It’s been more than 20 years since Harry (Cap) Sheue left the faculty of Huntington Beach High School.
But as anyone who ever stopped to chat with Cap in a school hallway would tell you, leaving in his case was only a technicality known as retirement.
He would never really leave.
Simply giving Cap a gold watch and wishing him luck in his golden years would have been unthinkable.
Cap was more than just another coach at another school.
He has devoted 60 years of his life to Huntington Beach High and is as much a part of school lore as the old tower on Main Street.
The school, still, is one of his best friends.
In 1967, they re-named the campus football stadium “Sheue Field” in his honor.
Huntington Beach High may never be able to fully repay him.
But it tries.
On Aug. 22, Cap Sheue, who still lives in Huntington Beach, turned 90. The school marked the occasion by posting a birthday greeting on the school’s message board on Main Street.
Cap was touched.
Until recently, Cap returned to school every September to address the incoming freshman class. Only failing health keeps him away now.
Still, his eyes light up when he talks about the Oilers and tradition.
Is it any wonder? Cap Sheue watched this school grow up. It was his baby.
He arrived in 1925 and for 39 years roamed the grounds as coach, athletic director, teacher and counselor.
He led students through the Great Depression and mourned the loss of 22 of them in World War II. He watched the world change as never before and helped his students change with it. He was at Huntington Beach when the Charleston was the rage and hem lines dared to creep above the ankle. He was there when it was cool to twist and shout to a curious group called the Beatles.
So, understand why Cap Sheue still can get teary-eyed over an Oiler class reunion.
In 1976, he addressed an assembly in honor of the 50th anniversary of the school’s tower and gymnasium. Cap, of course, was there when they cut the ribbon.
“I gave one good speech in my life,” Cap said as he sifted through one of his many scrapbooks recently. “And it was that night. I just felt it. It meant so much to me because we lived it. All our assemblies and rallies were at the gymnasium. We held a memorial there to the boys who were killed in World War II.”
The speech inspired Sheue to write a pamphlet about the history of athletics at Huntington Beach High. Who else would write it?
Sheue never for once questioned his course in life. He wanted to coach as soon as he was old enough to know what one was.
He loved kids; tall ones, short ones, good ones and bad ones.
And they loved Cap.
He was the kind of coach you could always go to with a problem. Cap was busy, but never too busy.
“Kids have to like you,” Sheue said. “You can’t teach a boy or girl until you have convinced them that you are interested in them. Then, you’ve got it made.”
Cap Sheue had it made.
Thirty of his players became coaches. One of those included legendary Anaheim High football Coach Claire VanHoorebeke.
It didn’t matter to Cap Sheue that he never made a million dollars or drove a fancy car.
To find out what he got out of coaching you need only to ask him about Al Koenig.
Koenig ran track for Huntington Beach in 1930 and was the first Oiler to win a gold medal (100-yard dash) at the California State meet. Sheue was the coach.
A few years ago, the phone rang at Sheue’s apartment in Huntington Beach.
It was Al Koenig. He wanted to stop by to visit.
When he arrived, he reached in his pocket and took out something wrapped in tissue paper. It was Koenig’s gold medal.
He handed it to Cap. Sheue refused to take it.
“Then, he started to cry,” Sheue recalled. “There were tears running down his face. I knew right there he wanted me to have it.”
Cap took the medal and put it in his trophy case.
Three weeks later, the phone rang again. Koenig had died of a heart attack.
“You know he had a hunch,” Sheue said of Koenig’s impending death. “He had a bad heart. He had a hunch.”
Cap paused for a moment.
“That’s what you get out of coaching,” he said. “You don’t make any money, but you sure can get a helluva lot of satisfaction.”
Harry M. Sheue was born in 1895 on a homestead in Peoria, Iowa. His family moved to Iola, Kan. in 1903. At Iola High School, Sheue lettered in football, basketball and track and field. In 1915, he was named captain of the basketball team that won the state championship.
Harry Sheue has been known as “Cap” ever since.
He fought in France during World War I and when he returned he entered Baker University in Kansas to pursue a coaching career.
Sheue’s dream of becoming a high school coach came true in 1921 when he was hired at Osawatomie, Kan. He stayed there two years before moving to Bartlesville High in Oklahoma.
But like so many others in his day, Sheue was being lured to California by stories of enchantment and opportunity.
Cap was hoping that somewhere out there there was a coaching job, too.
So, in 1924, Sheue and his wife packed their bags and drove west. It took them three weeks to get here and Sheue said only 75 miles of the road was paved.
As soon as Cap Sheue’s body stopped shaking from the trip, he enrolled at USC to begin work on his Masters Degree.
He coached at Lompoc High before coming to Huntington Beach High in the summer of 1925.
Yes, Huntington Beach was a little different then. You were hard-pressed to find a house every block, let alone a 7-Eleven store and an apartment complex.
The high school amounted to one small brick building on the corner of Main and Mansion streets.
Huntington Beach was a vast expanse filled with fields of lima beans, sugar beets and strawberries. And, of course, oil wells.
When Sheue arrived, there were 323 students enrolled at Huntington Beach. Today, there are more than 3,000. And if you don’t think times haven’t changed, consider that there were only eight high schools in all of Orange County (There are 56 public schools now.)
The kids at Huntington Beach were mostly farmers’ sons and daughters. Most were awkward and unsophisticated.
“Very few of the boys ever went with girls,” Sheue recalled. “The change from grammar school to high school scared them to death. But they were excited and ready to go.”
In 1926, construction of the Oilers tower and gymnasium was completed. It’s the only part of the original school still standing.
It also was in 1926 that Coach Cap Sheue fielded his first championship football team. And though the Oilers were only co-champions of the Orange League, this would be a team that Sheue would never forget.
In 1976, on the 50th anniversary of that championship team, Harl Crockett, the starting right guard, called Cap and told him he was going to round up the boys for a reunion.
Cap wasn’t so optimistic.
The players were to meet under the old tower before the Oilers’ homecoming game.
“It was the thing left that everyone would recognize,” Sheue said.
Sheue will never forget the feeling that struck him when he walked around the corner and saw all 11 starters standing under the tower.
“It was a miracle,” Cap said. “They were all there, every damn one of them. They stood there with big grins on their faces. They took us to the gym and put on the best pep rally you ever saw.”
At halftime of the game that night, they lined the players up in their original positions for another team picture--50 years later.
For Cap Sheue, there are thousands of memories and stories.
But he does have his favorites.
In the late 1920s, an orphan named Claire VanHoorebeke enrolled at Huntington Beach High but dropped out after his freshman season to work in the oil fields.
Three years later, at age 20, VanHoorebeke returned and wondered if he could play football. The Southern Section rule then allowed a high school player eligibility until he turned 21. So VanHoorebeke, a quarterback, got to play all of his sophomore season and half a season the next year.
When he turned 21, Sheue urged VanHoorebeke to stay in school and get his diploma. He did.
VanHoorebeke went on to become Orange County’s greatest high school football coach and was elected to the National High School Coaches Hall of Fame.
“But here’s what I admire about VanHoorebeke,” Sheue said. “It wasn’t his coaching record. Can you imagine sitting in class with a bunch of kids who are three and four years younger than you are? It was embarrassing as hell for him. But he had the guts to do it.”
Sheue has seen a lot of great athletes come and go at Huntington Beach High, but no one sticks out in his mind more than Eddie Morris.
Sheue, who can recall details of an event 50 years ago as if it happened yesterday, talks about Morris as if he had just left the room.
But Eddie Morris ran track for Sheue in the late ‘30s.
Sheue discovered Morris in a freshman after-school gym class. Morris was running down the runway approaching the long jump pit.
“I don’t think I ever saw him hit the board,” Sheue said. “And that’s the last time he ever long jumped.”
A week later, Sheue timed Morris in the 100-yard dash at 10-flat, an incredible time in 1936.
By the time he finished at Huntington Beach, Morris had improved his time to 9.5 seconds, one-tenth of a second off the world record.
Eddie Morris won every 100- and 220-yard race he entered as a junior and senior. He was a two-time prep All-American.
“He was a cinch for the 1940 Olympics,” Sheue said. “I took him to Fresno and entered him in the national junior meet. He won the 100 and broke a national record.”
But, at the same time, Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich were marching through Europe. The world would soon be at war and the 1940 Olympic Games were canceled.
Morris went off to war and was injured. And so ended his Olympic hopes. Sheue saw many a student off to war. It wasn’t long before many of them starting writing Sheue to find out what was going on back home.
Sheue was inundated with so many letters that he decided to start a monthly newsletter to inform servicemen what was going on at Huntington Beach High. Circulation grew to 214.
That was Cap Sheue. He was an innovator. As a coach in 1929, he started the state’s first high school basketball tournament.
And for 30 years he ran the prestigious Southern Counties track meet.
And Cap Sheue isn’t one to forget a good quote. Sheue quoted verbatim a paragraph from the Los Angeles Times dating back to the 1940s.
“Huntington Beach High’s Southern Counties Track Meet is probably the largest, fastest and best conducted prep meet in the United States,” Sheue quoted from the article. “And you know what? It might have been.”
Sheue’s apartment is filled with mementos. Through the years, he’s been honored with dozens of plaques and awards for his coaching and civic service.
He was elected to the California Coaches Assn. Hall of Fame in 1975.
But his heart remains with his students and his school.
In 1983, they held a “Cap Sheue Night” in Huntington Beach. Commendations ranged from the Huntington Beach School Board to President Reagan.
But Sheue really was in his glory when he returned every year to address the freshmen of Huntington Beach High.
“I would tell them to be proud that morning,” Sheue said, recalling the lines from his best speeches. “I’d tell them they had started to become a member of one of the finest high schools in the United States. And being great isn’t winning football championships. It means getting on the ball and doing something. Don’t just go to class and go home. Don’t be Johnny Doe, be Johnny on the football team. Get out there, get busy.”