TWENTY-FOUR YEARS ON THE PREP BEAT : A Storied Career Comes to an End

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tom Hamilton will cover his last event as prep sports editor of The Times Orange County Edition Saturday at the State basketball tournament in Oakland. Hamilton, 43, who began his career at The Times as a copy messenger in 1968, is retiring and moving to Bend, Ore.

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After reporting on 750 football games, 1,200 basketball games and more extra-inning baseball games than I want to remember, I'm moving on. A 24-year career is coming to an end.

For someone who was never much of an athlete in high school, I had the good fortune of working for a winning sports department team at The Times.

The assignments included covering some of the best prep players and coaches in some of the most memorable games in county history over parts of four decades.

My first feature story was on Fountain Valley wrestler Glenn Anderson and appeared on Page 2 in December 1969. Flip it over, and there's a Page 1 feature on UCLA's junior center, Lew Alcindor, who went on to even greater fame in the NBA as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Anderson was a classmate at Huntington Beach High only a year earlier and then moved to Fountain Valley in 1969. He thought I was joking when I telephoned to request an interview.

After spending four years taking game results over the telephone, I got my first break when a reporter got ill on game night, and I was called to pinch hit. Dan Princeotto ran wild for Estancia, and keeping track of his statistics was a job.

Somehow, I survived and was eventually trusted with selecting the all-county football, basketball and baseball teams. The task has become more difficult each year. The tremendous growth in the area and the emphasis on sports has resulted in greater numbers of blue-chip athletes each season.

So much has changed over the years. But, fortunately, there has been a constant: the dedicated coaches who work basically for 10 cents an hour. In an era when the family structure is in decline, they've taken added responsibility and influence on today's student-athletes. They have my greatest admiration.

Above all, I've really enjoyed my relationship with them. I'll miss going to football games an hour early to talk to the coaches. I'll miss sitting in gymnasiums for 10 hours during holiday basketball tournaments.

I won't miss senseless litigation, the emphasis on scholarships, the yearly budget cuts or the expectations of self-serving parents.

I plan to move to Bend, Ore., where folks can't imagine metal detectors at elementary schools or drive-by shootings at high schools.

I had a great run. This farewell package includes some highlights from those 24 years. Hope you enjoy reading about the games, coaches and players as much as I did covering them.

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