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1983: SCV's year of football glory

Part I: Hart and Canyon both won CIF titles in 1983, launching a football frenzy

Posted: November 6, 2013 10:29 p.m.
Updated: November 6, 2013 10:29 p.m.
Canyon High head coach Harry Welch talks to the crowd after the Cowboys defeated Bishop Montgomery on Dec. 10, 1983 for the CIF-SS Northwestern Conference championship at Cougar Stadium. Canyon High head coach Harry Welch talks to the crowd after the Cowboys defeated Bishop Montgomery on Dec. 10, 1983 for the CIF-SS Northwestern Conference championship at Cougar Stadium.
Canyon High head coach Harry Welch talks to the crowd after the Cowboys defeated Bishop Montgomery on Dec. 10, 1983 for the CIF-SS Northwestern Conference championship at Cougar Stadium.
Hart High coaches and players celebrate on Dec. 9, 1983 at Cougar Stadium after defeating North Torrance for the CIF-Southern Section Coastal Conference championship. Hart High coaches and players celebrate on Dec. 9, 1983 at Cougar Stadium after defeating North Torrance for the CIF-Southern Section Coastal Conference championship.
Hart High coaches and players celebrate on Dec. 9, 1983 at Cougar Stadium after defeating North Torrance for the CIF-Southern Section Coastal Conference championship.
The 1983 Hart Indians The 1983 Hart Indians
The 1983 Hart Indians
The 1983 Canyon Cowboys The 1983 Canyon Cowboys
The 1983 Canyon Cowboys

High school football may have been born in the Santa Clarita Valley in 1948 when Hart High School played the area’s first varsity football game. But it came of age in 1983.

For the first time in Santa Clarita Valley history, a football team had won a California Interscholastic Federation championship.

And the next day, another football team won the valley’s second.

The Hart Indians defeated favored North Torrance 29-16 on Friday, Dec. 9, 1983 at College of the Canyons’ Cougar Stadium in the CIF-Southern Section Coastal Conference championship game.

The Canyon Cowboys defeated Bishop Montgomery 40-24 on Saturday, Dec. 10, 1983 on the same Santa Clarita Valley field in the CIF Southern Section Northwestern Conference championship game.

It is 30 years later and Canyon and Hart high schools have each recognized the players from those two teams in separate reunions this year.

In the 30 years since those championships, the SCV has produced nearly 1,000 college football players, seen seven area high school graduates play in an NFL game and is recognized as one of the most competitive areas in the state.

“The Santa Clarita Valley was on the map of high school football. Canyon County stood taller. Newhall stood taller,” recalls Harry Welch, who was the second-year head coach of that Canyon team and is in his final season as head coach at Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Rancho Santa Margarita.

Says the retired Placentia resident Carl Sweet, who guided that ‘83 Hart team: “I think it helped get things rolling a little bit. Canyon and Hart followed with more CIF championships since.”

Make that 12 total — seven more for Hart (1986, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2003) and five for Canyon (1984, 1985, 2005, 2006 and the 2006 CIF Division I state championship). The Indians played 34 seasons before their first championship and Canyon had one postseason win in its history prior to the 1983 season.

The springboard to helping shape the sports identity of a burgeoning valley was those two December days in 1983.

It could be argued that it was three days.

On opening night of the 1983 season, Canyon defeated Hart 22-21 in front of an overflow crowd at the Indians’ home, Cougar Stadium, on Sept. 9, 1983.

Locals were buzzing about the game.

This was the 15th meeting between the two teams, with the series starting in 1969 when Hart beat a brand new Canyon High team 6-0.

It was also the first time Canyon and hart met in the season opener since 1969.

Outside of the SCV, the game wasn’t as relevant.

“Probably that the Santa Clarita Valley wasn’t taken that seriously at that time compared to other areas,” says Los Angeles Times prep sportswriter Eric Sondheimer of what the media’s idea of the SCV was prior to 1983. Sondheimer has covered preps in the L.A. area since 1976. He covered the Hart-North Torrance title clash for the Los Angeles Daily News. “The San Fernando Valley was strong, but there were indications that people were moving out that way (toward the SCV) as homes were being built.”

Players knew that the area wasn’t well-known.

“We had teams who didn’t have respect for us,” says 1983 All-CIF lineman Brent Parkinson, who lives in the Santa Clarita Valley and sells surgical equipment. “They thought we were a bunch of hicks. When they got a taste of us, they thought something (different) of us.”

Says 1983 Hart All-CIF offensive tackle Tim McKeon, who now lives in Utah: “You’ve got to remember back in 1983 it was still a relatively small community. It was a David and Goliath feel. No one gave us half a chance. They had to travel up to what was not really considered the Santa Clarita Valley. It was Newhall, Canyon Country and Saugus.”

It was considered a quiet, little rural  area that just happened to be outside of bustling Los Angeles.

But it was growing.

An area known for its movie filming site and the home of the late silent Western film actor William S. Hart was giving way to a modern family community complete with its own theme park — Six Flags Magic Mountain — that served as a landmark that was even used in the popular film “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”

The 1980 census counted 81,816 residents in the valley, according to

But it still maintained the small-town feel because its lack of sprawling shopping centers (then Kmart was valley’s major store), chain restaurants (there was one McDonald’s in the whole valley) and the open space that separated town from town.

Like the open space that separated Newhall from Canyon Country.

People lived for Friday nights, where the main attraction every year was the annual, regular-season-ending clash between small-town school Hart and small-town school Canyon.

The 1983 matchup, though, became arguably the valley’s biggest sporting event to that date.

Canyon had this brash coach named Welch, who in his first season in 1982, led the Cowboys to an 8-4 mark.

Sweet had directed Hart to back-to-back 7-4 seasons in 1981 and 1982, the best Indians run since 1970 and 1971, when the team went a combined 15-5.

Canyon was in the Golden League and Hart was in the Foothill at the time, but the proximity created a natural rivalry that reached its zenith to that point.

To a man, the 1983 Canyon-Hart game still sticks in Indian players’ craw.

“I’m still bitter (about the game),” says current Hart head coach Mike Herrington, now in his 25th season leading the Indians. Herrington was Hart’s offensive and defensive line coach in 1983. “We had it won and turned the ball over and let them go down and score, then get a two-point conversion. It was a hard pill to swallow.”

“I blocked it out of my mind. I don’t really remember it. It was kind of painful,” says then-Hart tight end Darryl Ingram, who went on to play four NFL seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers and now lives in Wisconsin.

Hart led Canyon 21-14 with 3:23 to play in the fourth quarter and started the drive with the ball on the Canyon 40-yard line.

Indians fullback Brian Lendman, though, fumbled on first down and Canyon’s Joe Yarrow recovered.

On a first-and-goal from the Hart 10-yard line, Cowboys quarterback Rick Burton zipped a pass over Hart defenders Dave Trogan and Mike Gatto into the waiting hands of Robert Owens for a touchdown with 56 seconds left.

“We called him the ‘Bobby O Show. Tall, lanky kid — he would catch anything Rick threw up,” said Dody Garcia, who was Canyon’s second-year statistician then and is a teacher at West Ranch High today and the Foothill League’s secretary.

Most teams would have kicked the extra point for the tie.

It was 23 years later in 2006.

Welch was in his second stint as head football coach at Canyon and during the season admitted he hated to kick.

During the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division championship game on Dec. 9, 2006, with the Cowboys leading Moorpark 14-7 with 3:16 to play and Canyon facing a fourth-and-1 from its own 17-yard line, the Cowboys set up in a punt formation, then faked the punt for a first down — some 83 yards from the opponents’ end zone.

Canyon later scored a touchdown on the drive in a 24-22 victory for the Cowboys’ fifth CIF championship.

On Nov. 7, 1986, Canyon failed on a two-point conversion attempt that ended the nation’s longest winning streak at the time — 46 games — in a 21-20 loss at Antelope Valley High.

However crazy his moves over the years have seemed to outsiders — and there was a collective gasp when he went for it in 2006 from the sportswriters covering that CIF title game at the Home Depot Center’s press box — there is a lot of sanity behind them says Garcia.

“He never wrote anything down. He never had a playbook in his hand. Everything was in his head,” says Garcia, who to this day remains friends with Welch. “Harry would always call them off his head. He always knew two or three plays before what he would call.”

Against Hart in 1983, it was a pass from Burton that landed in the hands of Mark Caffee, who worked himself free from coverage after seeing Burton scramble.

Caffee’s final catch of the season was an 8-yard reception on Sept. 30, 1983 in a 7-0 setback to Notre Dame.

Caffee died that October in a truck accident.

Tony Moore, a senior captain and linebacker on that team, says Caffee’s death pulled the team together.

“I got the phone call at home,” Moore recalls of hearing about Caffee’s death. “As far as that went, it was a blur. His dad spoke with us periodically through the season and even before the championship game. His dad was a big part of it.”

Canyon didn’t lose that season after Caffee’s death.

The football players at Canyon and Hart in 1983 had a lot in common.

Many of them played on the same youth sports teams.

The camaraderie that both teams had was remarkable, says those close to the teams.

“People ask me all the time, what’s the best CIF championship team, and I can’t tell them,” says Herrington, who has been a coach on all eight Hart CIF championship teams. “There’s different eras and different times. But the one thing is the ‘83 team had the most camaraderie and fellowship. It was a tight-knit group and still is today.”

Whereas Canyon players’ meeting spot off-campus was a convenience store — 7-Eleven on Whites Canyon, so was Hart’s, though it was am/pm on Lyons Avenue.

That camaraderie was seen in two places this year — at Canyon High on Sept. 7 when the ‘83 Cowboys were honored before the 2013 Cowboys beat Clovis West 48-0 at Harry Welch Stadium, and on Oct. 18 at Cougar Stadium, where players from the ‘83 Hart team reunited to watch the 2013 Indians beat Golden Valley 61-13.

The Canyon celebration continued into the night at different locations.

Hart’s reunion took place at TPC Valencia golf club.

Trogan and a friend worked together to make a highlight video that was first shown at the event.

It was a mix of game film, newspaper clippings, program pages and photos from Hart’s 1983 CIF title set to AC/DC’s “Back in Black” (which was one of Hart’s theme songs at the time because the Indians switched from red jerseys to black in the early ‘80s), The Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water,” Don McLean’s nostalgic “American Pie” and Aerosmith’s “Dream On.”

As the chorus of “Dream On” hit, a visual came on the screen.

The final seconds ticked and Hart players flooded onto the Cougar Stadium field after beating North Torrance.

The Santa Clarita Valley was halfway to establishing a sports identity.


Part II will appear in Friday’s Signal.


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