Above All Else : Old Sunset League a Source of Pride for Its Football Teams, the County

TIMES STAFF WRITER

All Jack Lindquist wanted was to pick up a few odds and ends that Friday afternoon in 1956. Just a quick run through downtown Anaheim on the way home from work.

First stop, the hardware store. On the door was a sign: Gone to the football game. Why aren't you there?

Next, the drug store. Closed . The grocery store. Closed .

"The whole downtown was deserted," said Lindquist, the president of Disneyland. "They were all at the football game."

The following week, Lindquist took his family to see Anaheim High School play at La Palma Park, now Glover Stadium.

"The place was packed," Lindquist said. "The Anaheim marching band and drill team came out, playing 'Alabama Bound.' They stretched from one end zone to the other. It was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen."

It was his first Sunset League experience. Although none of Lindquist's children attended Anaheim, he didn't miss a game for five years.

There was nothing that compared to Sunset League football in the booming post-war years. Orange County, a smudge on the map south of Los Angeles, was just feeling its growing pains. A few cities, rural towns really, were thriving.

They all had high schools and they all played football.

The Sunset League was one of two leagues in the county, but it featured the largest schools and produced legends. In fact, six prominent members of the Orange County Hall of Fame have Sunset League football backgrounds.

The rivalries went beyond school. It was civic pride. Stadiums were packed, and victories were celebrated in ritual.

"The cities were separated then," said Lanny Carter, who played and coached at Orange in the 1950s. "It seemed like you were going a long way just to get to an away game. There would be lines of cars driving through the orange groves on Friday night. When you played, you were playing for your town."

Said former Anaheim player Frank Doretti: "It was a time of great friends and bitter enemies."

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In 1937, the Southern Section decided to break up the Orange County League by putting the larger schools with Long Beach Jordan and Norwalk Excelsior. Fullerton and Santa Ana joined the league in the 1940s.

Other teams came and went through the years, but the heart of the league was Anaheim, Fullerton, Huntington Beach, Newport Harbor, Orange and Santa Ana.

The Huntington Beach News reported the "intent behind the reorganization was to equalize, as far as possible, the competition between the schools."

Below that story was a shorter one on a Southern California Edison employee who was injured while working. He was bitten by a dog. The dog, the paper said, was being watched for rabies.

It was a simpler era.

The News, as always, carried several stories and advertisements on the city's prospering oil business. So it was fitting that the new league would be named after the Sunset Oil Company.

The league had been given a name. It already had a legend.

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Harry (Cap) Scheue came to Huntington Beach High School in 1925 and spent 39 years there, 25 as a football coach.

"He was quite a cagey guy," said Corky Courson, who was Orange's coach in 1948 and 1949. "He had so many years on the rest of us, that he could beat you with his experience. He had all the answers, we were still developing the questions."

Scheue was born on a homestead in Peoria, Iowa, in 1895. As a student at Iola (Kan.) High, he helped form the school's first football team.

At Huntington Beach, Scheue won a Lower Division title in 1935, the school's only football championship. He got some athletes from the local oil fields. At times, they were better in the field than on it.

The Oilers won only one league game in the Sunset League's first season. Excelsior won the first league title.

But the Oilers were competitive. Newspaper stories always referred to the team as "Mr. Scheue and the boys."

The school named its football field after him. He was so loved by his players that in 1976, the 50th anniversary of his first title, all 11 starters from that team returned to honor him.

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In 1952, Orange defeated Santa Ana, 32-17. It was the first time the Panthers had beaten their main rival in season.

The team and fans left Santa Ana Stadium and headed for the plaza back home. They drove around the plaza, honking their horns, making a lap for each point they had scored.

It was Orange's traditional victory celebration.

"The whole community got involved with the football team back then," Carter said. "It didn't matter if you had a kid on the team or not."

Games were often an adventure. One season, the league introduced yellow footballs. That was dropped the following year because Anaheim players were able to camouflage the ball in their yellow jerseys.

In the 1950s, only the league champion would qualify for the playoffs. In the 1960s, an occasional second-place team got in. A league title was special.

Games would draw as many as 10,000, depending on the importance.

"We'd be on the bus, going to the game and turn the corner to get to La Palma Park and the stands would already be full," said former Anaheim player Phil Anton, who graduated in 1965. "If you didn't get there by 6 p.m., you didn't get a seat."

Community spirit was such in Orange that the daughter of a drug store owner would give a free milk shake to every player that scored a touchdown for the Panthers. The offer was good for freshman players as well as varsity.

"You felt special if you were on the football team," Doretti said. "Everyone in town would be talking about the last game or the next game. You have to remember, we were the only game in town. There were no Rams, Angels or Lakers."

Such interest created intense rivalries. Anaheim vs. Fullerton, Orange vs. Santa Ana, and Huntington Beach vs. Newport Harbor were games that had to be won.

"There was a lot of competition between towns," said Brant Cowser, who was an assistant coach at Anaheim from 1953-84. "When we went up to play Fullerton in 1954, two police cars met us at the city limits. They escorted us all the way to the stadium just to make sure nothing happened."

Eventually, though, everyone treated Anaheim as its main rival.

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When the area that is now Disneyland was covered with orange trees, Clare VanHoorebeke was already a legend.

There was parity throughout the league in the 1940s. VanHoorebeke changed that when he became Anaheim's coach in 1950. He would dominate Orange County high school football for 23 years.

VanHoorebeke was, by his own admission, a hoodlum at 14. He embellished that image by riding a motorcycle around town. Yet, as a lifeguard, he once saved a child from drowning.

He dropped out of Huntington Beach as a freshman, then returned when he was 20. He went on to graduate from Arizona State. His dream was to be the Oilers' coach.

That chance was at hand when Scheue retired in 1950. His former coach even recommended him for the job. But Huntington Beach officials remembered VanHoorebeke's somewhat shady past and turned him down. Anaheim was also looking for a coach and wasn't as picky.

"He always made us aware that they didn't give him the Huntington Beach job," said Doretti, who graduated from Anaheim in 1955. "We'd be in the locker room before playing Huntington and Van would step up and remind us that they had questioned his character.

"Huntington Beach had no idea what they turned down."

VanHoorebeke finished with a record of 190-49-10. He won 16 Sunset League titles. He took the Colonists to four section championship games, won one and tied one.

He had a great love for his players, but he watched them constantly. After practice, he would send an assistant coach to monitor the local hamburger stand to make sure the players went straight there to get a good meal.

"He'd make us grease our helmets and oil our shoes so they would shine," Anton said. "Our chin straps always had to be buckled and we had to act like gentlemen."

VanHoorebeke was the first coach to use film. He would even send assistant coaches to Hollywood after games to get it developed. They would race back to watch it that night.

Anaheim had the first team weight room and the first booster club.

"Each week, Van would introduce two players of the game at the booster meeting," said Anton, who graduated in 1964. "Those would be the only players allowed at the meeting. You'd dream about being one of those guys."

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Mickey Flynn saw the inside of more booster club meetings than anybody.

No one knew a thing about Flynn before his sophomore season at Anaheim High in 1954. By 1956, he was one of the most talked about players in Southern California.

The first time Flynn touched the football in a varsity game, he ran 95 yards for a touchdown. He finished with 3,681 yards and averaged 13.8 yards per carry for his career .

Flynn was given the nickname, "The Ghost of La Palma," for the way he seemed to vanish in the poor lighting at La Palma Park, then emerge 20 yards downfield.

He was revered by the town.

"I remember my oldest son dressed up as Mickey Flynn for Halloween in 1956," Lindquist said.

Flynn and Downey's Randy Meadows, the other great back of the era, met in the 1956 championship game, which drew more than 40,000. The game ended in a 13-13 tie.

But Flynn never reached those heights again, and never played in college.

Other players from the league did go on. Isaac Curtis (Santa Ana), Brig Owens (Fullerton) and Gerry Mullins (Anaheim) all played in the NFL.

But Flynn, who has held a variety of jobs since high school, remains a legend in Orange County.

"I never lived off being Mickey Flynn, but I enjoy seeing my name in the paper and it's nice that people still recognize me," Flynn once said. "People will hear my name and remember."

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When Anaheim and Santa Ana played for the Southern Section Major Division championship in 1967, it was the high water mark for the old Sunset League. It also was the first time two Orange County teams had played for a title.

Anaheim, led by quarterback George Fraser, won, 35-14.

By then, the league was already changing. Only Huntington Beach has remained in the league through its 57 years. Santa Ana returned from a lengthy absence in 1991. The two schools will renew their old rivalry Friday, but it's not the same.

"We left the Sunset League for the Freeway League after the 1964 season," former Fullerton player Bill Darke said. "The next year, we won the league title. It was nice, but it wasn't like playing in the Sunset League. That was big."

In the end, the original Sunset League was a victim of its inception. The county grew big enough to support a large-school league, then diluted it with its growth.

In the 1950s, there was one high school in Anaheim. Today, there are nine. With the creation of intra-city rivalries, the old town-against-town feeling waned.

"When the county expanded, we began losing what was special about the Sunset League," Carter said. "It's just a memory now. A golden memory."

For the Record Los Angeles Times Thursday October 7, 1993 Orange County Edition Sports Part C Page 8 Column 6 Sports Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction Anaheim coach--A photo in Wednesday's Times Orange County edition incorrectly identified a former football coach at Anaheim High. The coach was John Wallin.
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