Football Titles Were a Way of Life at Brea-Olinda 30 Years Ago


If the early days of the Sunset League were days of innocence, then the late 1950s and early 1960s was an age of dominance for Brea-Olinda in the county's other league.

From 1959-63, the Wildcats won four CIF Lower Division football championships. The Wildcats coupled the 1963 CIF championship with their ninth consecutive Orange League title.

"We had good coaches, good players and a good program," said Jim McWilliam, a reserve linebacker and tight end from 1960-62. "Why did we dominate? I don't know what made us different, but we hated to lose."

Brea-Olinda won Lower Division 1-A championships in 1959 and '61 under Coach Dick Tucker, who would later lead Orange Coast College to national championships in 1963 and 1975.

The Wildcats won a Lower Division 1-A championship in '62 and a Lower Division 2-A championship in '63 under Coach Glen Hastings.

The '59 championship team was led by quarterback Gary Holman, who earned Lower Division co-player of the year honors in 1960 with John Huarte of Mater Dei. Huarte would go on to win the 1964 Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame, and Holman would play two years of major league baseball with the Washington Senators.

Fullback Steve Ledbetter led the '61 champions, earning Lower Division player of the year honors by helping the Wildcats outscore opponents, 409-38, while compiling a 12-0 record. At 6 feet 1, 200 pounds, he was bigger than two of his linemen, and also was a sprinter on the track team.

After the championships in '62 and '63, Brea-Olinda won again to became the only school in Orange County history to win three consecutive CIF football championships. The Wildcats were 33-2-1 during that three-year run.

Talk about those glory days and McWilliam gets a gleam in his eye.

McWilliam, in his 23rd year of teaching at the school, is now the vocational educational director at Brea-Olinda.

"I wasn't this great player or anything, but I went out and played football because that's what everyone did," McWilliam said. "Football was a real community thing and we'd get big crowds all the time. But I don't think the players today play with any less intensity."

But today's players haven't had a blowout like Brea-Olinda's 75-0 rout of Capistrano in 1961.

"I remember that game because I got to play a lot," McWilliam said. "It was phenomenal. We couldn't do anything wrong."

McWilliam also remembers the fallout from the victory. Tucker and the Wildcats received reprimands and poor publicity from the game. The team was accused of running up the score.

"I felt bad about the score, but I didn't agree with what was written," McWilliam said. "If Coach Tucker had left the first team in, then that's a valid argument. But when you put in the reserves, how do you tell those kids to lay down and not try their hardest?

"That year, nobody came close to us in our division," McWilliam said. "It would've been interesting to play one of the big school powerhouses that year."

So how would that Brea-Olinda Lower Division powerhouse fare in today's game?

Current Brea-Olinda football coach, Jon Looney, said it would be tough to compare eras.

"So many things have changed in the game," said Looney, who played football at Anaheim under Clare VanHoorebeke from 1970-72.

"I think with the nutrition and weight training advances, kids are bigger and better athletes now," Looney said. "Back when my dad, H.L. Looney, played football at Anaheim, they didn't want anyone to lift weights to get muscle-bound. Now basketball, baseball players, everyone hits the weights."

McWilliam was less diplomatic.

"No one could touch Steve Ledbetter these days . . . nobody," he said. "When we came out, we didn't try to intimidate anyone. Now you see these guys come out, do calisthenics and all these drills."

"We just walked on the field with our helmets, did some stretching, then kicked their butts," McWilliam said chuckling. "Now isn't that what it's all about?"

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