Long Overdue: The winningest coach in SGV history, Los Altos’ Dwayne DeSpain, will finally be inducted into the CIF Hall of Fame

By Jim McConnell, Staff Writer
This month, former Los Altos High School football coach Dwayne DeSpain will be inducted into the CIF Hall of Fame. It’s an honor long overdue. DeSpain’s credentials speak for themselves. More than 30 years in education. Over 200 coaching wins. Nineteen consecutive winning seasons. Ten league titles. Seven CIF-Southern Section titles.

In last week’s column, it was pointed out El Rancho was the most successful area football program in the 1960′s. Well, Los Altos holds that honor in the 1970′s and 1980′s.

The Conquerors’ winning ways were all the more remarkable when you realize they competed in the Sierra League, at that time one of the top football leagues in the state. When you’re playing and beating the likes of West Covina, South Hills and Wilson, you know you’re good.

No question, DeSpain belongs in the company of the CIF’s elite coaches.

Beyond the CIF honor, it occurs to this columnist that Los Altos High and Hacienda La Puente School District officials could do more to recognize DeSpain’s remarkable accomplishments.

The football stadium at Los Altos is named in honor of Pat Mauch, the school’s longtime athletic director and a legendary mover and shaker in the CIF-Southern Section. That is as it should be.

But it seems to me that the football field could be named in honor of DeSpain. It’s been more than 10 years since he retired, but it still seems odd to go to a Conquerors game and not see him prowling the sideline.

Dwayne DeSpain Field. It’s got a nice ring to it.

The e-mails and phone calls are still coming in on the mythical All-Valley playoffs. In the wake of last week’s column, I’m sure Dennis Morrison is walking around somewhere feeling like one lucky man. Not only did the 1966 El Rancho team “win” the playoff, I managed to promote Morrison all the way from the junior varsity to star of the game.

For the record, and once and for all, Rick Pope was the starting quarterback for the 1966 Dons. Morrison was the quarterback for the 1968 Dons, which also reached the CIF 4A finals (they tied St Paul, 20-20).

Conclusive proof comes from a high-tech source. Do a search on YouTube for the 1966 El Rancho CIF championship game and you will find footage of Pope in action. (He’s No. 10.) Several readers, including El Rancho alums Efrain Soto and Brad Fielder, brought this to my attention.

Several others called or wrote to ask about Ernie Johnson, longtime El Rancho coach. I am happy to report Ernie still is with us and doing quite well, thank you. He continues to follow football, although as a UCLA alumnus he must have suffered through the Bruins’ recent losses to Stanford and Oregon.

Maybe Johnson can pass along some plays to Rick Neuheisel. Shoot, maybe Ernie can dig up his old UCLA playbook and Neuheisel can convert his offense to Red Sanders’ Single Wing. Desperate times, desperate measures …

Speaking of my favorite coaches, got a call the other day from Les Clemmer, who was the first baseball coach in Baldwin Park High School history back in 1951. (The late Bob Musick was the school’s first football coach).

Les started his coaching career at Covina High, but said he decided to make the jump from Covina to Baldwin Park when he figured out six of the nine starters on his 1950 Covina baseball team actually lived in Baldwin Park.

“Historically, many of Covina High’s best athletes hailed from Baldy put a dent in the Covina athletic program,” Clemmer said. “Don’t think Covina High was ever the same once Baldwin Park High opened.”

At Baldwin Park, one of Clemmer’s early stars was Jim Conroy, who went on to play football and baseball at USC.

Clemmer remembers that, in 1954, Conroy pitched a perfect game against El Rancho. Remarkably, in 1955 the Braves’ Dennis McLaughlin duplicated the feat, also against El Rancho.

McLaughlin later coached the 1971 Bishop Amat football team to the CIF-SS 4A Division title.

The 1954 Baldwin Park baseball team is staging a reunion in Riverside on Saturday. Will Clemmer be there?

“Try to stop me!” he said.

jim.mcconnell@sgvn.com

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