By Marty Valdez
The original Pioneer men's basketball teams of the 1960s were honored by the Cal State University, East Bay (CSUEB) Athletic Department during Homecoming on February 11. CSUEB athletic hall of famer and first men's basketball coach Bill Vandenburgh and 12 of his players came from as far afield as Washington State and Oklahoma to attend the day-long festivities. They played when the University was still called Alameda State College.
The players toured the CSUEB campus and met for dinner at the Ranch in Hayward. This is where the team had their pre-game meals back in 1961. Art Keller, a member of the first team and the player to score the first basket for the Pioneers, worked closely with the University to organize the reunion.
"We had a wonderful time at the University for our reunion. We were happy with the tour and excited that President Leroy Morishita, his wife Barbara and some of his staff could join us for dinner. His talk was inspiring and heart-warming," said Keller.
The team attended the Homecoming game and was recognized during half-time; each player was honored with a commemorative trophy from the University.
"We appreciate the University recognizing us during the half-time of the basketball game," Keller said. "When we gathered for the group shot, there must have been more than 20 people on the court taking pictures of us; mostly students. The crowd was great and so supportive; it was wonderful for the old timers and the new timers to get together. We're still talking about it. President Morishita greeted, shook hands with and presented each of us with a wonderful gift. The latter was a wonderful surprise and we shall cherish the glass crystal statuette forever."
Coach Vandenburgh, the first Coach for the Pioneers, presented the Pioneer Athletics Department and one current player with the Inspiration award. Associate Athletic Director Sara Judd and President Morishita accepted the award on behalf of the University.
"It was inspiring to see our living history sitting together watching the 2012 team compete 50 years after they took the floor as Pioneers and gave birth to our Intercollegiate Athletic program," said Judd.
The Inspiration award, started in 1961-62 by Vandenburgh, goes to the player who tirelessly inspires and encourages his team both on and off the court. This will become an annual award, courtesy of the Pioneers First Basketball team, and will be presented to one basketball player each season. The player will be presented with a plaque and his name will appear on the large perpetual plaque that will be displayed in the trophy case in the gym.
Adam Watts, a senior for the Pioneers, was named the Inspiration Award Winner for 2012. Head Basketball Coach Will Biggs describes Watts as a true team player who puts the team first and constantly gives selflessly of himself in practice and in games for the Pioneers.
Basketball was the first Cal State Hayward sport played at an official intercollegiate athletic event on December 6, 1961 when the 1961-62 Pioneer men's basketball team faced Sacramento State. The Pioneers played their home games at Hayward High School and practiced at Hayward and Sunset High schools. The Pioneers finished with an overall record of 14-12 and tied with University of Nevada-Reno for second place in the Far Western Conference that year.
"It was a memorable weekend. To honor Bill Vandenburgh and his first team was a notable occasion. Many of my fellow players told me how much they enjoyed all the activities. The tour was an excellent start to the day. All enjoyed seeing the university campus and its offerings," added Keller.
"Thanks to the CSUEB Athletic Department and staff for their hard work. Special thanks to Debby DeAngelis, Dawn Ellerbe, Sara Judd, Nancy Oporto and Kelly Hayes for their efforts. Greg Bistline did a tremendous amount of work. He kept me in line and helped enormously to organize the schedule of events. THANKS. A wonderful group of people made a wonderful day happen. You are super," concluded Keller appreciatively.