Missing: Harbor College Hall Of Fame Inductees

Richard Johnson, where are you?

Working on the Harbor College Athletic Hall of Fame committee these past five years has been rewarding, but it has its challenges. Chief among them is actually finding the people nominated so they can take part in the annual induction ceremony.

When contacted, inductees have expressed great enthusiasm, and athletes have come to the event from thousands of miles away, excited not only by the honor but also by the chance to see old friends and teammates. Jim Hight, the Gardena High alum and former All-American at Harbor College (1964) and San Diego State, was so impressed by his induction ceremony that he became a member of the committee and makes the drive up from San Diego to attend meetings.

The problem is getting hold of the nominee, particularly those who performed in earlier generations. Some of Harbor’s greatest athletes, even those who went on to four-year schools and the pros, have scattered to the four winds, and former coaches and teammates, when contacted, haven’t heard from them in years.

Such is the case with Johnson, who graduated from San Pedro High in 1978 and starred at Harbor in 1979-80. He started for two years at Colorado before embarking on a professional odyssey that included three years in the upstart United States Football League, where he led the league in pass receptions two years in a row, and two years with the Detroit Lions, where he set a team record for pass catches.

As of this writing, our every effort to get in touch with him has failed, so this is one last appeal to anyone who might know of his whereabouts to contact us before this year’s Sept. 13 event. You can use my email at the bottom of this column.

The same goes for members of the 1968 women’s track and field team and 1994-95 women’s basketball team, both of which won state titles. Finding women athletes has been particularly hard because while we have names, many obviously got married over the years and no longer go by their maiden names.

Then there are those who we want to honor who have died. Because Harbor’s Hall of Fame is relatively new, we have had to honor many posthumously. This year’s list includes three from three generations: Dick Hughes (meritorious service), a faculty member from 1963 to 2006; James Sims (1970-71), all-star linebacker who started for USC’s 1972 national champions; and pitcher Justin Miller (1996-97), conference co-MVP with seven years in the major leagues.

Joining them in this year’s class are Steve Cox (1963-64 All-American wide receiver); Charles Glass (1970-71 gymnast who became world-class bodybuilder); all-star shortstop Mark Lewis (1991-92); record-setting distance runners Sherry Simmons (1978-79) and Diana Karg (1978-80); and the 1983 baseball team that went 30-11 and lost in the state finals.

All of the inductees will be recognized at the Ports O’ Call Restaurant banquet. For tickets, call 310-233-4446. Proceeds maintain the work of the Hall of Fame in honoring Harbor’s finest athletes.

Because of past experience with no-shows, the HOF committee knows that, with or without Johnson and the others, the dinner will still be a huge success. It’s what you’d expect from a committee that includes the likes of Hight, coaching legends Jim O’Brien and Jim White, and Joe Marino, Dave Gascon, Mickey Teora, Jim Stanbery and the recently added Marion Perkov. It’s the honorees who miss out on a memorable occasion, so if you can help us find Richard Johnson, let us know.

Speaking of Pirate Football…

I’m sure the stories were flowing at the memorial for Bill Seixas, the longtime San Pedro High coach and teacher who died July 1 at 91, but there was one story that probably didn’t get told.

It happened during my SPHS days in the late `60s, when I had homeroom in the old gym. The teacher was the aforementioned Teora, and the class sat on one half of the bleachers, with another homeroom class, under Seixas, next to ours. Teora and Seixas, P.E. teachers at this point in their careers and longtime friends, had desks facing the bleachers, and there was always a lot of banter going on. One morning as I was doing homework there was a disturbance, and I looked up to see chairs flying and Seixas and Teora involved in a full-out brawl, fists flailing away. It only lasted a few seconds before some students separated them; I don’t recall any bloodshed or injuries, and the next day everything was back to normal.

Teora must have forgotten that morning when, commenting on his late friend, he said, “He was ornery as hell and he used to fight tooth and nail – verbally of course – but he was able to determine a good athlete from an average athlete and develop them into great athletes.” Then again, maybe he did remember, and was just being kind to the memory of the feisty little coach who loved all things San Pedro. spt

Historical San Pedro Poems Still Ring True on 125th Birthday

In honor of San Pedro’s 125th birthday, I’m offering a couple of historic poems that speak volumes about our town and, despite their age, haven’t lost relevance.

The first is “To Their Memory,” written in 1924 by Minna Irving as a tribute to the 48 sailors who died in an explosion aboard the battleship USS Mississippi during gunnery practice off the coast of San Pedro on June 12 of that year. As part of the Pacific Battle Fleet, the Mississippi called San Pedro home from 1919 to 1940; when the rest of the fleet relocated to Pearl Harbor, the Mississippi went to the Atlantic and escaped that disaster.

The funeral for the Mississippi crewmen at San Pedro’s Trona Field was one of the largest events in town up to that time. In a sad postscript, an almost identical accident occurred during the war off the Gilbert Islands; another explosion in the same turret killed 43 sailors on Nov. 20, 1943.

The poem has added poignancy today with the addition of the USS Iowa to our waterfront. The Iowa suffered an eerily similar peacetime tragedy in 1989 when an explosion in No. 2 turret during gunnery practice off Puerto Rico killed 47 sailors.

I don’t know where the poem first appeared, but this version comes from Harvey Beigel’s classic Battleship Country, which details the long history of the Pacific Fleet in San Pedro.

The “Missy” is the proudest ship
That rides the billow’s crest,
In gunnery she’s unexcelled,
Her skippers are the best.
Five years she’s held the “Iron Men”
For athletes none can beat,
And in efficiency but few
Approach her in the fleet.

A greater pride is hers today
Though it is dimmed with tears,
For in her log a list of eight
And forty names appears —
Her seamen, unafraid who met
Man’s ancient grisly foe,
And passed with steadfast shining souls
To join the watch below.

Calm were the blue Pacific swells,
Clear was the azure sky,
Peace spread her wings above the world,
No enemy was nigh,
The Mississippi’s mighty guns
At target practice roared,
When Death, a silent visitor,
Unbidden came aboard.

Through hatches battered down he went
In Turret No. 2,
Where round the giant guns they served
Stood all the gunner’s crew,
Some thought of home and little ones
Beyond the ocean’s rim,
Some thought of service-stripes to earn,
But no one thought of him.

Within that chamber wrought of steel
He grimly took command,
And turned its deadly forces loose
On that devoted band.
They saw him then—a dreadful shape,
They felt his scorching breath,
And knew him by his shroud of flame
And veil of smoke as Death.

They died as men in battle die,
Each sailor at his post,
Fit mates of Lawrence, Hull, Paul Jones,
And all that hero host,
With Skrynas at the telephone
His last report to give,
While Ensign Erwin stepped aside
That other lads might live.

Horatius at the bridge, El Cid,
Great Charlemagne of old,
Rustem the peerless Persian—they
Were men of god-like mold,
The crew of Turret No. 2,
Who perished at their guns,
When Glory calls the roll reply
With these illustrious ones.

Oh! It is not her battleships
That makes the Navy strong.
The thickness of her armor-plates,
Her batteries in song,
Her might is in her sturdy tars
To flag and service true,
Like those immortal men who died
In Turret No. 2.

Sounds Familiar

I can’t even remember where I got the following poem. It was published on a little notecard, the title simply “San Pedro,” with the copyright 1920. Earl Ihme is the author, and at the bottom it gives his address as 730 W. 21st Street. San Pedrans love their town, but as this poem amply demonstrates, it is not a recent phenomenon. San Pedro was only 32 years old and already affectionately called Pedro.

You ought to live in San Pedro,
Where the ships and the railroads link,
For the pulse is as throbbing in Pedro
As on anywhere else I can think.

Oh, we want to live in San Pedro,
Where the sky and the ocean meet,
Where the khaki and blue as “our hero”—
They are manning our fort and our fleet.

We are happy! — We live in San Pedro,
Where the sky and the sun is a smile,
Where the folks have the aim and the ether
O’ the works that are worthy of while.

Oh, we like to live in San Pedro,
At the door of an opening world;
For the future and flag of our Pedro
They shall yet to be fully unfurled.

Oh, we love to live in San Pedro!
We may move, we may roam everywhere,
We will always be longing for Pedro
For our home and our happiness there.

Some things never change. Happy birthday, San Pedro. spt

Shutting Down The Ports Leaves Everybody A Little Bit Poorer

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in economics to know times are tough. The nation’s economy has reached critical mass. California is just a tax hike away from bankruptcy. Los Angeles is on the verge of collapse. And a glance at downtown San Pedro makes you think maybe the Mayans were right after all. How bad is it when a tattoo parlor is replaced by a real estate agency with foreclosure lists taped on the windows?

The recent strike by ILWU clerical workers has revealed just how tenuous is San Pedro’s one link to prosperity – the Harbor. A relatively small group of workers shut down Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors, all in an effort to save a handful of future jobs. How much it cost shippers is debatable (according to one source, the $1 billion-a-day figure was totally bogus) but whatever the figure, it’s small solace to the thousands of workers who lost a week’s pay days before Christmas.

The clerical workers may have made their point, but they certainly lost ground in the public relations war. In these tough economic times, anyone making $40 an hour can’t expect much sympathy from the typical man on the street, especially when that man or woman may be unemployed.

Technology changes everything, in most cases simplifying tasks that inevitably cost jobs; it cost me my job after 32 years in the newspaper business. It’s the price we pay for progress. The ILWU continues to struggle with this fact, even as competition grows more intense in a global economy. Fortunately, that same technology often creates entirely new areas of employment, just as containerization took longshoremen out of the hold and put them in UTRs or in front of computers.

Time for a GPS

An ancillary issue to the port strike, according to veteran Los Angeles business journalist Mark Lacter (www.laobserved.com), was the media coverage. In his words, “It was pretty bad – frankly, some of the worst local business reporting I’ve seen in a while.”

He blames it on the failure of the media to ask the big questions, and explains it this way: “Very few reporters have a handle on these questions because news organizations have next to no presence at the ports. Shipping, you see, is simply too much of a hassle to cover. Sources are uncooperative, the industry itself is extremely secretive and nearly impossible to follow, the stories aren’t all that exciting, and, don’t laugh, San Pedro isn’t easy to get to. So aside from rewriting port releases and covering Harbor Commission meetings, it’s basically ignored – until there’s a strike.”

We’re not laughing, Mark.

Food Trucks

The ongoing controversy over food trucks at San Pedro’s First Thursday Art Walk is ridiculous. The facts: 1.) The food trucks are attracting people to First Thursday who otherwise would not be there. You don’t think they’re coming for the art, do you? 2.) Therefore, the food trucks are not taking money away from local restaurants and unintentionally or not, are adding to the foot traffic that the artists would not normally get.

So everyone involved should reread the opening paragraph, quit their yapping and be thankful the food trucks are coming at all. I look at those trucks as an extravagant fad that in this economy won’t be around much longer anyway.

‘Suffer the Little Children’

It wasn’t hard to imagine the horror that was visited upon Newtown, Conn., a few weeks ago. My wife teaches kindergarten in L.A. Unified, and I spend a lot of time in her classroom helping out. Our granddaughters, ages 5 and 4, attend school here in San Pedro.

In April 2007, I wrote a poem in response to a similarly monstrous act of evil that took place at Virginia Tech. Five years later, it remains just as relevant. It’s titled “The Devil Walks Among Us.”

The devil walks among us, without the horns and tail.
He’s there without our knowing, in a mansion or in jail.

He’s even in our churches, in the halls of government.
He seems so kind and gentle that you think he’s heaven-sent.

But he’s also on the corners, in the darkened alleyways,
Stalking future victims as a lion hunts his prey.

He hides among the briars of our memories and our fears.
Take a glance o’er your shoulder the next time you see a mirror.

He haunts us in our nightmares, stirs the terrors that run deep.
Wakes us trembling, drenched in sweat – there’s no sanctity in sleep.

In our loneliness he festers like a wound that will not heal,
Always looking for a new way to maim, destroy and steal.

He glares from deadened eyes upon a world he despises
As he plots against creation, glad for all that terrorizes.

On the campus, at the workplace, on a crowded bus or plane,
At a mall or busy market, he wants to drive us all insane.

You won’t know when he strikes – evil doesn’t show its hand –
Just a longing to dishearten, to bring pain to every man.

He stares out and captivates us from the shimmering tubes at home,
Seduces and reduces us, especially when we’re alone.

Beware the great deceiver as he’s often draped in light.
If he catches us off guard, he knows we won’t put up a fight.

But to those who know his schemes, old Wormwood has no punch.
He can do great harm to flesh, but our spirit he can’t touch.

Though he roars and shakes the world, we stand firm like Aaron’s rod,
For while others quake and falter, we have the armor of our God. spt

San Pedro Bay Historical Society’s First Sunday Series

“First Sunday Series” will host Bob Beck, Steve Marconi and Donna Littlejohn who will speak on “The News-Pilot Remembered”. The three journalists, whose talk begins at 1:30 PM, will share their memories of five decades at the beloved “Fish Wrapper.” A special exhibit of News-Pilot memorabilia will be on display throughout the month of October. Admission free, donations welcome.