Riordan back sheds hard times

raymone-sanders-use-dis-oneBy John Murphy

SAN FRANCISCO — His mom beat drugs. He beat the streets. And his purple-clad team is beating everyone in sight.

Meet Archbishop Riordan High running back Raymone Sanders. He’s been a few steps from Hell in his young life and a short sprint to the end zone for much of this magical 2015 season.

Raymone, en route to 542 yards rushing and eight touchdowns during this perfect Riordan season, has endured much, including:

–Growing up in a single-parent home in the projects of Hunters Point, known as the “HP.”

— Being raised by a crack cocaine-addicted mother who has since recovered, but is now battling Multiple Sclerosis and a mysterious mouth affliction.

— Letting go of the anger of growing up without his dad (who now attends games) in an environment where violence, drugs and despair abound.

“Sometimes the SWAT team will come by the house,” said Raymone, sitting in the Riordan football bleachers on a rare hot afternoon in the city. “A lot of gunshot happens, like every two nights. You see drug dealers around the corner. I lost a friend around the corner when I was 13.”

The “friend” was actually a cousin. “That was blood,” Raymone said.

“I kind of talk about it so I can release my anger,”  the 5-foot-8, 155-pound stick of dynamite said. “But I don’t think about it too much because my mom says not to. If you stress on it you’ll perform bad and you’ll do bad in school.”

Ah, perform — that’s something Riordan and Raymone are doing in spades this season after a 1-9 2014 season. The Crusaders, heading into Saturday’s 5 p.m. showdown with perennial power Bellarmine College Prep (4-1, 1-1) at Terra Nova High, are 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the West Catholic Athletic League. It’s a development about as expected as the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake that hit the Bay Area like a sledgehammer.

RECORD-BREAKING

Last Saturday against another long-time Riordan nemesis, Serra, Riordan scored a smashing 66-45 win at the City College of San Francisco, breaking a slew of school records along the way. Raymone was at his best, scoring three touchdowns and rushing for 182 yards on 13 carries. Included was a 73-yard bolt of lightning with just over four minutes left in the third quarter. The Riordan back took a handoff from quarterback Jacky Luavasa and broke to his right, then cut left and out-raced athletic Serra safety Jaylyn Membreno to the end zone.

That gave once-laughingstock Riordan a 52-35 lead, much to the delight of a growing base of Crusader fans whose numbers are multiplying with each game.

“It’s really motivating,” Raymone said. “You don’t want to make a mistake. You just want to be calm and keep doing what we’re doing so we can bring some more fans and bring Riordan spirit back to the school.”

SPORADIC SUCCESS

Riordan has had pockets of glory in football since 1966 when its Cal Erskine-coached team stunned Bellarmine 13-10 under the lights at Kezar Stadium. That prompted students to tear down the goal posts, with one of the stray pieces of wood now signed by the team and sitting in the office of Crusaders’ athletic director Mike Gilleran.

“We’ve beaten Bellarmine once since Nam,” said first-year coach Kevin Fordon.

“Since what?” he was asked.

“Since Vietnam,” said Fordon with a smile, referring to the 2000 season when Riordan went 5-0 in the WCAL to win its first league championship since back-to-back titles in 1971 and 1972.

Raymone was lured to Riordan because his brother, Rodney Sanford, played there 15 years ago, as did his cousin on his father’s side, Eric Wright, the former USC and NFL player who finished his career with the San Francisco 49ers.

Hunters Point has produced some notable Crusaders over the years, including pros Donald Strickland and Wright, as well as former Riordan running back Tyrone McGraw and receiver Daniel Cannon.

Another NFL player out of Riordan is running back Steve Sewell, said to be a boyfriend of Raymone’s mom Wendy Butler back in the day.’

CHASING THE HIGH 

Wendy appeared at the weathered Riordan football venue Wednesday after the interview with Raymone finished. She’s hard to miss with brightly dyed red hair, a crimson Betty Boop tattoo on her right arm and polka dot finger nails.

The single mom grew up near Riordan in a middle-class family and was a track star at Lincoln High out in the Sunset District. But a broken leg hindered her track career and drugs (specifically crack cocaine) turned her life upside-down.

“Before Raymone was born I was on drugs, but he doesn’t know what that kind of mother is,” Wendy said. “I’ve been clean since 1989. I’m not ashamed of it because it made me the woman that I am. I feel I’m a strong individual. I feel like all my kids got their determination from my will. I went in (to rehabilitation) and never looked back.”

Wendy’s father and uncle took her to a tough, pre-2000s rehab, not the country club atmosphere today’s programs offer. The 13 ½ months she spent in rehab saved her life.

“My upbringing had a lot to do with getting off of it,” Wendy said. “It started off as fun — it was just supposed to be a fun thing. I had the money and my parents gave me anything at that time that I wanted to help take care of my two older kids. But before you know it, it’s no longer fun. Before you know it, you’re chasing the drug. It’s not party time anymore.”

During one dark moment suicide seemed an option but Wendy shook the urge, much like her remarkable son sheds tacklers today.

Asked what goes through her mind during a game like Serra when she watches her youngest, Wendy said: “There goes my baby! There’s my baby! I used to run track and I tell him “You know you got your speed from your mama?”  That all comes from me. But when I see him going through the end zone I say “There goes my baby. “I’m just proud he can hang with these big guys.”

POWERED BY SKIPPY

The Hunters Point residents don’t have it easy. They share a three-bedroom place with an aunt who has cancer and her small daughter.

“Things are really tight,” Raymone said. “Sometimes there’s no food in the house to eat and my coaches help. I come to school and they feed me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and give me some of their food. It’s really tough sometimes.”

Then there’s the neighborhood which is bleak and dangerous, at best. When Raymone was in the sixth grade returning from basketball practice, he came across a dead body.

“That was at Third and Palou,” he said. “He was shot — two bullet holes in his back. When I saw that it was like nothing I could think of. Stuff like that, I don’t even like to think about.”

“There are a lot of gangs; too much I think. I look around and I don’t really like it because it’s taking the younger kids — kids younger than me that looked up to me when I was playing Pop Warner that’s involved in gangs now. Ten years old, 11 years old. It’s crazy.”

San Francisco police officer Rob Fung, the recently retired Washington High-San Francisco High baseball coach, agrees the HP is no paradise.

“I’ve never lived in this young man’s shoes,” he said. “I trained out there and occasionally patrol that area. It is one, if not the toughest, areas in the city. It’s a tough place for a kid to grow up.”

Raymone has muddled by but not without help. His mom signed him up for Pop Warner football and track and field at a young age, but he grew into an angry, resentful kid by middle school, with a penchant for bullying.

“I was a violent kid when I was younger,” Raymone said. “I used to get in fights a lot. I’d bully kids. I knew I was stronger than a lot of people. And I’d take my anger and frustration out on the kids that were not as strong as me. The weak links. I feel bad about that because it’s not cool.”

GROWING UP

Raymone’s  brother Rodney snapped him out of it, teaching him to channel his aggression on the field. And a San Francisco Warriors’  Pop Warner coach nudged him toward Riordan, an all-boys Catholic school of just under 700 students (1,000 fewer than this week’s  opponent, Bellarmine) that’s  in the working-class Outer Mission/Sunnyside neighborhood.

An indifferent student for three years on Phelan Avenue, Raymone has made a late rush and is said to be NCAA Division I eligible, with Cal State Sacramento in hot pursuit.

“I have him in class this semester and he’s completely different (than last year),” said Fordon who was the offensive coordinator last season. “He’s the first one to raise his hand and he always has his homework done. He got an A on my mid-term; it’s like night and day. It just shows how much this kid’s grown up.”

It didn’t come easily. Raymone’s  mom not only has MS but that severe gum disease doctors at first thought might be cancer. Fordon found out in August, but Raymone was not told until last Thursday for fear it would sidetrack him. His three-TD performance against Serra was dedicated to his mom, who is in the painful process now of having her teeth extracted.

Said Serra coach Patrick Walsh of Raymone. “I was very impressed with his speed, agility and toughness. He really hit the holes hard and ran through a ton of tackles. He ran right up the middle on us and seemed to be in a different gear. I think he has the ability to play at the next level.”

Now with Riordan ranked among the top 25 teams in the state for the first time in school history, Wendy contemplates all that’s happened and gives thanks for the all-boys school he attends.

“Raymone has changed, even at home,” Wendy said.  “I’d don’t have to say please do this and why didn’t you do this? “I’m starting to see the maturity of him becoming a responsible young man. I owe that all to Riordan. They taught him education is first and being a great athlete is important but it’s not a priority. All of these men around him made a difference for my son.”

 

Loma Prieta: The devastation, gratitude

San Francisco Giants vs Oakland Athletics, 1989 World Series
Giants pitcher Kelly Downs carries his nephew Billy Kehl after Loma Prieta Earthquake. Photo by John Iacono /Getty Images. 

By John Murphy

October 17, 1989, around 5 p.m. my brother Jim and I had settled into seats at Candlestick Park for Game 3 of the so-called “Bay Bridge”  World Series.

He was teaching at South San Francisco High. I was living in Watsonville and had begun work at the Fremont Argus newspaper.

The A’s were up two games to none but, hey, this was World Series. Spirits were high.

Then it happened. At 5:04 p.m. there was loud rumble and hard shaking that gained momentum. I noticed the bleachers in right field swaying and half the fans sprinting for the exits. In a teaser to ESPN’s 30-by-30 show that premiered Monday,  worker describes the horror of being up a on light tower and feeling it sway.

But I’m  third-generation native San Francisco and we’re used to earthquakes, no matter the ferocity.

“Rock the A’s!” one Giants’ fan yelled after the 15 seconds of shaking. “Yeah, rock the A’s said another and a rally cry was born.

So unconcerned was I that I went to a concession stand and requested two beverages … and was served!

Well, we all know now, this was no minor league temblor. There were players in uniform milling around the middle of the diamond with their children perched on their shoulders. Easterners, we thought. But then 10, 15, 20 minutes passed and the scoreboard never came back on and we knew the game was in jeopardy. Soon the P.A. announcer confirmed it and we trudged out of the concrete stadium, confused and disappointed.

Heading back to our car, someone heard the report on their transistor radio, the Bay Bridge had collapsed (partially true). Someone else heard the epicenter was Watsonville (untrue, but but scared the heck out of me).

Mangled home in Watsonville.

Long story short, it was a 6.9 magnitude shaker 10 miles northeast of Santa Cruz, near the Loma Prieta peak of the Santa Cruz mountains. Sixty-three people died as a result and over 3,700 were injured. The event caused $8-10 billion in property damage.

Just outside Watsonville, my significant other at the time was on Highway 1 when the pavement began undulating and cars spun out. She thought she had a blowout. In downtown Watsonville, a falling brick from the ancient Oddfellows Building hit an old man, killing him instantly.

Farther north in downtown Santa Cruz, a young woman at the Santa Cruz Roasting Company was trapped inside the crippled building and was never heard from again. Her friends maintained a vigil outside, chanting her name all night and praying — but she was already dead, along with two co-workers.

Old wooden homes in Watsonville not bolted to their foundation were mangled and deformed. A tent city rose on the Watsonville High football field, right near my old house. Many were farm workers who had been through the recent quake in Mexico City where building codes aren’t nearly so strict; they refused to return to their Watsonville dwellings.

The Rolling Stones played in Oakland around that time and Mick Jagger toured Watsonville, it was reported. Ford’s Department store on Main Street was condemned and my better half lost her job.

Life went on. The Giants got swept by the A’s and I missed Game 3 to cover a James Logan High School football game. I sold my Game 3 ticket stub, now a collector’s item.

Back in Watsonville, FEMA came around and surveyed our wrecked china cabinet, broken crystal and busted water heater. The worker took pity, cutting us a check for $1,500. It wasn’t much, but at least we lived to tell about it.

John Murphy is the Web Content Editor of Prep2Prep. He may be reached at jmurphy@prep2prep.com

 

MURPH’S PLACE: Force was with HMB

The force

By John Murphy 

The postgame interview with Menlo-Atherton girls coach Markisha Coleman was nearly complete when the lights went out in the Half Moon Bay High School gymnasium.

“Wow,” Coleman said of the impending, college-style Cougar intro for the boys game.

Wow, is right. If fans didn’t know this basketball game had a different vibe to it, maybe the poster on the wall provided a hint. It had a picture of Yoda of “Star Wars” fame with a mug shot of Menlo-Atherton boys coach Mike Molieri comically slapped next to it, furrowed brow and all.
“It came from a reference a few years ago when we beat them out here,” Molieri said. “We call them the Evil Empire. It’s been a running, fun little theme for us.”

Cougars coach Rich Forslund, who coached with Molieri at Archbishop Riordan in the late 2000s, had a more elaborate explanation for the Yoda gag.

“It’s partly his physical stature,” he said with a laugh. “He represents the good side of the Force and he thinks the good guys have to win. We have the black uniforms and I guess I’m Darth Vader.”

Um, OK. This writer missed the Star Wars Trilogy as well as the lastest flick, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” that has Disney shareholders so drunk with joy. In fact, I had to turn to my crack team of researchers (Wikipedia) to learn about Jedi Master Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker and R2D2.

The original “Star Wars” movie came out in 1977 and I skipped it because I was probably driving around in my Oldsmobile listening to Thin Lizzy and Foghat eight-tracks or something. I do recall I had this rec leader friend named Obbie who was suddenly being called “Obbie-Wan Kenobi” by all his playground kids, and that really ticked him off. But I digress.

Menlo-Atherton coach Molieri might have felt uneasy Saturday night when two “Sixth Man” blokes from Half Moon Bay walked by him waving light sabers before they turned the lights back on in the Cougar gym. It was almost like a hex, something Molieri needed about as much as a flu bug after four consecutive losses to the Cougars.

Alas, the Force was with the Bears through the first 16 minutes as they surged to a 28-9 lead late in the first half. But then the nattily attired “Darth Vader” over on the Half Moon Bay bench conjured up some strategic alchemy and turned those ferocious Bears into bruin cubs in the second half, resulting in a 55-49 win for the home team.

“This is one of their signature games,” Forslund said of Menlo-Atherton. “We have the banter about ‘Star Wars.’ We have a huge target on our backs now because we’ve had some success.”

Forslund also called the Cougars’ rally from 19 down and ultimate victory “fantastic.”

So, who’s got the Force now, oh height-challenged one?

Unlike Yoda, Molieri displayed neither a gnomelike wrinkle nor convoluted speech pattern in defeat.

“Unfortunately, the Evil Empire won today,” he said.

‘Ranch girls’ pack a wallop

Donovan girls

Abbey Donovan (11), Riley Donovan (17) and Harlee Donovan (riding piggyback) display some sisterly love.  –Photo by Cat Cutillo

By John Murphy

Sunday morning, before a light rain fell on the coast, three of the area’s best softball players traipsed around Martin’s Beach and their family’s sprawling ranch. They had come to pose for photos.

It was “Charlie’s Angels” meets “Petticoat Junction” as Half Moon Bay High School softball stars Abbey and Riley Donovan and their sister Harlee Donovan, now of College of San Mateo, smiled and vogued for photos at the famous beach just south of Half Moon Bay. Then they repaired to their Triple D Ranch in the mountains across the Highway 1 to help create more images. The backdrop was ancient tractors, old trucks, a clutch of barking hunting dogs and some of the greenest grass this side of Ireland.

“I feel like I’ve broken several laws being down here,” one of the visitors said to Abbey after family patriarch Sean Donovan used an access card to open the gate to Martin’s Beach.
“When you’re with us, it doesn’t matter,” said Abbey, senior second baseman for the Half Moon Bay High School softball team.

That’s no brag, just fact. Mom Shannon is part of the Deeney family that formerly owned Martin’s Beach and sold it to the Silicon Valley billionaire who tried to close the winding road down to the beach to the public. That, famously, prompted a spate of well-publicized lawsuits and much public debate.

The Donovan girls spent their early years at Martin’s Beach, living with their parents in a two-story home overlooking the surf. They were just a stone’s throw from a now-closed cafe.

Now the brood, which includes 14-year-old twin brothers Jimmy and Drake and five-month old Zoey, live in a home on what Sean Donovan calls “the compound.” The huge chunk of picturesque land comprises the Triple D Ranch. Three related families (the Donovans, Deeneys and Dexters) live there among the cows, dogs, chickens and decaying farm equipment strewn about, a nod to the 170 years the land has been in the Deeney family.

“They’ve been here for six generations,” said former Half Moon Bay High School football and baseball player Sean, a 6-foot-4 mountain of a man who graduated from high school in 1991. “There’s a tractor out here that was once pulled by a horse.”

Before building their house, Sean and Shannon had to prove ownership of the land, prompting Sean’s father-in-law, Rich Deeney, to retrieve an old deed from a shoe box ensconced in a family safe.

“It was handwritten on parchment paper with a pen in this fancy calligraphy,” Sean said. “The guy from the county said, ‘Where did you get this?’”

At that, Sean smiled, much like he does when oldest daughter Harlee, a power-plant of a catcher for the CSM softball team, sends a pitch into orbit for the Lady Bulldogs. She has hit 28 home runs in one and a half seasons for the community college and is the best known of the Donovan sisters, though the others are coming up fast.

During one game this season, an opponent gave Harlee the Barry Bonds treatment, walking her with the bases loaded rather than pitching to her.

Amateur softball does not generally elicit the kind of adoration Barry Bonds once received, but if it did this trio of Coastside sisters would be legend. These girls are also as tough as bullwhips, having grown up on the ranch racing motorcycles, riding horses, branding livestock and even riding bulls in a local rodeo.

“They’re ranch girls,” Sean said. “Sometimes I joke that Zoey (the baby) will be a cheerleader. But these are three tough girls. They do ranch work, helping drag dead cows in the winter and feeding cows, whatever they have to do to pitch in. It’s a little different out here.”

The Donovan girls all started playing softball in Half Moon Bay around age 7. They picked up the game and improved at varying rates but are now all excelling — Harlee as the star of the top-ranked community college team in the state and her sisters as key cogs on a high school team that is unbeaten.

HARLEE DONOVAN

Harlee, 19, is the oldest Donovan sister and the trailblazer in softball and otherwise.

She was named a softball All-American for CSM after hitting a state-leading 20 home runs as a freshman. Now a sophomore with a .423 batting average, eight home runs and 31 runs batted in, it’s interesting to note she was not always so competent.

“My wife (Shannon) when Harlee first started, was not embarrassed, but did not want a lot of people to see her play because she was so bad,” Sean said. “But with a lot of hard work and perseverance she’s turned that around.”

Harlee is 5-foot-8 and cut out of granite. Her physique is the result of years of ranch work, as well as weightlifting at CSM. She had surgery in November to repair a slight labrum tear and to clean up a bone spur problem that runs in the family.

“Every single day she worked with the trainers at CSM and lifted weights and did the rehab,” Sean said. “I wouldn’t have had the intestinal fortitude for it, but by January she was back.”

Opponents have pitched around her this season, but she has still excelled, including hitting a walk-off home run against San Joaquin Delta in a 3-2 victory.

“I was pretty stoked,” Harlee said. “I was having a shaky game and not doing my best. I was so in the moment (after hitting it out) that I don’t remember my reaction, but the video shows that I was pretty excited.”

Harlee enjoyed barrel racing when she was younger, but says she doesn’t have time for it now. She plans to play at a four-year school after CSM and thinks her two younger sisters are “pretty stellar” on the diamond.

ABBEY DONOVAN

Abbey, 18, is in her fourth year on varsity at Half Moon Bay High School and is hitting .375 in three games with an on-base percentage of .575. When Abbey was 7 ½ she was on a 10-and-under team with Harlee that played in a tournament in Missouri.

“She was 3 feet tall and was our starting right fielder,” Sean said. “She had this giant glove on and was catching everything hit to her. A coach for another team said, ‘Who is that girl out there?’ and I told him, ‘It’s my daughter and she’s only 7 ½.’ He said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’”

Outgoing and social, it was Abbey who gleefully announced during Sunday’s photo session among the cows and dogs that “Riley stepped in a big turd.”

Between the lines the middle Donovan sister is versatile, having played just about every position on the diamond.

“I like to play,” the 5-foot-5 star said. “I really like to hit, and when I make a good play in the field it makes me happy.”

RILEY DONOVAN

Riley, 16, is Half Moon Bay’s 5-11 sophomore catcher. She’s lighting it up at the plate after three games, hitting .556 with a home run and five RBIs. Her slugging percentage is .888.

Like Harlee, Riley was not a quick study in softball.

“I was awkward when I first started playing,” she said. “Around seventh or eighth grade I started to build on my skills and get better.”

Riley said she looked up to her sisters and wanted to be like them so she studied them intently. Now she’s enjoying the fruits of her labor.

“It’s such a fun sport,” she said. “I love to be in the dugout screaming. There’s so much adrenaline when I run out on the field that I just want to throw someone out or hit the ball.”

Riley played junior varsity volleyball last season at Half Moon Bay High School and also plays for coach Ryan Havice’s Breakwater club volleyball team. One night the team had a sleepover at the ranch.

“I don’t want to say the girls on the team are city kids, but they had a team-bonding party out here and there aren’t many lights and the girls were like ‘It’s so dark,’” Sean said. “We told them, ‘Yeah, but you can see the stars and hear the coyotes.’ Half Moon Bay is only 7 miles away, but, when you’re out here, you feel like you’re a world away.”

A beneficiary of all this ranch grit and sisterly excellence is Half Moon Bay High School first-year softball coach Claire Rietmann-Grout.

“The Donovan sisters are tough,” Rietmann-Grout said. “They come out here and they work hard and they know softball. They have very high softball IQs. I know we can look to them for a hit or a play when we need one.”

 

Donovans on tractor

Reporter’s battle vs. bipolar disorder

Bob Linneman .jpg

By John Murphy

MARIPOSA, CA – Bob Linneman lives on Highway 49 in a gold rush town, occupying a single-wide trailer behind an Ace Hardware.

But the real goal for Linneman, as it’s been for decades, is to get himself to the corner of “Happy and Healthy” as they say on those annoying Walgreen’s commercials.

He’s inching closer.

Linneman, 52, is a former high school football player from Santa Cruz and one-time award-winning sports writer for the Santa Cruz Sentinel, who has bipolar disorder – commonly known as manic depression.

Since 2002 when he won a national third-place award for column writing, his life has spiraled downward and has included three firings from newspaper jobs, three near-death experiences, drug addiction, an eviction, three 5150s (involuntary psychiatric hold) and his final acceptance of a bipolar diagnosis.

Now Linneman is courageously fighting his way back and has agreed to tell his story to Prep2Prep so he might educate the public and help those similarly afflicted.

HOME ALONE

Heading east from the Bay Area to Mariposa, one arrives at Hwy 140 which passes through open ranch land. Cruising the two-lane road toward the rugged foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, you see fruit stands, cows, ancient barns and more jacked-up pick-up trucks than you thought existed.

Finally you reach the old mining camp town of Mariposa that Linneman now calls home. It has a population of just over 2,000 and a quaint, old-fashioned main street. Among its notable former residents was Logan Mankins, a former offensive lineman for the New England Patriots.

Mariposa also boasts the county courthouse, built in 1854. It is the oldest continuous-use courthouse in the state and one that Linneman, thankfully, has not had to appear in. He’s been busy battling other demons.

“I can trace it back to incidents of weirdness that weren’t me, dating back to the 1990’s, maybe even earlier,” Linneman said. “It was probably my mid-20s or late 20’s that I really noticed that depression was taking hold and so I sought out help. I was diagnosed at first with depression. I can’t even tell you how many types of anti-depressants drugs I took. They didn’t work.”

Sitting in the living room of his no-frills, $625-per-month trailer where he lives alone, Linneman is surrounded by reminders of his past – that third-place plaque from the Associated Press Sports Editors, a framed autographed picture of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Y.A. Tittle and a lithograph of Santa Cruz’s famous Cooper House that was ruined in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake – a year before he was hired full-time by the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

“I was hired by the Sentinel in 1990, right before football,” Linneman said. “I was thrilled. I was coming home. That was my goal really to work for them. I delivered the paper as a kid.”

GROWING UP 

Linneman grew up on Santa Cruz’s west side, two blocks from Natural Bridges State Beach. Future pro athletes Glenallen Hill and Johnny Johnson were west-siders when Linneman was young.

Even as a young boy, the future journalist displayed creativity and a love of sports.
“He had a wild imagination,” said Jan Linneman, mother of Bob. “He loved the Oakland Raiders and he used to tell kids that he was abandoned at the Oakland Coliseum and we adopted him.”

Another tall tale Linneman concocted was that he only had a partial right foot, just like the New Orleans Saints’ record-setting kicker Tom Dempsey.

Yeah, this Linneman kid had a talent for story-telling all right.

Linneman played Little League baseball. One of his teammates died in the 2001 September 11 terrorist attacks – an event that prompted Linneman’s award-winning column. He also played freshman football at Santa Cruz High School where none other than Pete Newell Jr. (better known as the school’s basketball coach) mentored him.

“I coached Bob on the freshman football team in 1977 at Santa Cruz,” Newell said by email. “He played guard. As a reporter he was professional in getting post-game quotes and in his write-ups.”

MAKING HIS WAY 

Linneman’s family moved across town his sophomore year and he enrolled at Harbor High School. He played junior varsity football there but quit after that, saying he was “weary of football coaches” – an anti-authority bent that continued into his adult life.

After majoring in journalism at Fresno State, he was hired as a reporter by the Scotts Valley Banner, preceding an 18-month stint at the Yuba-Sutter Appeal-Democrat. Then it was onto the Santa Cruz Sentinel, a life-long goal achieved.

“Bob was a local guy and he had great local knowledge,” said Brent Ainsworth, the former assistant sports editor of the Sentinel. “But Bob was a moody guy. Nobody knew what he was going through, clinically, with the mood swings. He could be a pleasure and then a pain to deal with.”

Bipolar sufferers, according to the American Psychiatric Association, experience extreme mood swings ranging from mania to depression. The disease impacts 2.2 percent of the population, or 5.3 million US adults, said the National Institute of Mental Health in 2014.

Linneman was a young writer in the early 1990s, but he improved rapidly, helped by sports editor Ed Vyeda, Ainsworth and other staff veterans. He toiled admirably in the Sentinel sports department from 1990 through ’96, turning in top-notch work, even as the depression was gripping him.

One Sentinel news reporter dubbed Linneman “Bitter Bob” in reference to his sometimes-dour demeanor. Few understood what he was going through.

“As men we’re told to tough it out,” Ainsworth said. “People say ‘Don’t be a wuss. Pull yourself up. Get off your ass and make it happen.’ But it’s not that simple.”

WANDERLUST 

Following nine years at the Sentinel (including three on news side), Linneman in 1999 abruptly left for a news reporting job at the News-Tribune in Duluth, Minnesota. He wanted to get out of California and see what the rest of the country and a real winter was like, he told people. Years later, he second-guesses his motives.

“Was it the reasons I stated, or was it flight or fight?” Linneman said. “I flighted, not understanding the things that were going on (inside of me).”

Linneman did well at his job, but by this point was self-medicating in a big way to deal with the crushing depression. Opiates were his drug of choice and he got them by manipulating an array of doctors. He stayed there a while, but eventually took a buyout from Knight-Ridder which owned the paper.

Next stop: The Daily Times in Farmington, New Mexico where he lasted just four months as a news reporter before getting fired for some ill-advised statement. Landing on his feet, though, he wound up back at the Santa Cruz Sentinel, hired by sports editor Mark Conley.

Things were good at first highlighted by that national award in 2002, but then Linneman’s problems resurfaced. His moodiness and erratic work habits prompted another firing which is how he wound up working at a small weekly newspaper in the remote Sierra Nevada foothills – journalistic Siberia for a national award winner.

He lasted just nine months at the Mariposa Gazette before an epic disagreement with the paper’s owner over his late return from an Easter trip led to his third and last firing.

“I was a walking ball of rage for a long time,” Linneman said. “It came out three times and cost me three different jobs, the last time right here. The next thing you know I’m out of work and I have no way to pay for where I’m living and that was a real fear for me.”

Things got worse. Crestfallen at his plight, Linneman overdosed on muscle relaxers twice and nearly died each time. Then on June 10, 2015 came the event that changed his life forever – a seizure while he was driving his truck on Hwy 140 that caused him to plunge off a 40-foot cliff into the Merced River.

“In a way you can say the drought saved me, because if that river had been full, I’d be fish food,” he said. “I don’t remember before it or after it, but (I remember) hitting trees, my mirrors being ripped off, going over a boulder, into a boulder. It was the scariest thing of my life.”

BOUNCING BACK 

The accident scared Linneman straight. He continued to attended Narcotics Anonymous to help rid himself of opiates and finally accepted the bipolar diagnosis and went to work on that. Aided by an anti-seizure medication and a sleep aid and by focusing intently on his hobbies of listening to music, photographing birds and watching sports, Linneman has been able to limit his manic episodes. He is finally able to live a normal life — albeit alone, without a car and supported only by disability checks.

Now he’s spreading the word about his struggle in a courageous attempt to help others.

“My message to people with bipolar is do not hide, do not fear it,” he said. “Accept it, tell people about it and just live your life, because it can be lived. I’m living proof. I’m happy. I’m smiling. I’m at peace and it’s getting better every day.”

John Murphy may be reached at jmurphy@prep2prep.com and followed on Twitter @PrepCat 

Third place.jpg

 

First at Manson murders, first in scoring

Bloomington football team.jpgBy John Murphy 

BLOOMINGTON – Don Markham, then 54, elicited more muffled laughter than awe when he first met the 1994 Bloomington High football team.

“He was a straight-up guy and he wasn’t trying to be funny, but I thought he was funny,” said two-way lineman Alex Lora, of Rialto, who now remodels businesses. “He was pointing out guys and saying ‘OK, you need to run more and you need to lift more.’ I thought ‘Oh my God, who is this old man?’ But that was just his persona.”

Soon Markham, with a personality and an offense as subtle as a punch in the gut, would take the prep football world by storm.

Bloomington — 1-9 in 1993 before Markham — flattened host Big Bear 86-8 in the opener and then felled nine more regular-season foes as easily as Paul Bunyan whacking Christmas trees. By the time the playoffs were done, the Bruins (14-0) had won their first section title, earned a mythical Division 3 state title and scored a then-national record 880 points.

The point total is still a state record and one of the Inland area’s 10 most unbreakable records. Albemarle (N.C.) High broke Bloomington’s national record in 2001 with 903 points, but it took the Bulldogs two more games.

When former Bloomington standout running back Cheyane Caldwell was asked recently if any Inland team could break the Bruins’ state record, he didn’t hesitate.

“They can try,” chuckled Caldwell, now a captain in the Los Angeles City Fire Department.

Added Caldwell: “This man named Don Markham came in and he believed in us. Our demeanor changed and we could see there was a light at the end of the tunnel.”

That light for opponents was like a freight train bearing down.

Against Big Bear, the ’94 De Anza League champion, the Bruins scored 62 first-half points en route to an 86-8 victory and the highest point total for a Southern Section team since 1921. The Bruins scored 20 points on two-point conversions alone.

“It was outrageous how many points we scored,” said offensive lineman Hilario “Project” Lopez, now a carpenter in Las Vegas. “We had the same talent as the season before or maybe even less, but we had a coach who believed in us. He put the right talent in the right spots. We were just rolling over people. It was surreal.”

After every touchdown the cheerleaders raced to the end zone, which was good for the fitness level of the Bloomington girls. Said quarterback Jason Buell in 2004: “Some of (the cheerleaders) were kind of fat at the start of the season, but by the end of the season they were looking pretty good.”

Bloomington averaged 408.3 yards per game on the ground. In the section title game against host La Mirada, the Bruins rushed for 581 yards in a 48-32 Bruins victory.

Caldwell, Greg Oliver, Adam Rodriguez and David Smith gained the yards, with Oliver and Caldwell combining for more than 3,000 yards for the season.

The offensive line of Lora, Lopez, Henry Viramontes, Mike Abril and Ricky Salazar bored holes in opposing defenses, with the help of tight ends Frank Martinez and Antonio Muro. Even quarterback Buell aided the blocking effort, sticking his head into the fray on Bloom-ington’s vaunted off-tackle pitch.

Markham created the play while coaching the Pop Warner Northridge Knights beginning in 1966. He used it while running the stack-I formation at LA Baptist, Colton and La Puente Bishop Amat and then adapted it to the double-wing at Riverside Ramona.

“Eddie Robinson (Grambling University) used two tight ends and two wings, but he didn’t run the off-tackle pitch,” Markham said. “We were the first double-wing team to pitch it off tackle.”

Don Markham

Markham has been described as an enigmatic football genius, with a savant’s focus on the X’s and O’s. That expertise has helped produce a total of five section titles, achieved at three high schools; and an overall record of 309-110-1 at eight schools.

In 1969 only a mass murder could break his routine, it seemed.

Then a member of the Los Angeles Police Department, Markham and his partner were the first on the scene of the Manson “family” murders at the Los Angeles home of movie director Roman Polanski and the late actress Sharon Tate.

“We had to help the detectives search the property for weapons,” said Markham, who typically zipped from his police shift to football. “I was upset because it screwed up my coaching.”

The obsession never lifted. During much of the 1994 season, Markham wore sweats from his previous stop, Bandon (Ore.) High, turned inside out because he was too busy to buy coaching gear. That was just the tip of his eccentric iceberg.

The ’94 Bruins had only 20 players and used 12. Markham was the entire coaching staff, save for Jeff Stuckey. The Bruins dressed in foreboding Navy blue and sauntered everywhere they went. Their playbook was as thin as an intern’s resume. And they ignored the kicking game, running for two-pointers and punting just twice during the regular season.

Markham loved the rebel tag and Bloomington embraced the Bruins.

“An End Run Around Obscurity” was the title of a 1994 Los Angeles Times article describing the Bruins’ impact on an unincorporated town searching for an identity.

“Thanks to a ragtag collection of football players at this high school who this season conquered the end zone like an unstoppable army, Bloomington is finally getting respect,” the article said.

The records and opponents tumbled like bowling pins. The Bruins walloped Baldwin Park Sierra Vista 70-0 in their playoff opener, besting the state scoring record of 665 points set by Concord De La Salle a year earlier.

Two games later Bloomington defeated Laguna Hills 34-21 in the semis. Smith’s 18-yard sweep in the third quarter shattered the 19-year-old national scoring record of Big Sandy (Texas) High, whose team scored 827 points and included current Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith.

Finally, Bloomington secured the title against La Mirada. Oliver ran for 255 yards and four touchdowns.

“It’s amazing that we had the same 14 or 15 players as the year before and we were just annihilating teams,” said Oliver, who now lives in Las Vegas and is the outbound operation manager for the Office Max distribution center. “It’s hard to believe.”

Markham described a time and place where everything magically fell into place.

“The kids got their positions in the spring and were happy,” he said. “There was no jealousy. Nobody missed practice. It was a bizarre, fun year. I don’t even know how we did it.”

MURPH’S PLACE: Kelbert leads way

 

James Kelbert to the hoopBy John Murphy 

Tuesday night’s Leigh vs. Leland basketball game was a trip.

On one hand you had Leigh’s cadre of snipers situated strategically beyond the 3-point arc waiting their turn to launch one (they made 12).

Then you had Leland during its 53-52 CCS semifinal win, not so obvious about its intentions, but still making nine threes.

Then there was Leland’s James Kelbert. This kid is no finesse player nor “3-point specialist,” he’s a prep hoops version of Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran during his prime. He’s Joakim Noah if Noah had a better inside game. He’s the Creature from the freakin’ Black Lagoon.

Somehow, in this era of promising players being spirited away to out-of-state prep schools or when talented eighth graders just can’t resist the siren call of the WCAL, the most marvelous, throwback, backstreet brawler of a player has wound up at Leland High School and is doing major damage.

Just ask Leigh following Kelbert’s 21-point, 13-rebound effort that has sent the Chargers into a section title game for the second consecutive year. Leland meets St. Ignatius at 4 p.m. Saturday at Santa Clara University’s Leavey Center for the section DII title.

The six-foot, three-inch Kelbert’s effort against Leigh was typical by the way, as he’s averaging 23.3 points, 13.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.8 steals per game.

“He’s unbelievable,” Leigh coach Patrick Judge said. “He single-handedly put them on his back … His motor is just unbelievable. He’s very very good.”

Leland coach Drew Marino agreed.

“He’s the most competitive kid I’ve ever been around. In the fourth quarter I think he got every rebound. When we needed a basket, he got that basket inside. There was a play down there where there was two guys on him and he split them and scored the basket. He’s a throwback player and a competitor.”

He’s a throwback all right, like to the WCAL 1970. If this were 45 years ago and Kelbert was playing for Bellarmine or Mitty, he’d be banging around with the late Kevin Restani of Riordan and enjoying every second of it.

Even better yet, he’s at Leland, a public school that takes whomever wanders in off the street. In the Blossom Valley Athletic League, that seems to be a lot of kids who like to fire up pretty parabolas from the nether regions, some of which draw iron and some not.

Somehow, Kelbert missed the memo from travel ball coaches everywhere that to get a scholy he needs to stop banging the ball inside for lay-ins and work on his outside game. Maybe Kelbert doesn’t even care, or maybe he’s more concerned about that collection of guys he plays with that begins with a T.

“When I was a freshman I was much more of a perimeter player,” Kelbert said. “I would just shoot from the outside and go inside if I needed to. But as I got older my game transitioned to more of an inside game and less of a shooting game. I can still shoot it a little bit, but it’s more about getting it on the inside, getting the offensive rebounds and challenging people physically.”

But why? Doesn’t Kelbert know it’s 3-pointers that attract scouts and make fans rise out of their seats when they see one launched?

“I feel like it’s better,” he said. “It’s more consistent because if you’re shooting from the outside you’re not always going to be on fire. You have a much higher percentage if you’re inside the key and if you’re able to draw contact and draw the foul – you can get more points that way.”

He even calls it a “key.” I love it. How great is this kid?

And talk about “Hands of Stone” – Kelbert just crunches rebounds with those iron hands of his, often grabbing them with one hand in a style that would make John Wooden wince but is effective nonetheless.

“It comes from water polo, where you have to cradle the ball in your hands,” Kelbert said. “It really helps because you only get to use one hand (in water polo), so when you get to use two it’s easier.”

Maybe the whole team thing and Kelbert’s rough-house style bleeds over from water polo, which is a rougher game than people think. Kelbert was his league’s MVP as a senior and a starter on the US Virgin Islands 17U national team that played in Puerto Rico last summer.

If all that’s not enough, the three-sport star was announced as a state finalist for the Wendy’s High School Heisman Award and is a National merit finalist and AP scholar with distinction, being recruited by the likes of MIT and Cal Tech.

So there you go – multi-sports, smart as a whip and the ultimate team player in an era of “me” and shooting threes.

No, Kelbert has no scholarship yet, but it shouldn’t be long until the BVAL Scholar-Athlete of the Year is flicking one of those out of the air with one hand and laughing all the way to college.

John Murphy may be reached at jmurphy@prep2prep.com and followed on Twitter @PrepCat.