Barring a highly unlikely upset in Atwater this Friday night, and you never say never when it comes to any contest in the Central California Conference, the Turlock High football team will record the 500th victory in the history of the Bulldogs’ program.
The players who have led this year’s team to an incredible 5-1 start – including a 2-0 record in CCC play – are well on their way to writing themselves into Turlock football lore. But they have also inherited a great honor and an even greater responsibility.
To this year’s team it has fallen to place the final golden brick in a wall whose construction began way back on Nov. 5, 1920 when Turlock High collected its first-ever victory on the gridiron, 38-0, at home over Sonora.
Fifteen young men earned that first win — Walter Brown, Leroy Main, Zura Randolph, Paul Brockway, Reuben Anderson, Charles Clifford. Austin Borden, Ivan Brooks, Robert Fowler, Carol Johnson, Walter “Dee” Kimzey, Ralph Melvin, Russel Spain, Gunnar Wallstrom and Herbert Zipser – and over the years they were followed by hundreds more.
Marv Critser, Ralph Knutsen, Ernie Jorge, Joe Debely, Willie Hess, Bob Mitchell, Lloyd Rude, Paul Larson, Don Odisoo, Gene Pike, Les Ratzlaff, Dave Maggard, Tom Fetherston, Ron Sarhad, Paul Myers, Lloyd Souza, Jim Fetherston, Jeff Winans, Max Goldstein, Tom Volk, Tom Sperry, Terry Gray, John Marson, Everett Jones, Rod Hollars, D.J. Shipley, Nick Guichard, Josh Webb, Micah Webb, Tom Tyler, Eilroma Sarkis, Tom Brandstater, James Peterson, Sean Downs and Kevin Kramer.
These players and coaches – along with so many others who wore the blue and gold of Turlock High – each have contributed their own personal brick over 95 seasons of blood, sweat and tears.
There have been plenty of highs, the back-to-back perfect seasons of 1948 and 1949 as part of a 23-game winning streak and the state championship in 1949. The 10-0 state-title winning season of 1957 highlighted by arguably the greatest prep football game ever played in the state of California when Turlock beat Lodi 14-13 on a last second touchdown on a fourth down run. The last perfect season at THS in 1970, the unlikely league championships in 1972 and 1978, a near perfect 1995 that saw the Bulldogs go unbeaten in league and league championships in 2000 and 2003 are just a few of many incredible games and seasons.
There have been the lows as well, the lean years between the eras of Debely and Ratzlaff as well as between Ratzlaff and Hollars, the early struggles to win a Harvest Bowl against cross-town rival Pitman and 2009, the only season a Bulldogs team failed to win at least one game on the gridiron. But the good has far outweighed the bad and Peterson has the Bulldogs rising back to their customary position atop the CCC.
What the future holds for the 2015 Bulldogs remains to be written. They have placed themselves in position to challenge for what would be the school’s eighth CCC title – their fourth solo title - should Turlock win its next three games. A win over Pitman next month would give Turlock its first back-to-back Harvest Bowl victories as well.
But no matter how the rest of 2015 plays out, with just one more victory the 50-plus young men in uniform along with Peterson and his coaching staff can forever say they were on the field representing all of those who came before them when the 500th win was officially put in the record book.
A special honor for a special team, a special school and a special town.
— Richard Paolinelli is a former Turlock Journal sports editor, novelist and the writer of From The Fields: A History of Prep Football in Turlock, California. He operates a website dedicated to the history of high school football in Turlock at: www.turlockhighfootball.com