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RUHS Alumni Association

My Turn: Redondo Union centennial
brought out the stars, especially in sports

I was stunned to be greeted by some 500 former heartthrobs, super athletes, classmates and guys I grew up with over the past 76 years. It was marvelous to see so many legends.


This is the first time in more than 44 years that I find myself writing a column in the Daily Breeze. There are so many great subjects to highlight, especially the recent 100th anniversary of Redondo Union High School.

I wondered how many people would still remember me after all of these years away from the Breeze. My sports editing days were from 1952 to 1961, when I could write what I pleased and stir up rivalries between Mira Costa High School and Redondo Union High.

Henry Burke at his display on the grounds during RUHS’s Centennial Celebration.
Photo by Mark McDermott

From covering prep sports to my involvement with youth sports, I kept up with USC, UCLA, the Rams, Dodgers, minor league Angels, and track and field. Sports lured me to Redondo¹s 100th anniversary steering committee a couple of years ago.

I passed up the publicity chairman position to devote time to the great athletes of my era. On June 23-26, the party finally took place. I attended several events in the school cafeteria, football field and various places around town.

I was stunned to be greeted by some 500 former heartthrobs, super athletes, classmates and guys I grew up with over the past 76 years. It was marvelous to see so many legends. I hugged the guys and kissed as many girls as possible.

I must have done something right in my lifetime as I was honored as one of the 100 distinguished graduates of RUHS in an hours-long ceremony at the football stadium.

The medallion each of us received tells the story of life itself. There is something very historical about the four years we spent in high school. That is the reason so many came from near and far.

Comedian Dick Smothers came from Florida for a morning appearance. Television anchorwoman Linda Yu of Chicago ABC Channel 7 also spent part of her weekend with us.

Both Smothers Brothers had their names in the Daily Breeze track results at one time or another.

Graduate Rick Rickert of Channel 11 flew a helicopter over Redondo Union and the Goodyear blimp glided over wishing congratulations as a sign of school spirit.

I created newspaper-size collages to pay tribute to every great athlete in Sea Hawk history. Never have so many athletes congregated for one event like they did last month.

Ninety-year-old Millie Colmer showed up. He’s in a wheelchair now. Colmer pitched against San Diego Hoover’s Ted Williams in a baseball game at Redondo around 1936. aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

Coaches Kenny Swearingen, John Stevenson, and Harry Jenkins received medals, along with three-time Rose Bowl and pro football player Jim Monachino of UC Berkeley, the late Lynn Hoyem of the NFL, and basketball player Sol Rockenmacher and player-coach Rex Hughes.

Breeze stringer Jon Knickerbecker rose among these athletes like so many of Redondo’s High Tide sports editors to be a recognized educator.

Even though Toby Erlinger became head basketball coach at Mira Costa, his love for Redondo Union High is profound. During the reunion I made friends with 1970 Olympic Wrestling Champion Sergio Gonzalez of Redondo Union High fame.

Mel Seifert (1930) played and coached more championship teams than anybody. His son Bruce and grandson Butch were from the same mold. Mickey Colmer could throw a football almost 70 yards and kick it 90 yards.

Bob Bacon (1946) set national records in the hurdles. Howard Bugbee (1948) was first in the nation to run the 100 yard dash in 9.5 seconds. Clarence Witt (1947) was first to score 43 points in a high school basketball game.

Socko Torres (1948) played varsity baseball and ran track simultaneously for four years, besides playing football and basketball.

Mike Palmer (1957) was first to high jump 6-2 and worked 27 years as a Daily Breeze printer. Most RUHS swimming records belong to Bob Martinez.

My favorite collage is a collection of photos of Dick Keelor with his cousin Frank Gifford, coach George Allen of the Rams and Washington Redskins, former President Gerald Ford for whom Keelor worked at the White House, and a group of 10 Central School eighth-graders.

Three kids — Doug Sutphen, Keelor and Jimmie Hand — in this one photo belong to Redondo’s class of 1955 and are among the 100 medal winners. Football star Ken Nakauchi is also one of these eighth-graders.

While playing varsity and B football in 1954, Hand and Keelor created the first Pop Warner midget division football team on the West Coast. There is so much Pop Warner football history from that era, it deserves all kinds of special write-ups.

Hand could not attend his 50-year reunion, but Keelor arranged to spend two hours on a cell phone sharing conversations with Hand, his classmates, and former Pop Warner players Chuy Rodriguez and Mike Salsido.

The widow of champion lightweight boxer Andy Escobar (1951) was my date. Edna was head songleader and football sweetheart in 1953. A lot of old romances came together at the centennial and 50th class reunion. The first love of my life is Elizabeth Gaudette Haynes in upstate New York, with whom I remain in constant contact.

She was an after-school switchboard operator for the Daily Breeze in those days. We have not seen each other in 50 years, but that day will come just like the centennial did.

Henry Burke is a 76-year Redondo Beach resident and a former Daily Breeze sports editor.