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Calaveras county sports through the decades
’Twas a good time in ’79

History and championship dreams came true 40 years ago

  • 7 min to read
History and championship dreams came true 40 years ago

Bret Harte fans storm the court following a Bullfrog win.

The year of 1979 saw the close of the decade that featured disco, the end of the Vietnam War and the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon. But 1979 had plenty of moments that made it a very unique year.

There was nothing to be sad about as McDonald’s introduced the Happy Meal. Not many people were happy with the actions of Brenda Ann Spencer, as she opened fire at a school in San Diego, killed two faculty members and wounded eight students because she “didn’t like Mondays.”

There was no Mardi Gras celebration as the event was canceled because of a strike called by the New Orleans Police Department. President Jimmy Carter wished he had more protection as he was attacked by a swamp rabbit while fishing in Georgia. While it’s unknown what happened to the swamp rabbit that attacked President Carter, the fate of John Spenkelick is well documented, as he was executed in Florida in the first use of the electric chair in America after the reintroduction of the death penalty in 1976.

Music was taken very seriously in 1979 as Michael Jackson released “Off the Wall,” which sold 7 million copies in the United States. Fans of the who couldn’t contain themselves while trying to get seats before a show in Ohio as 11 people were killed during a stampede for seats.

Pittsburgh had a great year as the Steelers and Pirates both won championships. Alabama won the national championship and Spectacular Bid was the Kentucky Derby winner.

In 1979, the world said goodbye to John Wayne, Sid Vicious, Nelson Rockefeller and Zeppo Marx, but said hello to Kevin Hart, Chris Pratt, Heath Ledger, John Krasinski, Kate Hudson and Drew Brees.

And in 1979, Calaveras County crowned league and section champions.

Winter

History and championship dreams came true 40 years ago

Bret Harte wrestlers from left are: Mark Brewer, Jeff Young, Bobby Anderson and Chuck Fitzgerald.

With one final year left in the ’70s, Bret Harte and Calaveras high schools wanted to make it a year to remember. When it came to flexing their muscles and dominating, the Bret Harte wrestling team did that quite well. The Bullfrogs ended the Mother Lode League season as champions.

After accumulating 166.5 points, Bret Harte came out on top for the sixth straight year to win the MLL wrestling tournament. Calaveras placed fifth with a score of 72. Bret Harte’s Jeff Young, 98 pounds, and Jamie Heryford, 106 pounds, won the championships in their weight class for the second straight year, while Chuck Fitzgerald, 148 pounds, went into overtime on a tie before clinching his own championship. Calaveras’ Bob Miotti, 136 pounds, also became a league champion.

On the boys’ basketball court, Bret Harte won its first league contest, 65-64, over Summerville. Troy Claveran led the Bullfrogs with 27 points, while Mike Francis and Tom Hickman each added 10 in the 1-point win. Calaveras also picked up early victories, which included a 66-56 win over Jackson. Kent Apley scored 19 points for Calaveras, followed by Chad Roots with 12.

History and championship dreams came true 40 years ago

Bret Harte's Troy Claveran shoots against Amador.

When Calaveras and Bret Harte met for their first league battle of the year, an estimated 1,057 fans packed into Calaveras’ gym to watch the game. And it was the Bret Harte fans who left happy as the Bullfrogs picked up a 77-71 road victory. Calaveras was led in scoring by Steve Weatherby (22) and Apley (15), while Bret Harte’s top scorers were Claveran (29) and Francis (14).

After beating Calaveras, Bret Harte knocked off Linden to finish the first part of league play with a perfect 5-0 record. The next time Calaveras and Bret Harte met, it was a game that went down in the history books. Not only did Bret Harte beat Calaveras 107-75, but two new records were set. Claveran scored 36 points, which set a new Bret Harte record. And the 107 total points scored was also a new school record, and was just two points shy of tying the league record for most points, which was set two years earlier by Calaveras.

Bret Harte ended the season 10-0 in league play and was crowned champion, but lost in the playoffs, 74-71, to Ripon. Claveran was named co-Most Valuable Player of the league. Francis, along with Calaveras’ Steve Weatherby and Apley were first-team players. Bret Harte’s Andy Wilson and Tom Hickman made the second team. Bullfrog head coach Rich Cathcart was the Coach of the Year.

History and championship dreams came true 40 years ago

Members of the 1979 Calaveras basketball team watch a game in progress.

In girls’ basketball action, led by Babs Yocom and Kathy Hicks, Calaveras was the team to beat and that was put on display in a 46-39 road win over Bret Harte. Yocom scored 28 points and pulled down 15 rebounds in the county clash. Calaveras continued to play well, and seven games into the league season had a 6-1 record. Yocom again led Calaveras to a victory over Bret Harte, this time by a score of 44-34. Yocom scored 14 points, while Lisa Baker had 12 and Hicks added 10. Bret Harte’s Tamara Canepa scored 12 and Debbie Loomis contributed 10 points. The Bullfrogs ended the season with wins over Linden and Amador. In the win over Linden, Loomis scored 13 and Donna Stokes added 11. Against Amador, Loomis scored 12.

History and championship dreams came true 40 years ago

Calaveras' Lisa Baker shoots during the 1979 season.

Calaveras went on to win the MLL title for the eighth year in a row, and Yocom was named as the league MVP. Calaveras advanced all the way to the section championship game, but lost to Delta 55-33. Bret Harte’s Loomis and Calaveras’ Hicks and Baker were first-team players. Bret Harte’s Stokes, Lynda Oswald and Kady Wanamaker were placed on the second team.

Spring

History and championship dreams came true 40 years ago

Members of the Calaveras track team take a lap around their home track. 

The top of the Mother Lode League’s track and field mountain rested the Bullfrogs. But before Bret Harte won the league championship, records were set early in the year. Mike Jones broke the school record in the hurdles and Joel Thomas set a new shot put record with a throw of 47 feet, 3 inches. The Bullfrogs went on to win the league championship at the league meet and Calaveras took third.

History and championship dreams came true 40 years ago

Calaveras' Greg Long crosses the finish line.

On the baseball diamond, an 11-run inning helped Bret Harte beat Calaveras 15-6. In the win, the Bullfrogs completed a triple play. Don Dorsey picked up the victory, which was his third of the year. Calaveras went on to pick up a 5-4 win over Jackson, with three runs coming off the bat of Pat Norman, who homered in the bottom of the fourth. Norman also struck out five in 2.2 innings of relief.

The season ended with Bret Harte as league champion. Bullfrog Jeff Sanders was selected as the MVP of the league. John Kitchell and Brad Miller were Bret Harte’s representatives on the first team, while Calaveras’ Chad Roots and Norman were placed on the first team. On the softball diamond, Calaveras’ Elisa Ramirez, Annette Ramirez, Patti Serley and Wendy Walker were all-league players.

During the winter, the Calaveras Unified School District approved the establishment of a swim team at Calaveras. In their first home meet against Shingle Springs, Calaveras’ boys lost 112-19 and the girls fell 117-29. High-point gainers for Calaveras were Lorna Peek, Pattie Powell, Melody Simpson, John Bryan, Andy Silvas and Greg Long.

Summer

Bret Harte graduate Troy Claveran played in the fourth annual Stockton Kiwanis Club Classic basketball game and scored 13 points to help lead his team to an 87-86 win. And in the Lions All-Star Football Game, Calaveras’ Dirk Andres, and Bret Harte’s Curt Hecker, Mike Kane and Don Kelling were selected to play for the North, which was coached by Bret Harte’s staff.

Fall

History and championship dreams came true 40 years ago

Calaveras' 1979 volleyball team.

The Bullfrogs were all about clinching championships in the fall of 1979. The boys’ cross country team, along with football and volleyball teams won league titles, while the football squad clinched a section title. After clinching a league championship, the Bret Harte volleyball team lost to Delta in the first round of the CIF playoffs.

History and championship dreams came true 40 years ago

Bret Harte's 1979 section championship football team.

On the gridiron, Calaveras started the 1979 season with a 14-0 win over Patterson. Quarterback Jim Stewart was 10 for 12 for 206 yards, which included a touchdown to Ray O’Connor. Mike Martell scored Calaveras’ other touchdown. Calaveras followed that game with a 7-0 victory over Hilmar. Dow Kump scored on fourth down to give Calaveras the win with three minutes to play. Calaveras remained unbeaten following a 14-12 road win over Sonora. Doug Gunderson scored on a 14-yard pass and O’Connor added the second touchdown. In the final preseason game, Calaveras beat Hughson 29-7 and headed into league 4-0.

In the league opener, Calaveras left Tuolumne with a 35-8 win over Summerville. Kevin Ratterman rushed for 71 yards and also hauled in a 74-yard touchdown reception. The following week was homecoming and Renee Reece was crowned queen. On a rainy homecoming night, Bret Harte spoiled Calaveras’ festivities with a 7-6 victory. Calaveras led 6-0 after an 80-yard touchdown pass from Stewart to Gunderson. Bret Harte took the lead for good late in the second quarter with a touchdown from Tom Whittle and Jeff Sanders made the extra point, which turned out to be the difference in the game.

History and championship dreams came true 40 years ago

Calaveras' Doug Gunderson fights for yardage against Summerville.

Calaveras bounced back with a 32-2 win over Jackson. Calaveras got touchdowns from Gunderson, Ratterman, Stewart, Bill Bullock and Brian Wimberly. The next week, Calaveras blanked Amador 17-0 with touchdowns from Ratterman and Bullock. Joe Rodelo drained a 19-yard field goal in the win. Calaveras ended the season with a 7-7 tie against Linden, but a coin flip gave Linden the win and the playoff spot, even though Calaveras finished with a record of 7-1-1 and Linden was 5-2-2.

The future section champion Bullfrogs began the season with a 34-13 win over Hughson. The Bullfrogs got scores from Chuck Fitzgerald, Dan Emerson, Tom Hickman and Brett Hayes. The Bullfrogs improved to 2-0 with a 28-14 win over Escalon. Bret Harte couldn’t clinch its third win in a row, as it fell to Patterson, 24-13. The preseason ended with a 14-7 win over Riverbank. Bret Harte’s Barry Fehlman and Hayes scored both of their teams’ touchdowns.

History and championship dreams came true 40 years ago

Bret Harte's Barry Fehlman, 34, leads the way for quarterback Tom Hickman.

After going 3-1 in preseason play, Bret Harte began the league season by beating Linden, 27-18, in the rain. The Bullfrogs continued to play well in the rain as the following week they beat Calaveras 7-6. The rain may have stopped the following week, but Bret Harte’s solid play did not. The Bullfrogs ruined Amador’s homecoming with a 13-3 victory. Mike Rosenquist scored on an 80-yard interception and Hickman added the final touchdown of the game. On a night when Bret Harte beat Summerville, 26-12, Jennifer Novonty was crowned homecoming queen. Bret Harte clinched a league title with a 10-0 win over Jackson.

After clinching their first undefeated Mother Lode League championship in 40 years, the Bullfrogs took on Le Grand in the opening round of the playoffs. Bret Harte beat the Bulldogs 13-0. In the second round, the Bullfrogs knocked off Rio Vista 20-12 to clinch a trip to the section championship game. With a blue banner on the line, the Bullfrogs beat Justin Siena, 19-12. Bret Harte was the first Mother Lode League team to win a CIF Sac-Joaquin Section championship.

History and championship dreams came true 40 years ago

Bret Harte celebrates after winning the 1979 section championship.

Bret Harte’s Hickman was named the league MVP. Chip Barnett was the Lineman of the Year and Jeff Sanders was the Defensive Player of the Year. Calaveras’ Jim Stewart was chosen as the Back of the Year. All-League players were: Sanders (BH); Gunderson (Cal); John Wilson (BH); Chris Linder (Cal); Mike Rosenquist (BH); Tom Hickman (BH); Chuck Fitzgerald (BH); O’Conner (Cal); Dan Soden (BH); Bullock (Cal); Ratterman (Cal); Mike Robie (Cal); Kelly Osborn (BH); David Gilmore (Cal); Brian Wimberly (Cal); Bret Hayes (BH); Jon Fehlman (BH).

What’s next?

We’ll finish our trip through the decades next week with 1969.

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