There is a certain amount of excitement surrounding college football bowl games, even the Podunk kind that surfaces maybe for one short-lived year and then sinks into oblivion, leaving only memories. And that brings back a memory from almost 60 years ago to the day – December 1, 1956. That was the day that Escondido was host to its only football bowl game.
It was the day and year that a gung-ho Escondido Junior Chamber of Commerce, a much more active civic organization than it is today, sponsored a college football bowl game at Escondido High School’s Memorial Field (now Chick Embrey Field at Wilson Stadium). I mentioned it briefly in a previous column, but I want to provide more detail. I was among the spectators at the game – for two reasons: I was a Jaycee member and I was one of two Times-Advocate reporters assigned to write about the game.
The bowl game was the brain-storm of a one-man dynamo: Jaycee member Harry Hinton, a guy who just overflowed with enthusiasm. He had more energy than just about anybody I have ever known. Harry had suggested the game as a potential money-maker to help fund the Jaycees’ civic projects and something that would promote Escondido. So, Harry suggested the “Citracado Bowl,” and he managed to schedule the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (San Diego). This was in the day when military bases had competitive athletic teams, many of them regularly playing college teams.
That Citracado Bowl might have been labeled the Podunk kind that surfaced for one year and then faded into oblivion. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. The event was a success in every way except financially. The Jaycees lost $420 on the game.
They even staged a short parade the Friday afternoon preceding the game and held a banquet Friday night for members and coaches of the two teams. They had a half-time show that bordered on an extravaganza for a small community: maneuvers by the Escondido Motorcycle Drill Team headed by then Capt. Dick Schleigh of the Escondido Police Department; a precision drill team from the San Diego Naval Training Center; the MCRD band; the El Cajon Valley High School Band; and the Grant Junior High School band (now Mission Middle School).
The queen of the Citracado Bowl, Mary Lou McRoberts, an 18-year-old Palomar College freshman from Escondido, was crowned at half-time. MCRD won the game, 25-14. Johnny Morris, a half-back for Santa Barbara, later played professional football for the Chicago Bears.
It was a bitterly cold night that probably was partially responsible for holding attendance beneath the 7,000 that the Jaycees had anticipated. Attendance was 3,500, of whom 1,100 were Marines admitted free.
With great anticipation, the Jaycees tried again the following year (1957) for their second bowl game. Harry Hinton had verbal commitments from Flagstaff State (now Northern Arizona University) and the University of San Diego. But the game was not to be, as the Jaycees learned they needed the official sanction of the NCAA, the governing body of college athletics. They were unable to get the sanction, as it was too late in the season. But, do you know what was ironic? The NCAA sanctioned the Citracado Bowl for 1958. But, enthusiasm among the Jaycees had waned by then. And Escondido’s only football bowl game is now a 60-year memory.
Remembering Some Former T-A Writers
Turnover of personnel on a small newspaper can be expected, as many will be hoping to move on to larger papers that are able to offer higher salaries and often more benefits. As an editor, I always was disappointed to lose reporters, but it also meant I had to interview other candidates to fill the void.
I admit that during my 27 years with the former Daily Times-Advocate that I don’t remember all those people who worked in our newsroom and later left¸ but there are a few. Among them are four sports editors, three of whom were one-man sports’ desks: Bob Romaker, Harlan Bartlett, Ray Plutko and Dave Hoff. Bob and Bart (as he preferred rather than Harlan) were from the “early” days, under publisher Fred Speers. Ray and Dave were employed during Carl Appleby’s ownership.
Bob, Bart and Ray were the one-man sports’ desks when the Escondido High School Cougars were the only high school team in town; Dave monitored two other sports writers (after the T-A had gained considerably in circulation) when there now were three high schools in town, Orange Glen and San Pasqual having come into existence.
Bob Romaker was hired during the very early days (in the mid-1950s). I was the city news reporter in those days (before being named editor). We soon learned we had something in common: we were about the same age; we both had young children; and he was from Toledo, Ohio, my homestate. We struck up a friendship that lasted for several years through correspondence, even after Bob moved on to a better-paying job. Bob’s next job was in Rapid City, S.D.; then Saginaw, Mich.; and finally at Ann Arbor, Mich., where he eventually became a news columnist until his retirement.
Harlan Bartlett had been an Army buddy of George Cordry, our city editor at the time. It was Bart who succeeded Bob Romaker. Bart and George had served together in the public relations office of their Army unit when they were stationed in France. When Bart left the T-A, he moved to Julian after being hired as the outdoors writer for the then San Diego Evening Tribune.
Ray Plutko had worked for the Ontario Daily Report (San Bernardino County) before coming to the T-A. Ray was active in the community for a couple of years, coaching the local American Legion baseball team. He left the newspaper business when he left the T-A, becoming the executive director of the Southern Section of the California Interscholastic Federation, which governed high school athletics in the counties of Riverside, Orange, San Bernardino and Los Angeles (outside the city of Los Angeles).
Dave Hoff had been one of our sports writers before being promoted to sports editor. When Dave left, he moved to Hawaii where he later became editor of the Lahaina newspaper on Maui.
Among the former T-A sports writers and correspondents who now write for the San Diego Union-Tribune are John Maffei (a former T-A sports editor), Terry Monahan, Don Norcross, Rick Hoff and Glae Thien.
Ron Kenney was a reporter and editor for the former Daily Times-Advocate from 1952 to 1979 and was a copy editor on the pages of the San Diego Union-Tribune from 1985 to 1997.