Archive for the ‘Monterey Country Weekly Stories’ Category


Monterey County Weekly, Dec. 16, 2010 ed.

By Corby Anderson

Take a stroll around the Carmel Valley Victorian Bird Homes production studio of Bruce and Angie Looram, smell the distinctive peppy tang of freshly milled redwood timbers, have a look-see at the myriad examples of the ornate constructs of a master craftsman filling their shop, and it’s easy to see that the business of building timeless Victorian’s has gone to the birds.

The Looram’s story is a tale of modern American stick-to-itiveness and of following your he(art). When the once-rollicking housing market suddenly collapsed and took with it the livelihoods of almost all it’s talented contractors and builders, many craftsmen sat frustrated and dumbfounded by their sudden wealth of free time and the corresponding dearth of regular income. Many folded up shop. Some went sideways. Others left the area in search of work in more fruitful markets.

But not Bruce Looram. No sirree. Those capable hands are anything but idle, and bear the scars to prove it.

Seeing his construction business go haltingly from hectic to listless, the veteran contractor surveyed the still-vibrant Carmel art scene, and after seeing a high priced, shoddily crafted bird house passed off as Victorianesque, quickly realized that the skills which had allowed him to build showcase homes all over the nation could be useful on a much more intimate scale. And – bonus- it would get him out of the house, where he fidgeted so.

Bruce’s wife Angie agrees wholeheartedly with her husband’s solution to both their income and irritation levels. “It helped keep our sanity at first,” she says with a wry grin, peering over the gabled roof of a birdhouse that she paints from a workbench that holds both cash register and painting implements.

“It started as a hobby,” says an enthusiastic Bruce, “I saw other people building bird houses and I said, ‘I can do that!’ And with much better results, for a cheaper price.” A new business was hatched.

At first, the Looram’s thought that they would work out of their house and sell their wares at street fairs. But soon the neighbors complained about all of the racket that goes into building a solid bird home, and when the Looram’s friend John Saunders offered them an empty retail storefront in the ideally situated Carmel Valley property that he owns, the Looram’s leapt at the opportunity.

Now, just a few months later, their mom and pop shop is overflowing with an impressive array of finely festooned floor plans for that favorite flock of finches.

Victorian-styled bird homes of all sizes – from ornamental scale all the way up the block to the “Winchester Mystery House” of bird homes (“it kept growing and growing,” says Looram, shaking his wood shaving-dusted head at a 6-foot tall monster of avian comfort), along with a few whimsical Jules Verny space rocket bird houses, an assortment of Vic-era weather vanes, some rather neat digitally manipulated oil paintings, and even some pretty cool “Monterey Coachworks” (an automaker in name and pre-weathered font only) t-shirts fill his walls, hang from hooks and balustrades, awnings and now spill out to the verandah, where not surprisingly a flock of approving future tenants chatter mirthfully from the branches of an overhanging tree.

The bird homes (not houses, the Looram’s insist) are exquisitely rendered, each hand made out of reclaimed redwood with Looram’s nine remaining fingers (“That’s a story for another time,” Bruce says, scratching his missing pinky) and decorated with all of the requisite Victorian adornments, from the copper roofs in faux-aged patina, to the shingles, to the corbel brace work, the elegantly angled box windows, the soaring cupola’s that crown the structures, the detailed paint work and all the way down to the tiny lattice fencing that surrounds some of the Vic’s.

Aside from the aesthetic payoff, and the admiring looks on the faces of passerby, the Looram’s handiwork has a utilitarian function as well – they house, well, birds, that oft-homeless species of animals that lift the spirits with their bright colors and chipper song and dazzle the mind with their effortless flight. With small holes just big enough for the magically compressible winged creatures to slip into punched in the hollow sub frame of the homes, a family of birds can nest in comfort and class.

Much to their delight, the Looram’s have found their own backyard, now something of a repository for experimental designs, teaming with dozens of happy quail. Do the pheasants puff their already proud chest plumage out a little extra when they snack on a fine course of seed and grain from the second floor balcony of their four-story Queen Anne? Wouldn’t you?

*Victorian Bird Homes can be appreciated and purchased at the Looram’s Carmel Valley shop, located at 7164 Carmel Valley Road, right across the parking lot from the Baja Cantina. Their number is (831) 620-1202. There is currently no internet site or e-commerce option, according the proprietors, due to the potential for high volume requests and the one-at-a-time, hand made nature of their product.


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Inside the new Pebble Beach: The Official Golf History by Neal Hotelling.

By Corby Anderson

In the years since a plucky Bostonian named Mike Brady first fought his way through irregular, construction zone course conditions to win the unofficial Opening Day Tournament in April, 1918, Pebble Beach has hosted over 400 golf tournaments, including four U.S. Open Championships.
Yet as sluggish as that seminal event must have been for its participants, it’s a safe bet that Brady, and every tournament golfer at Pebble since, has spent less time actually playing in their respective tournaments than Monterey resident, author, and Pebble Beach historian Neal Hotelling has spent studying each of them.

Hotelling has devoted much of the past two decades investigating, archiving and publishing the dense history of what many consider the world’s most beautiful, and challenging, golfing locations. For his third book, the recently released Pebble Beach: The Official Golf History (Triumph Books), he spent four years digging into and interpreting the minutia of each of Pebble’s golf events, many that had been lost in the overgrown rough of history before Hotelling unearthed them.

Hotelling calls them “Aha!” moments.

In his capacity as the director of licensing and third party usage of trademarked images for the Pebble Beach Company, where he has worked for 19 years, Hotelling has access to a cache of over 40,000 historic negatives, many never publicly seen before – a tremendous resource that has been given new life in the gorgeously designed book.

Those images often came to Hotelling without any accompanying information, leaving it up to the author to figure out the subjects, and then to place the images into historical context (Aha!), such as when he identified the relatively tiny image of H. Dudley Wysong striking a blind, cross-course shot from the 6th fairway at Pebble Beach up onto the 8th green, within 25 feet of the cup to save par in the 1961 U.S. Amateur – considered in course lore to be one of the greatest single shots ever made in competition at Pebble.

“The photos didn’t come with IDs,” Hostelling says. “Wysong had blown his tee shot to the left, gotten himself into trouble and wound up off course. I happened to notice which hole it was by the orientation of the cliffs behind him, and by the strange direction of his aim, figured out that it had to be the legendary shot.”

The author enlisted an impressive cadre of colleagues to contribute to his work. Seeding the book with vivid landscape photographs is Carmel-based photographer Joanne Dost, an Ansel Adam’s trained artist whose own legend is rapidly growing.

Arnold Palmer writes the foreword and tells of his legendary 1967 quadruple bogey, when he cursed, in all ways, a tree that stymied his attempt to keep up with Jack Nicklaus – that very same tree which Arney had hit with his ball not once, but twice earlier in the day – fell down in a furious storm during the night.

Pebble Beach: The Official Golf History builds upon Pebble Beach Golf Links: The Official History, which Hotelling wrote a decade prior. This new edition is notable for its inclusion of the hitherto undocumented, complete tournament history of Pebble Beach. Equally important, the book updates a history that is unfolding every year.

In the decade since his first book was published, the course has hosted a fourth U.S. Open, famously won in 2000 by Tiger Woods, who dominated the field in winning by 15 strokes. “When the course is set up for championship play,” says Hotelling, “it can be a very, very hard course. They [course designers] really put the teeth into it. The fairways are pinched in, the rough gets rougher. Tiger was 12 under, but his nearest competitor was three over. The entire field, other than Woods, was over par. That’s how hard this course can be. It stands the test of time to take on the best golfers of the world.”

Interestingly, Hotelling isn’t even certain that Woods’ win in 2000 was the best performance in the history of U.S. Opens at Pebble. That honor, says Hotelling, probably belongs to Tom Kite and the final round of his 1992 victory.

“We’ve had such great Open champions. Nicklaus, Watson, Kite, Woods,” says Hotelling, his convivial face lighting up in the mentioning of that hallowed group. “Jack [Nicklaus] won both the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Open here. And then there is Tiger. But Kite was playing in impossible conditions, on rock hard greens, in 40 mph winds, and under incredible pressure. Colin Montgomerie had already signed his card, and was three strokes behind Kite, but with the conditions deteriorating on the course, Jack Nicklaus, who was on TV as an announcer, conceded that the course was unplayable and congratulated Monty early for winning his first U.S. Open.

“Kite was the all-time money leader at that point, but was major-less, and was thought not to be able to handle the pressure that it took in winning a major. Of the last players on the course with Kite, the average score turned in was 80,” he says, pausing to let the number sink in.

“The best in the world. Eighty. Kite shot a 72 and won his major,” says Hotelling, smiling as he looks out over Pebble’s magnificent 18th hole from the terrace above.

His eyes fall on the cup. When the winning putt of the 2010 U.S. Open falls firmly in that hole, this historian’s work will begin anew.

Pebble Beach, The Official Golf History, by Neal Hotelling, with photography by Joanne Dost is published by Triumph Books and can be purchased at many local bookstores and online at http://www.amazon.com or http://www.borders.com.

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Monterey County Weekly
December 23, 2009
by Corby Anderson

On the corner lot of a once-pleasant, palm-studded neighborhood in East Salinas, an ash-colored tabby steps furtively across a dead and prickly lawn. Crouched low, triggered to pounce, he advances across a minefield of rotten newspaper bundles until he finds his prey. There, shaded from a vengeful sun by the T of a realtor’s cross, the four-legged feline vulture scrapes his raspy tongue across the carcass of a half-consumed lollipop.

The scene is drearier than a Cormac McCarthy novel. That is, until the grass man and his green wand cometh.

Brian Sharp spraypaints lawns that, for a variety of reasons, have lost their luster. “California is in its fourth year of drought,” he says. “That, combined with the foreclosure market, was interesting to me as an entrepreneur.”

Sharp, a business student at Hartnell College, witnessed the lawns in his community going fallow after owners began walking away from upside-down investments. Where others saw an ugly brown blight, Sharp saw green. With an investment of just a few hundred dollars, he created Presto Turf Sprayers.

“Golf courses have been doing it for years,” Sharp says as he sprays a fine layer of forest green on the brown ground where the cat had stalked its prey minutes before. “It is their secret salad. I just looked at the economy and connected the dots. I bought a backpack sprayer, some non-toxic, biodegradable paint, and started going door to door and calling the realtors.”

As one might imagine, the sight of Sharp painting a lawn green elicits quite a few comments and questions from curious neighbors and passers-by. “They just don’t believe it,” he says. “They think it’s unsafe or toxic. I tell them that it’s 100 percent eco-friendly, non-fetotoxic [safe for pregnant women and their fetuses] and pet-safe.”

It’s also a practical solution in a climate of dried-up funds, he adds: “The banks need to get people to buy the houses, but a dormant lawn takes time to re-grow. I call it zero-effort lawn care.”

Local broker Jeremy Rangle was one of Sharp’s first clients. “He offered to paint my lawn as a prototype and the result was great,” he says. “We use him for photography of our listings. His work makes for eye-catching lawns.”

Sharp claims that a coat of paint will keep a lawn looking snappy for up to six months. Next year, he plans to offer paint-on sponsor logos and special markings for sporting fields.

While shoring up unsightly lawns was the impetus behind his niche business, Sharp feels saving water is the most beneficial aspect of his work. “There are plenty of people with lawns that are toasted because there are water shortages, or water is too expensive to use regularly. My product keeps those people with water challenges in good standing with the neighbors and code enforcement types,” he says.

The Gonzalez native has a more traditional green thumb as well. He is a dedicated “cactophile,” a lover of all things succulent and drought-resistant. He maintains a stockpile of hundreds of unique cacti, and admires their survivability. “I love how frugal they are,” he says. “They do their best with the resources available to them.”

He has little time for his hobby, though, with a full slate of classes, his lawn painting business, as well as a full time gig running his family bail bonds business. He finds the mellow, solitary act of lawn painting to be therapeutic in contrast to his other work. “When I am painting, I don’t have to deal with shady characters, jail or bounty hunters,” he says. “They are the worst. Here, it’s just me and the grass.”

Using emerald-spackled drop cloths to mask off the concrete that wraps around the impressive-but-abandoned corner lot, Sharp traces the edges where lawn meets sidewalk with the focus of an artist. He is soon lost in his work, a conductor whose chrome baton flashes like schooling sardines in the fall sun. The nozzle is attached to a long yellow hose that reels from a homemade Frankentrailer apparatus, topped by a 50-gallon tank. He built “The Rig” when business became so steady that his back was getting sore from hefting the backpack around for days on end.

The only apparent victims of his work, besides his back, are his once-black Nike sneakers, which he considers to be collateral damage – victims of friendly fire in a larger fight to beautify soured tracts of land.

“It’s all about curb appeal. I want to help the community recover,” he says. At that, he turns, picking up the week-old newspapers that litter the brown patch he is about to turn green – and the discarded lollipop.

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The Lady in the Locker Room: Flo Snyder Helped the Dodgers take to Los Angeles, and helped to break down baseball’s gender barrier
Monterey County Weekly
December, 2009

By Corby Anderson

She was a wide-eyed witness to history, a charmed pioneer working in the male-dominated arena of professional sports, a regular foil to some of baseball’s largest stars. And now, 50 years after Carmel’s Flo Thomasian Snyder got her start as one of the first Los Angeles Dodger employees, she can add one more title to her impressive quiver: award-winning author.
Snyder’s long career has seen her thrust into an array of fascinating—and fortuitous—circumstances, which ultimately led to work as the California’s first director of tourism. But first she was an aid to one of Major League Baseball’s most ingenious marketers, Red Patterson, who organized the ballyhooed arrival and promotion of the west’s first professional baseball team, the former Brooklyn Dodgers.

Lady In the Locker Room: Madcap memoirs of the early LA Dodgers documents that time, 40 years after it was first suggested by her legendary boss that she was the only person who could write the book on those formative years. The book just recently received the Independent Book Publisher Award for Best Regional Non Fiction in 2009.

Knowing nothing about baseball, but seizing on the notion that the new team would need local help as it migrated from East to West, Snyder pressed her contacts “thick and heavy” to parlay her short stint working in special events at the L.A. Times into a P.R. position in the rambunctious world of professional baseball. As fate would have it, under Patterson’s tutelage, Flo would become one of the first women in baseball to ascend the gender barrier above the career rung of secretary.

She survived her first day, where she almost immediately dropped a typewriter to its shattering death, thanks to her can-do spirit and unyielding workload. As the team searched for a stadium to play its games in, she juggled ticket requests from seemingly every star in Hollywood and facilitated transitions from New York to L.A. for a roster of needy players and staff.

The first spring training at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida remains her favorite memory from her decade with the Dodgers. When she went to get ready for the first team dinner. “I got my key and ran to my room to freshen up, and when I opened the door there was 6’5” pitcher Stan Williams, who was barely dressed.
“I was so embarrassed,” says Snyder, “But Stan showed a quick wit that the ballplayers all possessed. In less than a beat, he said, ‘Hey I knew they were giving me a roommate, but this is better than expected!’” Snyder still wonders if there was an honest mistake issuing room keys, or if she was deliberately set up.

Judging by the good-natured pranks played henceforth, the latter seems likely. Snyder soon bit hook, line and sinkerball for a pie in the face trick from Patterson—in front of the entire team at a fancy dinner occasion – her official initiation as a Dodger.

Snyder’s book is full of stories of meals gone wrong. She once knowingly served the great pitcher Don Drysdale, and four of his teammates – on the dinner-saving suggestion of a germaphobic team wife – a reclaimed chateaubriand that her 90-pound dog Buzzie had innocently dragged out of the oven onto the floor, where he had proceeded to chew and slobber all over their future dinner.

Less nostalgically, Snyder recalls with acid wit dining amongst the pungent body odor that clung to Fidel Castro’s hairy band of Revolutionaries when she was whisked away on one of many inpromptu team junkets aboard owner Walter O’Malley’s Dodger plane.

Then there is the time when, on Snyder’s behalf, Patterson asked Yankee great Yogi Berra for an autograph after dinner. “Sure!” The catcher replied. “But Red, my kid always admired you so much when you were with the Yankees. He wanted to be just like you, and he would love to have your autograph,” he continued. Patterson was thrilled to sign Berra’s paper.
Once he had, the Hall of Famer famous for phrases like “It gets late early out there” vanished more quickly than a home run over a short porch. The paper was the entire Yankee team’s dinner bill.

For her part, Snyder knows that the hijinks that she endured were just part of what made the tailfin era special. “It was just a different time. I’ve often wondered, ‘Do these guys have fun like we did in the good old days? Would they dare do to a secretary what they did to me?’ But you have to remember that it was always funny. You couldn’t help ending up laughing.”

While Snyder was victimized early and often—once she rushed from player to player in a desperate search to help a player find the “keys” to the batters box—she counts her own wins.
She got the best of baseballs notorious bad boy, renowned for his brash personality and womanizing ways (also for steel-clad quotes such as “Nice guys finish last”), Dodger Manager Leo “The Lip” Durocher, with the assistance of a thousand cold pennies and a clothesline full of female undergarments.

The historical, hysterical stories of the life and times of the early LA Dodgers keep coming, with such an eager audience that Flo is contemplating writing a companion book next year. “I have total strangers call me up and invite me to dinner, just to hear the old Dodger stories,” reports Snyder. “They cant get enough of ‘em, and I’ve got plenty!”

Lady in the Locker Room ($39.95) is available at Borders Books and can be ordered online at http://www.ladyinthelockerroom.com.

Straight and True
Flo Snyder on the most famous Dodgers she worked with:
Sandy Koufax, pitcher
“A very fine, decent human being and simply the best pitcher in baseball. He played his arm off.”

Don Drysdale, pitcher
“A big, lovable guy. He was my first friend on the team. Once he got on the mound he could be the meanest SOB.”

Vin Scully, broadcaster
“He taught so many people in Los Angeles about the game of baseball. He was the best in the business.”

Tommy Lasorda, manager: “I am now convinced that if they cut him open he would literally bleed Dodger blue. He is the Great Inspirer.”

Walter O’Malley, owner: Smartest guy I ever met. Irresistibly charming, to everyone. He always knew what he was doing. One year he knew next to nothing about Los Angeles, the next he owned 300 prime acres of LA property, at Chavez Ravine.”

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The Pacific Grove saga of Sparky’s Root Beer renaissance.
By Corby Anderson

It started out as a refreshing experiment, conceived in the mind of a constant tinkerer and brewed in a backyard kettle. Once formulated, the elixir found a dedicated local customer base the old-fashioned way – handed from its creators, Kevin and Carol Knox of Pacific Grove, to local consumers, one frothy mug at a time.

The Knoxes are both second-generation Pagrovians with deep roots in the local hospitality business. They met, ironically, at Carol’s job, the Fishwife Restaurant, Kevin perhaps taken by her customer service (she’s won the prestigious Papa Vince Award, given to the top service worker in the area every year by the Monterey County Hospitality Association—as well as California State Employee of the Year, Front of House Category).

Over time, Kevin, then a restaurant manager with an eye for a future play of his own, saw a trend of micro-brew pubs bubbling up successfully around the country. With an open mind, a mail order beer-making kit, and a trusty hydrometer, Kevin began experimenting with home brewing. The results of his backyard lab proved to be popular with both the Knoxes’ friends and beer judges alike. Knox Brewing was born, and a steady stream of award-winning ales poured forth.

Kevin was inspired by the enthusiastic reception that his creations garnered, but noticed a rather large market was going untapped. “I don’t drink much, really, and I wanted to make something for the kids and my other non-drinking friends to enjoy,” he says. “Raspberry soda was first, then cranberry apple.”

He made his first batch using a living yeast.

“We had a buddy getting married, so we put the original Sparky’s into a big double champagne magnum and gave it to him as a wedding gift,” he says. “He kept the bottle, and on the first anniversary he invited us over, and when he popped the cork the carbonation had built up so much that the cork flew over the telephone pole and landed several blocks away.”

The cork’s arc could well describe the path that Sparky’s has taken since. “Sparky’s was born from a series of experiments, accidents, luck, and persistence,” Carol says. “Once we started honing in on a winning recipe, we had a built-in tasting panel right here,” she says, referring to their three daughters, who now all live in L.A. Batch #115 was the unanimous winner.

“We kind of had a feeling that we were about to make a breakthrough,” Kevin recalls, “and it was like, ‘Now we have finally achieved the flavor and taste that we wanted.’”

The quality of their product today is clear, from its velvety texture to its brilliant and uncloudy amber color, its full-flavored aroma to its balance of creaminess and caramel with vanilla, honey, and birch root spices.

Sparky’s namesake is the late family cat, a beloved assistant brewer who bestowed the new brew upon the Knoxes’ friends and family on holiday occasions, to rave reviews. When it came time to take the product to the public, the name stuck; Sparky’s made its debut at the 2000 Good Old Days Festival.

“We [the five Knoxes] all had matching t-shirts and a banner,” Carol recalls. “We sold a ton of root beer, and people really loved it.”

Seeking a regular audience, Knox Brewing found a perfect venue for its draught at the Tuesday Farmers Market in Monterey. A root-beer-float partnership with nearby Joe Smith of Carmel Creamery soon followed.

• • •

As many home brewers have found, creating a great product and getting it out to the public en masse are two distinct battles.

“We were bottling in Carmel Valley, in 95 degree heat,” Carol says, “and we just said, ‘We need help!’”

Ultimately, the solution came when the Knoxes worked out an arrangement with Coast Range Brewing Company, formerly of Gilroy. Kevin brewed batches of Sparky’s in CRBC’s large, steel “unitanks,” and Coast Range did the bottling with its equipment, a process that greatly increased production.

But the Knoxes still needed to get their beer to more lips.

“We had the attitude that we had been at it for nine years, and we had to follow it where it led us,” Kevin says.

Providence intervened in the form of Compagno’s Deli proprietor and indy soda fan Bennett Compagno, who had made a habit out of selling unique sodas at his shop on Prescott Avenue in Monterey. He made a call to his vendor, Danny Ginsburg of Real Soda.

The rendezvous was an ominous one, straight out of a corporate espionage novel, Carol recounts. “It was a cold, dark, foggy night. We met in Compagno’s parking lot,” she says. “Danny took one sip and put the cap in his pocket. Then his eyes bugged out, and he turned up the whole 22-ounce bottle of Sparky’s and chugged it down. I thought, I guess he likes it!”

The partnership has been a boon to business: Sparky’s Root Beer is now sold across the West in markets, grocery stores, BevMo outlets, and is starting to make inroads back East. Success hasn’t gone to their heads – Kevin still delivers cases around Central California, and remains a fixture at the Farmers Market every week. And his old experimental gene remains active.

“I am tinkering with a cream soda and some other ideas, but it really takes a long time to get the ingredients just right,” he says.

“And we set the bar really high with Sparky’s,” adds Carol, “so anything we make now is going to have to be really great to make the grade.”

With that she gives her husband a knowing glance, the kind of look that implies something new is brewing.

SPARKY’S ROOT BEER is available at fine local markets and stores such as Compagno’s Deli, Star Market, Bottles and Bins, Bruno’s Market, BevMo, Save Mart and Nob Hill and dozens of fine local restaurants.649-0529 or visit http://www.sparkysrootbeer.com

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Strange but true real-world dramas play out on local football fields.
By Corby Anderson

A young star is slowed – not by an opponent, but a gun shot. A team decimated by injury forfeits a game because JV players refuse to move up; a year later, those players round out the slimmest varsity roster in the area. And a blue-chip lineman would rather talk sharks than blocking schemes. So go three of the area’s many high-school storylines, where on-field drama is often elevated by the intrigue off it.

• • •

Ask Monterey High Coach Tom Newton about his star athlete, speedy outside linebacker-running back Joey Christensen, and he marvels at the senior’s ability to rebound from adversity. And for good reason. Christensen has seen more misfortune in a minute than most see in a lifetime.

A little more than a year ago, Joey and his brother Daniel were shot by an unidentified assailant at their own house during a party. Joey was shot once in the chest and again in the abdomen.

“He was on the verge of death,” Newton says. “We didn’t know if he would make it through the night.”

Christensen pulled through the tragedy and is making up for lost time on the football field.

“Joey is a tough-nosed kid,” Newton says. “He’s back to where he was last year [before the shooting], and we are excited. We’re going to feature him as one of our main backs in our offense.”

Monterey uses the simple, efficient, and at times maddening (for opposing defenses) veer offense, in which multiple options are available to run the ball, usually with just a few plays repeated throughout the entire season.

Last season, the Toreadores went 9-3 and plowed two games deep into the Central Coast Section playoffs. This year they hope to improve on that result, and a big reason why is their recuperated star, Christensen. As Newton says: “Where he goes, we go, and we expect to go far.”

• • •

Any captain of industry will tell you the same thing: While it is not preferable, sometimes you’ve got to dip into your reserves to keep the ball rolling.

Coaching football is no different.

Stevenson High School Coach Germano Diniz held out as long as he could in the ’08 season. Due to graduation and other factors, his squad started out woefully small, with only 19 players on the starting roster, 12 of them seniors. By mid-season, injuries whittled the Pirates down to just 12 (who themselves were visibly gutting out injuries of their own), meaning everybody had to play offense and defense and almost nobody had a backup.

When Diniz tried to bolster his roster with reserves from the well-stocked, successful JV program, several players declined because they felt they weren’t ready to play with the more physical varsity opponents. Parents sided with their sons. As a result, the varsity team had to forfeit a game versus Greenfield due to lack of players, which resulted in having the JV game canceled too.

Now, in 2009, Diniz will guide those very same JV players who have now matured a year and stepped up to the varsity squad, led by impressive new starting QB Tom Stivers and jitterbug RB Jeffery Goodman. With last year’s drama behind them, the Pirates hope to prove that the JV team’s success last year will translate into varsity wins this season. But they still will suit up only 22 players.

• • •

Football players are often unfairly mischaracterized as lumbering oafs. But one local plus-sized player is proof positive that his helmet is filled with potent synapses.

Salinas High School senior right tackle Chandler Hubbard sports both a stellar GPA to match his A-plus game. Major college football programs such as USC, Cal, Notre Dame, Florida State and Georgia are closely following every pancake block and thwarted blitz the 6’4”, 270-pound tackle makes. To get the three-year starter, though, they will have to prove that they can provide a powerhouse education.

Hubbard wants to apply his considerable scholastic aptitude in the field of marine biology, specifically sharks. “I want to study their behavior – what their mindset is in the ocean,” he says. “Why do great whites migrate so far? Why do bull sharks have three times more testosterone than any other sharks?” He aims to play four years of college football, then head to New Zealand to do his post-graduate work at the prestigious University of Queensland, where students study white shark behavior off Seal Island.

Cowboy head coach Steve Goodbody lights up when he speaks of Hubbard. “Chandler is an excellent athlete with really quick feet, which is key for a tackle in an option offensive scheme,” he says. “He’s a well-rounded kid – one who stars in the classroom and on the field.”

His approach rubs off. “[Chandler] has a very strong work ethic,” Goodbody says. “He challenges himself all the time, and he is a real leader. A lot of kids coming look to him for how to do things.”

Hubbard will be happy to help the Cowboys get back into the playoffs. Last year’s CCS semifinal loss to Wilcox has left a bitter taste in his mouth. “[The Tri-County League] is a tough division – they call it the Black and Blue Division,” he says. “I want to win it, and hopefully get a chance to play Wilcox again. This time I want to beat them, and now I know how.”

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For the sleepless, disillusioned droves of would-be entrepreneurs who fear that the American Dream has morphed into some sort of bleak Kafkaesque corporate nightmare, affirmation can be found holding a hockey stick on an abandoned military base.

Mark Tanous, proprietor of Water City Roller Hockey and art minded hockey czar of the Monterey Peninsula, isn’t letting rough times force him to give up the dream that led him here in 1994. He’s merely adjusting it to include more players.

Sensing a clear niche – and in flight from the spate of floods, earthquakes, riots, and forest fires that tormented Southern California – Mark Tanous, his wife (former Newhart actress Jennifer Holmes), and their kids came to Monterey in the mid-’90s with the express purpose of starting a hockey business capable of providing a fun time to anyone interested. The beginnings were inauspicious.

“There was no hockey here. When we started, it was a family affair, with my mom and dad cooking hot-dogs, my sister doing sign-ups, our kids skating, and Jennifer and I doing everything else,” Tanous says from behind his organically organized desk. “We would show up with a huge barrel of skates, and helmets, and sticks, and the kids would go for it.”

When his sport found a foothold with enough athletes, the Tanouses set their sites on securing a proper rink, which, with the help of Don Garl, former Marina Recreation Director, was quickly identified out at the still-in-transition Fort Ord. The old but well-preserved basketball gym was hardly used.

“When we first came here, it was being used to store free weights and bins of old jock straps,” Tanous says

The folding of a professional team in Anaheim helped Water City Roller Hockey blossom into one of the top roller hockey venues in the state – Tanous purchased the team’s brand new plastic Sports Court playing surface and installed it in his rink, drastically improving play and enthusiasm. “I kid you not,” he says. “We have the best playing surface anywhere!”

Successful youth leagues sprung up, culminating in two different state championships and a Junior Olympics Championship for the 18 and under traveling team. Mark and Jennifer’s dream had come to life. “We were building the program focusing on instruction – on skating. We never felt that we were just making good hockey players, we were making good kids.”

The adult hockey leagues proved more of a test to Tanous’ funster mentality. “The men’s league got a little too aggressive,” he says. “I was really frustrated by the way people were fighting. I called an all league meeting.” Pointing to the parking lot, Tanous asked if anyone saw any San Jose Sharks scouts outside. “I said, ‘Nobody is going to the NHL here! This league is for recreational activity.’ ”

Over time, the local professional league mirrored a dip in nationwide participation in the already fringe sport; sharper declines followed in the past two years. Tanous sadly reels off a litany. “No more Pro Roller on TV… The sport got to be too expensive – top of the line skates went from $150 to over $500; many, many rinks closed down because of the costs of keeping up a facility.”

The original dream was forced to yield to growth and sustainability or face a sentimental devolution towards irrelevancy – “it was time to diversify,” he says.

“I was kind of a hockey snob. ‘All that we do here is roller hockey!’ I would say. But, [fortunately] I saw it coming,” he adds. Now, thanks to conduits like Juan Pablo Aviles, who organized a new soccer program, Water City “has an indoor soccer league that looks like it’s going to be very successful. We have indoor lacrosse leagues. We’re working with the city of Marina on a basketball night and senior programs. We are reinventing ourselves as Water City Sports.”

Marina Recreation Director Terry Siegrist supports the broader programs they’re building. “Sustainability is clearly of issue at this time,” he says. “Diversity in recreation is critical in this economic climate. Mark has worked very hard for 15 years to bring a quality recreation program in roller hockey to this area, and now he’s doing his part to look at what [else] the facility could provide.”

Not that Tanous plans on leaving his original operating philosophy. “I like seeing people have fun,” he says. “Water City is a lot of fun.”

WATER CITY SPORTSHOSTS a variety of sports, including youth and adult roller hockey, floor hockey, indoor soccer, and indoor lacrosse leagues at the Water City Sports Rink, 2800 2nd Avenue, Marina. 384-0144, http://www.watercityrollerhockey.com.

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