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DELANO RAMBLINGS: Looking back at Rafer Johnson, high school track history

Newspapers in their Dec. 3 editions had various stories about the death at age 86 of Rafer Johnson, a Kingsburg High School and UCLA athlete who won major track and field honors, including the decathlon in the Olympics.

Since he started and ended high school at the same time I, and more importantly, Delano sprint star Leamon King did, I kept up with the achievements of Johnson.

King from his first track season as a freshman dominated the sprints in the San Joaquin Valley and all four years was known throughout the state as the KING of the sprinters.

A story I was told is that Johnson’s high school coach told him that he should move from the sprints, his favorite events as a freshman, and try other events since for four years he would be opposing King in the sprints and would not have a good chance of beating him.

Thus Johnson moved to the hurdles and even the long jump and weight events. Trying these events gave him a good start in what was the schedule of 10 events for the decathlon that he would try later on and eventually become Olympic champion.

I went with two friends, I believe it was fellow DHS graduates Daniel Boone (yes, that was his name!) and Bennie Rose, to Kingsburg one night to see the Vikings play Selma in a traditional battle. That season (I think it was the fall of 1953) was especially contested since both schools had great teams.

Kingsburg’s backfield included QB Eddie Mascarin, Johnson, Guy Troisi, and Bob Wiley, all four being great multi-sport athletes. Wiley was later sheriff of Tulare County.

I recall the four backfield stars, but I do not remember who won the game! I do recall the stands on both sides were jammed, and the three of us from Delano stood on the sideline with a mob of other rooters from the two schools.

Delano was host school for the 1954 Valley track and field championships. Johnson was high scorer in the meet. He tied the meet record of 14.5 in the high hurdles and set a 19.1 record in the 180 low hurdles. He also won the broad (now “long” jump) at 22 feet.

Delano had 26 team points to edge Edison-Fresno, which had 24. King won the 100 for DHS in 9.8 and the 220 in 21.3, tying the meet record. DHS’s Creth Rice won the 880 in 2:00.8 and freshman Leo Glass was second at 155-5 in the discus.

Edison ran a meet record 1:29.8 in the 880 relay to edge Delano.

In my “memory,” Delano had won the relay and King taking over for his anchor 220-leg was in last place before passing everyone on the outside. Apparently he overtook everyone EXCEPT Edison’s anchor, Alonzo Hall.

My close friend at DHS, Bill Wade, was third in the valley shot put, but only the top two in each event qualified for the state meet.

Delano High’s new $3 million track was delayed in its opening due to the addition of lights and later stands on the west side, and it will be something like three years—maybe four?—before DHS athletes will have the opportunity to perform on the new facility. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down last spring’s scheduled home meets, which were supposed to be the FIRST EVER on the new Delano oval, and the coming spring’s track meets are also in jeopardy.

Delano track coach Jerry Angkahan, himself a great sprinter when he ran for DHS, had scheduled last spring about three “big” meets, inviting teams from all over the area. He has his fingers crossed about the possible meets this spring but likely will have to wait ANOTHER year.

King, by the way, I interviewed several times during and after his running days. Many of the interviews were before and after he ran on the USA’s winning 400-meter relay team in the 1956 Olympics. He was teaching at Delano’s Almond Tree Middle School at the time he passed away on May 22, 2001.

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Memberships for 2021 for the Greater Delano Area Youth Foundation cost $25 and checks to “Delano Youth Foundation” may be mailed to P.O. Box 135, Delano, CA 93216.

Youth Foundation directors at the end of January will determine how much in funds they have to offer in scholarships at local high schools and/or in additional projects. The goal to repeat past budgets is $9,000.

In late February or early March the directors hope to join with the Elks Lodge to sponsor a takeout barbecue fundraiser.

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Delano High’s Class of 1970-71 has had committee meetings for several months to finalize plans for the class’s 50th reunion, which is planned for October 2021 in Bakersfield.

The 1970 contact is Cynthia Alipio, 661-204-7832, with the 1971 contacts Melba Alipio Spooner, 661-477-0439, and MaryAnn Torrez Rosario, 559-433-7012.

Other committee members are Nickie Tuthill-Delute, Louie Perez-Leon, Vickie Sarceda, Isabel Vargas Garcia, Elaine Ellebracht Covington, Rita Miranda Agcaoili, Renee Bangi and Mary Ellen Flores Rodriguez.

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Christmas Eve Mass for St. Mary’s Church at the drive-up services at St. Mary’s School is set for 5 p.m.

On Christmas Day, the 7 a.m. Mass will be in English and the 9 a.m. Mass in Spanish.

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Those connected to local schools and other community leaders have joined to sponsor a fundraising takeout luncheon today from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the First Assembly of God Church of Delano parking lot on 9th Avenue.

Delano High senior basketball player Nicole Bonifacio and her sisters were left without parents when both within days became victims of the coronavirus.

Organizers stressed that the fundraiser is not school connected but is being arranged as a $10 tri-tip luncheon to help the family with expenses.

Delivery within the city limits is offered free for orders of five or more.

Donations or checks may be made payable to one of the daughters, Bernadeth Espejo.

You can also contact Claribel Gutierrez, 778-3265; Glenda Muldrow, 370-7586; or Larry Smith, 333-4381. Smith is furnishing the meat and doing the cooking for the barbecue.