Jake Abbott knew pretty early on in the summer of 1960 that his American Legion baseball team was special.
"At the high school level, pitching is important," he said. "With these two kids, Wade (Blasingame) and (Dale) Williams, we would be tough to beat. We had some kids who were pretty good hitters, too."
Abbott was the head baseball coach at Roosevelt High School for seven years. He won three valley championships during that span. However, arguably his greatest achievement at Roosevelt was a team he coached when school was NOT in session.
On August 14th, 1960, Jake Abbott led Roosevelt's American Legion team (Fresno Post 4) to a state championship. It is the only team from the central valley to ever win the California State American Legion junior baseball championship.
Fresno Post 4, which had six of its 15 players go on to play professional baseball, only lost four games all summer. The team went 16-2 during its league season, followed by a sweep over Delano and a series win (two out of three) over Modesto to qualify for the championship tournament in Stockton. Coach Abbott recalls a "tape measure" home run by Jerry Rosser to help Fresno Post 4 beat Modesto.
The aforementioned Dale Williams pitched one of the games at the championship tournament in Stockton, striking out 15 batters in a win over West Covina. And when Williams was not pitching, it was typically Wade Blasingame on the mound.
Just 17 years old that summer, Coach Abbott referred to Blasingame, the future Major League pitcher, as having "probably the best curveball (he) ever saw." Blasingame and Williams are two of the best pitchers to ever come out of Roosevelt High School.
After winning the state championship in Stockton, Fresno Post 4 advanced to the western regional finals in Bend, Oregon. The team saw its season end in the championship game against Arizona. "We simply ran out of pitching," said Abbott.
Players: Tom Avakian, Thurman Bell, Wade Blasingame, Tom Ellithorpe, Jerry Fleming, Gary Groth, Brendon Ounjian, Don Pries, Howard Martin, Major Martin, Jerry Rosser, Howard Schmidt, Tom Sommers, Dale Williams
Coach: Jake Abbott
"It was the biggest upset in volleyball ever, us winning."
That is how George Sarantos describes the accomplishment of the 1967 Fresno Volleyball Club winning the U.S. national championship.
"Teams were seeded by how they did. We weren't seeded. We ended up being the best team in the United States," said Sarantos, the team's setter and coach who was also a former Fresno State basketball player.
The Fresno Volleyball Club was formed years earlier at the downtown YMCA. Made up of nine players, seven of whom were from Fresno and all in their 20s and 30s, it spent most of its time competing in tournaments in northern California where it typically finished anywhere from second to sixth place.
In early 1967, the group made the decision to enter the U.S. Volleyball National Championship in Detroit, Michigan. Bob Kurtovich did not make the trip, leaving the team with just eight players traveling to the Midwest.
The week before the national championship, at the same venue in Detroit, was the National AAU Championship and the Fresno Volleyball Club entered that tournament as well. Out of 28 teams in the field, Fresno finished in fourth place. However, its only losses were to the teams that won and finished runner-up.
That set the stage for what would happen the following week.
The Fresno Volleyball Club was one of 39 teams entered in the U.S. Volleyball National Championship.
And it was the only one left standing at the end.
Fresno started off the double-elimination tournament by beating Ohio State, followed by wins over Outrigger (the AAU champs), Columbus and Los Angeles YMCA before facing Sand & Sea in the finals.
Sand & Sea, a club team from Santa Monica, came through the losers' bracket to face Fresno.
And Sand & Sea, up 14-11, was just one point away from the national championship itself when the Fresno Volleyball Club scored five straight points to win the game, 16-14, the match and the 1967 national championship.
"After a couple of quick points, we knew we had them," said Tom Bozigian, who was named the tournament's most outstanding player.
Players: John Alstrom, Tom Bozigian, Don Davis, Dave Fanning, Richard Gunner, Len Kaczmarek, Bob Kurtovich, George Sarantos, Jon Stanley
Coach: George Sarantos
Matt Giordano is a football player. And he's been fortunate to not only play at the highest level, he's been successful at the highest level.
Matt Giordano is a Super Bowl champion, though he will be quick to tell you that is not necessarily the highlight of his career.
Giordano's path to the NFL began in Fresno. He graduated from Buchanan High School in 2001, roughly six months after helping the Bears win their only valley championship in 2000. Giordano was a two-way player on that team, wide receiver and defensive back, and he says he and his friends still talk about that accomplishment today.
After high school, Matt Giordano enrolled at Fresno City College where he played for two years, 2001-2002. It was with the Rams when Giordano stopped playing on offense to focus solely on defense.
That turned out to be a very smart decision.
As a strong safety, Giordano was all-state his freshman season at FCC. He recorded 62 tackles, recovered four fumbles and intercepted one pass.
A few years later, at Cal, he was first team all-Pac-10, as well as an honorable mention all- American, after recording 61 tackles his senior season.
Matt Giordano played for the Golden Bears from 2003-2004, and he was coached by none other than Jeff Tedford. Giordano enjoyed playing for Tedford, referring to him as "very honest, very real."
In 2005, Matt Giordano was drafted into the NFL. The Indianapolis Colts picked him in the fourth round, 135th overall. He played in 15 games during his rookie season. In his second season, 2006, he recorded his first career interception in a game against Jacksonville. (He still has the football.) And the Colts would finish that season as Super Bowl XLI champions.
"It was surreal playing in the NFL," said Giordano, who recorded 220 tackles and eleven interceptions in 116 games over nine seasons with the Colts, Packers, Saints, Raiders and Rams.
A few years after his playing career ended, Matt Giordano's coaching career began. In 2016, he took over as the head football coach at his alma mater, Buchanan High School.
Born and raised in Fresno, Adrian Williams had no shortage of options when it came time to decide where she wanted to play basketball in college.
Williams says she was recruited by "every top school except for Stanford. They were loaded." Her top four schools, in no particular order, were Fresno State, USC, Purdue and Ohio State.
Adrian Williams actually began her high school career in Indiana, where she and her family lived for three years when her dad was transferred there for work. Living in the Midwest turned out to be a blessing for Williams, as it raised her profile as a nationwide recruit. The family moved back to the valley in time for her to play two years at Clovis West High School (and win two valley championships), where she graduated in 1995.
After much consideration, Adrian Williams chose to attend USC. She says she loved the campus and she was impressed by the tradition of the women's basketball program, citing Trojan greats Cheryl Miller, Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson. Adrian Williams would follow in their footsteps.
During her four-year career at USC, Adrian Williams became a member of the Trojans' 1,000-point club. She was named all-Pac-10 in both her junior and her senior years. And the expectations she had for herself were so high she says she was "disappointed because (she) never won a championship."
It is worth noting that Williams' USC career was not without its challenges. She played for three coaches in her four years there. And she also played with a broken foot in 1997 and 1999, receiving injections before games during her entire senior year!
The WNBA did not exist when Adrian Williams was growing up in Fresno. However, the timing of its creation could not have been better. The league began play in 1997, just two years before Williams would graduate from USC. After her senior year, though, she had surgery and ended up playing professionally in France for one year. It was not until the following year, 2000, when Adrian Williams entered the WNBA Draft and became the 21st overall pick (second round) of the Phoenix Mercury.
Adrian Williams played eight seasons in the WNBA. In 2003, she was an all-star, averaging 9.8 ppg and 7.4 rpg. Williams says her all-star year "was validation of how (she) felt as a player."
Williams played professional basketball for a total of ten years. She retired in 2008, at the age of 31. In addition to her time in the WNBA, she also made stops in Italy, Spain, South Korea and China. But, believe it or not, looking back on her career she says, "the most fun (she) had playing basketball was definitely in high school."
Andrea Duran can describe in one word what it meant to her to be an Olympian: "amazing."
Duran was a member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic softball team that won a silver medal in Beijing, China. She was chosen for that team after a standout career at UCLA, where she won two national championships and was the Pac-10 Player of the Year in 2006.
Long before she was a Bruin, Andrea Duran was a Bear. She grew up in Selma, the "Raisin Capital of the World." And, ironically, she grew up with the grandchildren of Bobby Cox, another famous Selma High School alum who is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame as one of the most successful managers in MLB history.
Duran was a three-sport athlete in high school: softball, basketball and volleyball. Softball, of course, was the sport at which she excelled the most and for which she received the most attention. Andrea Duran had a career batting average of .558 at Selma High School, a Central Section record. She also set section records for career hits, single-season hits, single-game hits, career runs scored, single-season runs scored and career stolen bases. In 2011, nine years after she graduated, the softball field at Selma High School was renamed "Duran Diamond."
Andrea Duran continued to shine on the softball field in college. She attended UCLA and was an immediate contributor, playing in 61 games as a freshman in 2003. Despite contending that she was "raw," Duran batted .281 that season in helping the Bruins win the national championship.
Three years later, with another national championship under her belt, Andrea Duran was one of the best players in the country. She hit .355 as a senior in 2006, with 15 home runs and 42 RBI. She was a first team all-American, as well as the aforementioned Pac-10 Player of the Year.
After her time in blue and gold, Duran would suit up in red, white and blue: first as a member of the U.S. women’s national team, then as a member of the USSSA Pride. A National Pro Fastpitch player for nine seasons, Duran led her team to several championships and was the 2014 NPF Player of the Year.