Sidelines: JC football glory days after the war

Don Cantrell

Prior to World War II, junior college football featured fine talent

and drew fair crowds, but nothing was massive or overwhelming.

Big news was picking up a sports section and finding that Fullerton JC

had drawn top Newport Harbor High stars like fullback Rollo McClellan,

quarterback George Mickelwait and end Frank Sheflin in the late 1930s.

The shock was they did not choose Santa Ana JC. Orange Coast College

opened in 1948.

There was also a dash of big news when Fullerton lured a future

professional, Howie Livingston of Montebello High, to the north county

school. Former Harbor High Coach Dick Spaulding, a co-coach with Ed

Goddard, played a major role in the picture.

The so-called big news events would soon be somewhat limited and faded

after the U.S. declared war on Japan, Germany and Italy.

In time, it would find most all the players and coaches of that period

disappearing to serve their country in the military.

The big news had dimmed.

No one was really quite prepared for what was coming after September

of 1945 when the war ended.

Reflecting back, former Harbor High gridder and one-time San Diego

County prep coach Bob Woodhouse said it suddenly found veterans

everywhere returning home from a long, agonizing war. He said many felt

inclined to make up for lost time and work toward a rewarding career,

especially since the GI Bill helped provide funds for a college

existence, one many would not have enjoyed before the war.

Woodhouse noted that enthusiasm for football and other sports found a

new birth.

Former OCC Coach Ray Rosso was quick to recognize it amongst the JCs

as he took charge of Chaffey College in Ontario in 1946. He said he was

loaded with military veterans. With superb talent and skill, he led the

Panthers to two championships and took one club to the Junior Rose Bowl

and beat an Oklahoma team.

The Junior Rose Bowl was one of the new era Big News happenings and

sparked increased enthusiasm across the nation for JC football.

And that, in turn, sparked a heavy drive toward recruiting. It was not

the same anymore. The new recruiting picture found some coaches opening

the doors to invite players from distant places. It was especially

becoming a wild scene among California JCs.

JC football recruiting turned the corner in the late '40s when some

junior colleges were showing up with more out-of-town starters than


The late Eddie West of the Santa Ana Register used to delight in

referring to San Bernardino Valley College's rosters of the early '50s.

West would write, "They appear to have more Pennsylvanians than Fred


But the Santa Ana College Dons were not without a strange foreign

look. One roster featured guys from 14 different states, including New


It overlapped into basketball as well. Sportswriters used to guffaw or

grimace after perusing some Fullerton JC rosters because so many of the

players came from Detroit.

More bowl games would appear in good time and the coaches finally

focused on another draw in recruiting by creating intersectional games.

Since the fans favored the idea, it would bring bigger turnouts to the

games. Players loved the idea of flying to Northern California, Arizona

and Idaho, for example.

Orange Coast of earlier years often mixed with teams that would

require traveling a far distance.

But one tragic and traumatic day in the mid-1950s, one of the old

C-47s crashed. It was transporting the grid squad from Cal Poly San Luis

Obispo. Nineteen players died in the Midwest crash, the day following a

game against Bowling Green of Kentucky.

Junior college and small college school boards soon felt prompted to

evaluate the risks of intersectional games relative to air travel via

charter flights aboard old WWII airplanes. Many came to abandon air

travel for games.

Nonetheless, big news football continued on with the new era and found

Orange Coast, under Al Irwin and Steve Musseau, taking the Pirates to

impressive titles in 1956 and '57.

It grew even bigger with the turn of the '60s when Coach Dick Tucker

led OCC to a Junior Rose Bowl triumph.

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