High Schools: Then and Now

This story comes from longtime staffer Jim McConnell, the man we call, “The King” around the office. He writes a weekly Then & Now column. This week he writes about girls basketball.

CIF-sanctioned girls basketball has been around for 35 seasons.
During that time, two things have become abundantly evident: A) the girls can’t jump, run or dribble with the same efficiency as boys; and B) “a” doesn’t matter.
Girls basketball is a sport onto itself. Judged on their own merits, CIF-Southern Section programs have been quite successful.
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Born in the political cauldron of equal rights that came to a boil in the 1970s, girls basketball has transcended those roots to become less of a political statement than a recreational reality. Within their physical limitations girls can excel at it, and the sport has – gradually – built its own fan base.

Area high schools were front and center at the formation of CIF-sanctioned leagues back in 1974. Success in the CIF playoffs, however, came slowly.

The area’s first girls “dynasty” were the outstanding San Gabriel High teams of coach Bob Bria.

The 1981 San Gabriel team made it all the way to the CIF-SS 4A Division finals, the highest level in the CIF at that time. Unfortunately for the San Gabriel girls, they ran into an outstanding Riverside Poly team led by the sensational Cheryl Miller and lost in the title game at the L.A. Sports Arena, 64-44. That was the third of four consecutive 4A titles won by Poly.

The area certainly was not lacking in outstanding girls players in the late 1970s and early 1980s. One early standout was San Gabriel High’s Tracy Longo, who went on to play with Miller on the 1984 USC national champion team. Another was Diamond Bar High’s Kim Van Horn, the older sister of future NBA player Keith Van Horn and the first local girl to score 50 or more points in a game.

The area’s first girls CIF-SS Player of the Year was Alhambra’s Kellie Cardona in 1979. Monrovia’s Sandra Mitchell won Player of the Year honors in the 2A Division in 1980. Diane Gilmore of Pasadena Poly won 1A top honors in 1981. In 1983, San Gabriel’s Liz Hirn won 3A honors and Marshall Fundamental’s Cherie Nelson won in the Small Schools Division. Nelson repeated as Small Schools Player of the Year in 1985.

Muir’s Gennine and Pauline Jordan made history in 1986 when they were named 4A co-Players of the Year. In 1988, Los Altos’ Sue Peters was tabbed as the 3A’s top player.

Many other local players from the 1970s and 1980s went on to play at four-year colleges as girls basketball became a viable way for a girl to earn an athletic scholarship.

Even with the rapid development of local programs, CIF-SS titles proved elusive. The first area school to win a CIF-SS plaque was Marshall Fundamental in 1983. The Eagles, led by Player of the Year Nelson and coached by Paul Bodenshot, captured the Small Schools title by routing Beaumont, 66-19, in the finale at Pasadena High.

Next to appear in the winner’s circle was Muir in 1990. The Mustangs ended a streak of runner-up finishes (in 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1989) by winning the 4-AA title in 1990. The Mustangs, coached by Mel Sims, beat Ventura 53-49 in the 4-AA title game played at Cal Poly Pomona.

That same season, Rio Hondo Prep, under the coaching of Randall Johnson, captured the Small Schools title with a 55-50 victory over Lone Pine in the championship game at Azusa Pacific University.

Since then, area schools consistently have performed well in the playoffs, highlighted by Bishop Amat’s recent impressive run. The Lancers, coached by Dick Wiard, reached a CIF-SS title game in four consecutive seasons and won Southern Section titles in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

The Lancers’ run was capped in 2006 when they captured the CIF State Division III title by beating Sacramento High 53-39 in the championship game at Arco Arena in Sacramento.

Bishop Amat’s accomplishments have, once and for all, moved San Gabriel Valley girls basketball to the forefront of the sport.

Prior to the formation of CIF leagues, basketball long was a staple in Southland high schools. Girls, in fact, competed in the sport virtually from the start. Many area high schools, including Pasadena and Whittier, fielded girls teams along with boys teams. Results dating back to the turn of the 20th century can be found in school annuals.

So what happened? By the 1920s many educators were of the opinion the direction boys athletics were taking under the CIF’s guidance was too competitive and too political. By 1930, most schools’ girls sports programs had been placed under the benevolent umbrella of the Girls Athletic Association.

GAA events often were low-key and more a social interaction than an athletic contest. It was not uncommon for no scores to be kept. At least in basketball, however, the competitive fires still were there.

When the CIF membership decided to sanction girls’ sports, basketball was first on the list.


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