PICTURED: California Lutheran University serves as the home of the Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame, where a permanent exhibit featuring some inductee plaques can be seen on the second floor of the Gilbert Sports and Fitness Center. <em>Photo courtesy of Alicia Doyle and Brian FitzGerald</em>
Ventura County is home to some of the greatest athletic talent of all time, including Clarence “Bud” Houser, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in shot put and discus who was a student at Oxnard High, where Houser Field was named in his honor; and track star Mike Larrabee, winner of two gold medals at the 1964 Summer Olympics who attended Ventura High, where Larrabee Stadium remains to this day. Other renowned athletic greats with ties to Ventura County include professional baseball player Terry Lee Pendleton, (Channel Islands High School) and Jessica Mendoza, a softball player at Adolfo Camarillo High who is a two-time Olympian, winning a gold medal in Athens in 2004 and a silver medal in Beijing in 2008.
These athletes are among the inductees in the Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame, a non-profit organization established in 1983 to acknowledge and honor the many athletes, coaches,
organizers and media who have contributed to and enhanced the athletic excellence of Ventura County.
“The Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame is an important entity in the quest to preserve the rich athletic history of our area,” said Brian FitzGerald, of Camarillo, chairperson of the board of directors, who was an all-league football player and track athlete at Rio Mesa High School in Oxnard, where he was also the school’s track coach and athletic director.
To date, the hall of fame has inducted 185 individuals — five per year for the past 37 years.
Pool of nominees has deepened
“In the earlier years of the organization, there were quite a few posthumous inductions because there were a lot of past years to cover,” FitzGerald said. “More recently, our pool of nominees has deepened and become more current due to the large increase in population in our area and the great environment Ventura County provides for athletic development.”
FitzGerald emphasized that many inductees have reached the highest levels of accomplishment in their areas, including Olympians, professional athletes and highly successful coaches, as well as top journalists, such as Woody Woodburn, an award-winning sports writer who attended Buena High School. He was named Columnist of the Year by E.W. Scripps newspapers and inducted into the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation Journalists Hall of Fame in 2003.
Ventura resident Teresa Palmisano, who was inducted into the Ventura County Sports Hall of
Fame in 2006, also attended Buena High School and was a professional basketball player before serving as the athletic director at Santa Clara High School, where she is now the vice principal.
Palmisano said it was “an honor and privilege” being inducted into the organization, where, behind the scenes, “is a great group of fellow coaches . . . past inductees and volunteers who all come together as a team” to put together an event in the summer where high school athletes and other inductees are honored.
Female athletes coming to the forefront
Palmisano is one of only a few women inducted into the hall of fame. Another is Angela Burnham-Teart, a Rio Mesa High graduate, who was named National High School Athlete of the Year by Track and Field News magazine — out of tens of thousands of candidates — and also won the 1986 California state girls 100-meter title as a 14-year-old, becoming the youngest and only freshman to have accomplished the feat. Other women in the hall of fame include Laurie Singer, a valedictorian at Oxnard College and long-distance runner who helped the Oxnard College women’s cross country program place third in the 1989 Southern California championships.
Ventura County has a “long, rich history” of sports, which, in the last 20 years, has become even stronger with female athletes coming to the forefront, said 2015 inductee George W. Contreras, a local and international football coach who taught at Thousand Oaks High School
and began his coaching career as an assistant football coach for the legendary Joe Howell. (He was a baseball coach as well.) During his eight years with the Lancers football program, he helped coach five league championship squads, and coached lower-level baseball at Thousand Oaks High for four seasons, winning two league crowns.
“One of the things the hall is looking for is the inclusion of more females with the growth of women athletes in the last 40 years — we’re always looking for good nominees,” Contreras said.
‘Our history goes way, way back’
Despite so many great athletes from this area, Contreras noted that the hall of fame “only inducts five a year . . . we had well over 100 people in the hopper, and one of the biggest problems I’ve seen over the years is our history goes way, way back.”
Professional baseball player Fred Snodgrass, for example, was born in Ventura in 1887, joined the New York Giants after college and played center field from 1908 to 1915. He also played for the Boston Braves in 1916, and in 961 major league games and three World Series. In 1910, he had the fourth highest batting average in the national league.
Jack Melvin “Moose” Myers, born in 1924, lettered in five sports at Ventura High School — football, basketball, baseball, track and tennis — and later was the starting first baseman, leading hitter and MVP of the baseball team at UCLA. He also played fullback for the football
team, and played in the 1947 and 1948 Rose Bowl games.
Nancy Chaffee-Kiner is yet another. A tennis player who was active in the 1950s, she was born in Ventura and won 14 National and women’s U.S. Championships, and was the first woman to win the Indoor Singles three years in a row.
The hall of fame also recognizes individuals who have passed away, including Charlie Dunn, a baseball coach at Oxnard and Camarillo high schools; Jay Merrill, a baseball coach at Camarillo, Thousand Oaks and Newbury Park high schools; and Pat Bell, a girls’ basketball coach at Channel Islands High School.
Deserving of Inclusion
“We need some type of historian to research people from the ’20s and ’30s and ’40s . . . that do need to belong [in the hall of fame],” Contreras noted. “The other problems we’ve had . . . there’s a lot of athletes that are just humble . . . but are very deserving of being included.”
The annual induction dinner occurs on the first Sunday in June. The 2019 dinner at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley honored five distinguished inductees and 55 high school and college athletes. They included Oxnard native Paul Stankowski, a graduate of Hueneme High who recorded four top-10 finishes in two previous seasons on the PGA Tour; and Ventura native Troy Dumais, a graduate of Buena High and national diving champion who is a 2012 Olympic Games Bronze Medalist in the synchronized three-meter.
“Additionally, and importantly, after the inductees give their acceptance speeches, we recognize the male and female Athletes of the Year from each high school and college in Ventura County,” said FitzGerald. The County Athletes of the Year are also announced, and the hall of fame awards a scholarship to one male and one female Athlete of the Year in attendance.
“It’s wonderful and inspiring for the young athletes and their families to be able to listen to and rub elbows with the inductees,” FitzGerald said. “In recent years, many of the inductees were themselves the athlete of the year of their high schools, and I fully expect that some of these high schoolers will be the inductees of the future.”
The Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame is also supported by California Lutheran University, where the Thousand Oaks campus showcases a permanent public exhibit featuring a selection of inductee plaques on the second floor of the Gilbert Sports and Fitness Center. CLU gave the hall of fame a home when the center opened in 2006. According to Karin Grennan, media relations manager, the plaques and memorabilia had been stored in various basements and garages for the hall’s first 23 years.
“This area has a rich sports heritage, and we’ve proudly played a role in it as the county’s only four-year university with an athletic program,” Grennan said. “It’s nice that some of the highlights are on display where anyone, including the young athletes who participate in our sports camps and community members who attend our events, can see them.”
Although the main goal of the Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame is to recognize and honor those who have contributed to the athletic excellence of Ventura County, the organization also recognizes the important role sports play in the development of successful young people, FitzGerald said.
“We hope that preserving the accomplishments of the past will spark inspiration in today’s youth and lead them to pursue excellence in the future,” FitzGerald noted.
Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame is a nonprofit organization that relies solely on donations and proceeds from its annual induction dinner for funding. Those interested in supporting the organization can email FitzGerald at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit venturacountysportshalloffame.org.
The 2020 induction ceremony for the Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame will take place in June, and nominations are being accepted through Dec. 1, 2019. To nominate an athlete for induction, the basic requirements include the following:
- The athlete must be 35 years old or older (unless fully retired from athletics)
- Nominations in the following areas are accepted: competitor, coach, official, administrator, organizer or member of the media
- The individual must have a strong, identifiable, athletic connection to Ventura County
For nomination forms and more information, visit venturacountysportshalloffame.org.