The Year of the Warrior

by Jerry Gill ’56

Until 1955 the Warriors weren’t competitive in the few sports they played: men’s basketball and men’s track and field. Thanks to a few outstanding players, the basketball teams managed to break even. But the lack of athletic scholarships and the competition from Occidental, Pasadena College, Redlands University, and UC Santa Barbara made it tough for the athletes.

Stalwarts in those early years included Dick Gibbs ’52, Dwight Anderson ’53, Tine Hardeman ’55 and Johnny Crew ’54, who averaged more than 25 points per game his junior year. The rest of the squad featured players like me, who tried to help the gifted teammates as much as possible.

The track and field teams weren’t much better. Ed Hayes ’53 did well enough in the sprints and hurdles, I garnered some points in the long and high jumps, and Paul Hook ’55 ran the distance races well, but that was about it. The rag-tag baseball team, led by standouts Russ Carr ’56, Tommy Fisher ’54, Dwight Anderson, and Ray Fukuchi ’55, fared better, mostly because Coach Rathburn Shelton ’50, a man-for-all-seasons, really knew his baseball.

All this changed dramatically in 1955-56 because of successful recruiting by Coach Jack Siemens. Quite suddenly the basketball team emerged as a small-college powerhouse in Southern California, putting together a top-notch record of 21-9. In the biggest win of the year, Westmont came from behind in the last few seconds to defeat Occidental College. Somehow Coach Siemens managed to recruit big Dan Heinrichs ’58 from the Bay Area, Chuck Smith ’59 from Riverside, George Terzian ’58 from Pasadena, and Bobby Cannon ’59 from Texas. With Wayne Carpenter ’57, the only returning Warrior from the year before, this group of excellent athletes started Westmont on its way to becoming a successful basketball school.

Coach Siemens left Westmont a few years later to establish the same sort of successful teams at California Lutheran University. But under coaches like Chet Kammerer, strong Westmont teams continued to be contenders at the NAIA National Tournament.

The track and field team also blossomed that year, winning the 1956 Southern California Small College Championship at California Polytechnic. Having used up my eligibility the year before, I was asked to coach the team, which turned out to be a great pleasure. Part of our success came from the superior talent of Chuck Smith in the shot put (48 feet) and sprints, along with George Terzian in the high jump (6’1 “) and Harold Spencer ’58, who pole vaulted 13 feet in high school.

Other standouts included Jerry Varnell ’59, who had run the quarter mile in 49 seconds in high school, and Kenny Paul ’59, a seemingly inexhaustible distance runner who almost always placed near the front. Also contributing were Bill Shrode ’56 in the hurdles, Mel Hughes ’59 in the sprints, Ron Leppke ’56 in the shot put and discus, Royce Cox ’59 in the middle distances, and the Carpenter brothers, Wayne and Blaine ’59, in the javelin. Each athlete usually placed well in their respective events.

The turn-around for Westmont athletics in 1955-56 occurred without athletic scholarships. Baseball had to wait several years to improve when Ron Shelton ’67 arrived on the scene. In men’s soccer, which wasn’t even a sport in 1955-56, Russ Carr soon created a veritable dynasty. As women’s teams joined men’s at Westmont, they also developed into outstanding competitors in nearly every sport. It’s hard for me to believe all this took place more than 50 years ago, but it was a great turning point and one well worth remembering.

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