Four new members will be inducted into the Bob Elias Kern County Sports Hall of Fame on Feb. 19 at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Bakersfield.

The inductees are John Stenderup, Donald Valpredo, Jake Varner and Dennis Watkins. Their induction will bring the total enrolled in the Hall of Fame to 217. The four new members were announced and introduced during a luncheon at Rabobank Arena.

Tickets to the annual induction banquet are $80 apiece and will be available after Jan. 1, 2019. They can be purchased from any member of the Board of Directors, at the Rabobank Arena box office or from Raymond’s Trophy & Awards, 300 Chester Ave.

Here is a rundown of the Class of 2019:

John Stenderup

Birthdate: Feb. 14, 1986

Sport: Mountain Climbing

A 2004 Garces High graduate, Stenderup climbed Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world, in May 2017. He then climbed K2 Peak, the world’s second-highest mountain, in July 2018.

Stenderup is one of only 15 Americans to have climbed both peaks and is the only person from Kern County to climb either peak.

Mount Everest (elevation 29,035 feet above sea level) has been climbed approximately 4,500 times. K2 (28,251 feet above sea level), referred to the “Holy Grail of Mountaineering,” has been climbed approximately 350 times.

As part of the Everest excursion, Stenderup also climbed Lhotse (27,940 feet), the world’s fourth-highest mountain and a sister peak to Everest that has had fewer than 700 people reach the summit.

Stenderup has also climbed Denali in Alaska (at 20,310 feet, the highest point in North America), Peru’s Mount Alpayao (19,511 feet) and Mount Baker in Washington (10,781 feet).

Stenderup grew up on a farm in the Arvin area and graduated from Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, where he earned a degree in international agriculture business.

He is the manager of C.H. Robinson’s Western Growers Transportation Program based out of Monterey where he oversees C.H. Robinson’s partnership with the Western Growers Association, as well as seven additional grower/shipper associations throughout North America. He has worked for the company since 2008.

“As I reflect over my climbs — we have a lot of free time on the mountains — I realized that so much of my success is because of my background in agriculture and this community that I have here," Stenderup said of Kern County. "So much of our rich history is grit and perseverance. My family, they’ve been in agriculture about 95 years now in the Arvin area. It just means a lot to me.”

Donald Valpredo

Birthdate: Jan. 5, 1939

Sport: Horse Racing

A lifelong horseman and rancher from Bakersfield, Valpredo has spent more than 40 years on the board of every major horse racing and breeding organization in the state. He served on the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association Board from 1972-90, serving in just about every capacity with that organization including president from 1986-90. He was inducted into the CTBA Hall of Fame in 2017.

A multiple-stakes winner as an owner and breeder, one of Valpredo’s proudest accomplishments was helping establish California Cup as a shining spotlight on California-bred racehorses. Known as the Donald Valpredo California Cup Sprint, it will have its 29th running in 2019.

Valpredo also served on the California Horse Racing Board from 1990-98 and on the Thoroughbred Owners of California Board from 1999-2011. He’s also been on the board of directors for the Breeders’ Cup and the Thoroughbred Owners of California, and is on the board of the Jockey Club in New York.

Valpredo served two terms on the California Horse Racing Board, from 1990-98. During that time one of the things he pushed for was standardized saddlecloth colors, which remain in use today. Bettors, especially when watching a simulcast, can follow their choices much more easily because each number corresponds to a particular color.

“I’ve been involved in this industry since I was 4 years old. I’ve been involved in about every aspect of the business, of the sport," Valpredo said. "When I go traveling, I say ‘I gotta go back to Bako.’ People know that I’m from Bakersfield. In fact, I named a horse ‘Back to Bako.’....The reason today is so special is because I’m recognized by the local people.”

Jake Varner

Birthdate: March 24, 1986

Sport: Wrestling

The 2005 Bakersfield High graduate reached the pinnacle of wrestling when he won the Olympic gold medal at 94 kg at the 2012 London Games. Varner also won the Pan American Games gold medal earlier that year and won the bronze medal at the 2011 World Championships in Istanbul.

At Iowa State University, Varner was a four-time All-American and four-time national finalist with a 121-10 career record. He was the 197-pound national champion as a junior and senior in 2009 and 2010 and was runner-up at 184 pounds as a freshman and sophomore. He finished with 42 pins in his college career and went 31-0 his senior year.

At BHS, Varner compiled a 159-10 record with 132 pins from 2002-05. He was undefeated as a junior and senior. His senior year he became the only wrestler in the history of the California State Championships meet to pin all six opponents without allowing any offensive points. Varner was named the state meet’s outstanding wrestler.

Varner also placed ninth in the 2009 World Championships, third at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials, and second at the 2016 Olympic Trials.

Varner lives in State College, Pa., where he's an assistant wrestling coach at Penn State University.

“What he did is a testament to Jake’s perseverance, mental toughness, along with the physical toughness," said Jake's father Steve, who was on hand at the luncheon on behalf of Jake. "To be able to persevere and do what he’s done. Be able to participate in his passion that he’s found, not only as a competitor but now as a coach at Penn State.”

Dennis Watkins

Birthdate: Feb. 25, 1956

Sport: Rodeo

The Taft High School graduate has competed 44 years as a professional rodeo contestant, focusing on team roping. He competed at the National Finals Rodeo 19 consecutive times from 1974-92. To reach the finals, a competitor must finish in the top-15 the previous year.

Along with partner Dave Motes, Watkins was a National Finals champion in 1981 and 1984 and the two teamed up to win the 1990 Dodge National Circuit Finals Team Roping championship. Most recently, Watkins and Motes teamed up to win the PRCA Gold Card Team Roping event last July in Salinas in both the open and incentive divisions.

Watkins is a four-time winner at the prestigious Reno Rodeo, twice with partner Julio Moreno (in 1978 and 1979) and twice with Motes (1974 and 1990). Watkins and Moreno were also runners-up for the World Title in 1978 and the Watkins-Motes team was runner-up for the World Title in 1990.

During the Fourth of July week in 1989, Watkins competed in 15 rodeos over a seven-day period in 1989. He had another busy stretch when he performed in four rodeos in several states over a 24-hour period.

Watkins began roping at 8 years old (first rodeo at Tehachapi at 8). He also played football and competed in track at Taft High. He still competes in about 20 rodeos a year and teaches roping out of his home in northwest Bakersfield.

“Kern County has a lot to offer," Watkins said. "People don’t realize how many good athletes (there are) from all different walks of life. We got a mountain climber, race horse gentleman here, myself being a cowboy….To be recognized like that, with this group, is truly an honor.”

(1) comment


All very worthy! Love the athletic talent that this community puts out. It’s a fabric of the better part of Kern County. Thank you to the committee for these selections and for keeping the Bob Elias HOF going.

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