Association Hall of Fame and the California Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
While the 6-foot-2, 231-pound fullback carried the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl with his fast legs and elusive moves, his personality captivated America during a sensational 1988 rookie season. The Edison High School graduate rushed for 1,066 yards and scored 15 touchdowns on the ground during the regular season to power the Bengals offense. Each time Woods reached the end zone, he and his teammates celebrated with an infectious dance of his creation - the Ickey Shuffle. The dance consisted of Woods bouncing on one foot, then the other spinning his finger in the air and spiking the ball. Before long, he was on magazine covers and in television commercials.
Woods was just as good in the postseason, as he set a playoff franchise rushing record with 126 yards against Seattle and had 102 more on the ground in a victory over Buffalo for the AFC Championship. Woods had a game-leading 79 yards rushing in the Super Bowl, but the Bengals fell to San Francisco. He finished the postseason with three touchdowns.
A knee injury cut short Woods’ career after his second-team All-NFL rookie campaign. He finished his NFL career with these marks: 37 games, 1,525 yards rushing, 27 touchdowns, 4.6 yards per carry. He also had 47 receptions for 397 yards.
Prior to being a second-round draft pick, Woods won the 1987 NCAA Division 1 rushing title at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas with 1,658 yards. He rushed for more than 200 yards in a game three times that year.
Woods starred in football and track and field at Edison. With the Tigers’ 400-meter relay team that set a state meet record with a time of 40.83 seconds.