TWENTY-FOUR YEARS ON THE PREP BEAT : The Players: They Enhanced Chosen Fields

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Football has been king in the county going back to the early 1960s when Coach Clare Van Hoorebeke set the standards at Anaheim High. Through the years, the county's rich tradition has continued at Edison, Servite, Fountain Valley, El Toro, El Modena, Valencia and others where "Friday Night Lights" continue to shine.

Few could argue that the best high baseball in America is played every year in the county. The programs at Esperanza and El Dorado are traditionally among the best in the nation. Former Garden Grove star Lenny Dykstra, now playing for the Phillies, remains the best player from the county.

It's no coincidence that the county's rise as a basketball power began when Gary McKnight became the coach at Mater Dei in 1983.

McKnight has had his share of success, but his team was no match for Marina's Cherokee Parks in the semifinals of the Southern Section playoffs in 1991. Parks is the best to ever put on a uniform in this area.

Here's some the best football, basketball and baseball players to compete in the county over the last 24 years:

FOOTBALL

Ken Margerum, Fountain Valley, 1976: He was a gifted wide receiver and track star who blossomed into a two-time All-American at Stanford. He caught a touchdown pass for the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX.

Margerum now is married and living on the big island of Hawaii, where he's developing ocean-front homes with tennis star John McEnroe.

George Kenlon, Servite, 1977: Among the best pass rushers in county history. Kenlon's career was cut short by injury at Colorado and later ended his career at Cal State Fullerton. Now he is a cable television executive in Connecticut.

Emile Harry, Fountain Valley, 1980: Harry is among the county's great athletes. He was a smooth wide receiver and starting point guard for two seasons at Fountain Valley. He went to Stanford and now plays for the Rams.

Keith Van Horn, Fullerton, 1975: He played four seasons at USC where he was an All-American offensive lineman in 1980. He was a No. 1 selection by the Chicago Bears, where he has started for 11 seasons.

Craig Rutledge, El Dorado, 1981: The best punt and kickoff returner in county history. He played defensive back at UCLA for four seasons and is now an investment broker.

Rex Moore, El Modena, 1982: Will you ever forget Moore firing mud in Notre Dame quarterback Steve Beuerlein's face at the Coliseum?

Dan Owens, La Habra, 1984: He started for four seasons at USC and is now an established NFL defensive lineman for the Detroit Lions.

Derek Brown, Servite, 1988: Brown had two memorable games with Russell White of Encino Crespi in what was billed as "The Great Running Back Debate" in 1987 and 1988. He rushed for 312 yards in second meeting between the state's two top backs as a senior and later won the Glenn Davis award honoring the best player in Southern California.

Bret Johnson, El Toro, 1988: The true testimony to Johnson as a prep quarterback wasn't his passing yardage or touchdown totals. Johnson didn't lose a game that he started in his junior or senior season.

He was the county's back of the year for two straight seasons and was named the state player of the year by Cal-Hi Sports. Regardless of what Johnson failed to accomplish in the collegiate ranks, he was the county's best quarterback over the past 24 years.

Rob Johnson, El Toro, 1990: He was an all-county wide receiver as a junior and an all-county quarterback as a senior. He played varsity basketball for four years and pitched in a championship game at Anaheim Stadium as a freshman.

He played in the shadow of his older brother, Bret, but has emerged as USC's starting quarterback the past two years. Footnote: He's also pretty good at handicapping the exacta in the last race at Del Mar.

Billy Blanton, Mater Dei, 1991: Few have gathered more headlines than Blanton did his senior year at Mater Dei, when he passed for 3,545 yards and 36 touchdowns to lead the Monarchs to the Division I championship.

He capped a remarkable senior year by passing for 257 yards in a 35-14 rout of Rialto Eisenhower in the title game before 33,204 fans.

Travis Kirschke, Esperanza, 1992: For three years, he dominated opposing linemen and helped Esperanza reach three sectional championships in three seasons. The Aztecs were 39-2 with Kirschke in the lineup. The true barometer of any blue-chip athlete is his senior season.

Most have their college scholarships wrapped up after their junior seasons and their senior seasons are disappointing. Edison lineman Andy Sinclair (Stanford) and Fountain Valley lineman Lance Zeno come to mind. But Kirschke gave 110% in every game. Simply put, he's the best high school football player that I saw in 24 years.

BASKETBALL

Rick Aberegg, Katella, 1970: He averaged 17.4 points as a junior and 27.5 points as a senior. He teamed with Bob Sherwin to form the best backcourt in county history. Still holds the school's single-game and season scoring records.

Mark Wulfemeyer, Troy, 1974: He averaged 27.5 points per game for four years in an era without the three-point shot. Wulfemeyer and Anaheim football star Mickey Flynn are true county legends.

Rich Branning, Marina, 1976: A three-year starter who remains the best point guard in county history. He averaged 19.2 points as a junior and 27.4 points as a senior. Played at Notre Dame and was later drafted by the Indiana Pacers.

Johnny Rogers, La Quinta, 1981: A three-year starter who led La Quinta to a 3-A division title in 1980. He averaged 28.5 points as a junior and 32.4 points as a senior.

Wayne Carlander, El Toro/Ocean View, 1981: He played his freshman year at El Toro and then transferred to Ocean View where he was a three-year starter. Averaged 26.4 points as a junior and 33 points as a senior.

Tom Lewis, Mater Dei, 1985: The fifth-leading scorer in Southern Section history with 2,456 points. He helped Mater Dei win a 4-A title in 1983 and a 5-A title in 1985.

LeRon Ellis, Mater Dei, 1987: He transferred from Portland's Parkrose High as a junior and averaged 23.2 points in leading Mater Dei to the State Division I title in 1987. A first-round draft choice by the Clippers.

Adam Keefe, Woodbridge, 1988: Keefe was the epitome of the blue-collar worker who was equally accomplished in the classroom. He'll be remembered for two things: He insisted that academics were the most important factor in selecting a college and then chose Stanford over North Carolina; Two, he turned down an offer from Dean Smith.

Keefe became a four-year starter at Stanford and then joined Mater Dei's LeRon Ellis as the county's only first-round draft choices when Atlanta selected him in the first round last year.

Kevin Rembert, Mater Dei, 1988: He takes a place here for one accomplishment that has never been duplicated: Rembert is the owner of four rings after playing on four Southern Section 5-A championship teams.

Reggie Geary, Mater Dei, 1992: He made his presence felt as a freshman at Ocean View High but was ruled ineligible when it was determined that his parents established residence was in La Quinta's district.

He resurfaced at Mater Dei where he became an instant crowd-pleaser with his acrobatic dunks and fancy passes. He was a cartoon character in sneakers who performed in front of big crowds in big arenas.

Cherokee Parks, Marina, 1992: "The Chief" will be the gauge by which all future centers will be measured. He combined size, strength and gracefulness with a competitive drive to win. He debuted as a gangly freshman with an immediate tag of "can't-miss."

He developed into the best center in Southern California since Bill Laimbeer was playing at Palos Verdes. Some compared him to Bill Walton. Parks is now playing at Duke and figures to have a nice career in the NBA before he's finished.

BASEBALL

Alan Bannister, Kennedy, 1969: Even after 23 years, Bannister still holds nearly every offensive record at Kennedy where he was the county's player of the year his senior season. he was the fifth player selected in the major league draft and played 12 season in the major leagues.

Andy Bielanski, Savanna, 1969: Few high school players received more attention than Bielanski did in 1969 and 1969. As a junior, he had a 13-1 record as pitcher and was named the Southern Section's 3-A division co-player of the year with Tim Foli. He moved to catcher as a senior, was drafted by the Mets but rejected a big bonus offer to attend UCLA.

Jim Peterson, Sonora, 1973: He won 30 games in leading Sonora to consecutive Southern Section 2-A division titles. Peterson finished with a county record 40 victories in three seasons. In an era when there were no limits on how many appearances or innings a pitcher could perform in one week, Peterson won 30 of Sonora's 37 victories in its two championship seasons.

Mike Carpenter, Los Alamitos, 1975: A first baseman who batted .400 as a junior and .463 as senior. He played at Cerritos College and UCLA but his career ended abruptly when he tore cartilage in his knee for a Cardinals minor league team.

John Christensen, Troy, 1978: A two-time All-Southern Section selection who batted .395 as a junior and .453 as a senior. He led Cal State Fullerton to the NCAA College World Series title in 1979.

Lenny Dykstra, Garden Grove, 1981: Nicknamed "Nails," Dykstra still holds county records for hits in a season (50) and career stolen bases (89). He was caught stealing only once in four years.

Jason Moler and Doug Saunders, Esperanza, 1988: The duo were the leaders of an Esperanza team that finished 25-3 and were runners-up in the Southern Section 4-A championship game.

Their versatility was unmatched. Moler had an 8-1 pitching record and batted .420 and he also played the infield. He later earned a spot on the Olympic baseball team as a catcher. Saunders batted .420 with six home runs and had a 4-1 record with six saves.

Greg Pirkl, Los Alamitos, 1988: Pirkl, who had pitched and played first base, decided to give catching a try and went to the store to buy a glove. Owner Sheldon Rocha, a former coach at Norwalk Glenn, sold Pirkl the glove, became his catching coach and a career was born.

Pirkl blossomed into the county's player of the year, batting .549 with 10 home runs and 39 RBIs. He later signed with the Seattle Mariners and remains in that organization.

Greg Hansell, Kennedy, 1989: Hansell outdueled Saugus' heralded Roger Salkeld in a memorable nine-inning game and scored the game's only run on a wild pitch in Kennedy's 1-0 victory at Dodger Stadium in the 3-A division championship.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
53°