Buena High School's beloved first principal, Arleigh W. McConnell, collapsed at a girls' basketball game Thursday night and later died at Community Memorial Hospital.
The game stopped for about half an hour as paramedics and school nurses tried several times to resuscitate McConnell and then carried him out of the gym.
Community Memorial officials declined to say anything about McConnell's condition, as friends prayed outside the emergency room and family members and a priest conferred with doctors. Buena teachers and retirees, as well as some students, gathered at the hospital.
A friend said McConnell, who recently celebrated his 76th birthday, suffered a heart attack. "He was a beloved man," said the friend, who declined to give his name. "He had hundreds of friends."
McConnell, who retired in 1980, was a fan of girls' basketball and a fixture at the games, usually sitting under the B in Buena. The team coach, Joe Vaughan, was hired by McConnell 20 years ago.
"He was very supportive of young teachers," Vaughan said. "He was also a big booster of girls' basketball."
McConnell served as Buena principal from 1961 to 1980, opening the school and watching it flourish as the east end of the city grew. The school's auditorium is named for him, and a picture of him hangs above the auditorium entrance.
"He was a real sports nut," said Lane Jackson, who is now Balboa Middle School principal, but was initially hired by McConnell. "He spent every night at the gym."
Vaughan said McConnell attended Buena's first-ever appearance in the playoffs in 1976 and also watched the girls' team take the state title in 1979. Recently, McConnell and his wife, Mary, who lived about a quarter mile from campus, attended nearly every home game, Vaughan said.
Thursday night, McConnell attended the game without his wife, who was at choir practice. Instead he sat next to a doctor. With two minutes left in the game, McConnell collapsed at about 9 p.m.
The game stopped as nurses worked over him and worried teachers gathered around.
The girls team won the game against Palmdale.
Elias is a Times correspondent and Pols is a Times staff writer.