Previous chapter: Middle school
I went to Balboa High School in the Excelsior district. My first year was 1946, having just graduated from James Denman Junior High. I loved industrial arts at James Denman. Print shop, metal shop. Balboa was one of 8 or 9 high schools in San Francisco. I had a great high school experience.
The first day I got to Balboa students were on strike. The students were on strike! The principal was Bob Chase. He graduated from Yale. His one song that we had to learn was Bulla Bulla, which was the Yale fight song. He expelled 6 or 7 players of the football team which was unpardonable according to the students so they went on strike. They wanted to have the football players reinstated. I don't remember what the football players did. Bob probably did the right thing. Who knows what the coaches had to do with it. It somehow got resolved in a day or so. That was my introduction to Balboa High School in 1946.
I think I told you I was very shy. I took a Spanish class from Mrs. Aced. I was always reluctant to get up and talk. Sometimes that affected me. In an English class I remember having to get up and speak and I would tell the teacher I didn't do my homework. After doing it a few times I chatted with her and told her I get too embarrassed. I was too self-conscious. One day she said, "OK, I want you to come here at lunchtime and you're going to do your talk." So I did it with just the teacher and I will never forget. It broke the barrier for me. First of all she was so thoughtful and understanding of my plight. I sensed that she was wanting me to develop this ability. I still had problems, I had to take a speech class in college. Little did I know I was gonna be a teacher standing up in front of class, blabbering, for years and years.
During an exam someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, "you better go see a dentist." I don't know how I got a hold of Siro Guglielmi. He became not only my dentist that I trusted. I pretty much lost my fears of dentist visits because he was so gentle. He had a good sense of humor. He could distract me, talking. Over the years we got to be very good friends. I admired his taking the time to talk to me a lot about my future, my life. We had occasion to go and play golf together! We'd play golf and we'd sit out on Lincoln highway, by the windmill. We'd just sit in the car and we'd talk. We'd talk about life, the future. I didn't have anyone at all in my life that allowed for that kind of conversation. He was gentle, interested. I remember when I signed with the Seals and they were gonna send me to Salt Lake City in the Pioneer league, I was ready to leave, and he gave me a little gift. It was a cosmetic bag. With all the toiletries. Very sweet. I'm sad to say he got very ill. We both went to the same church together. Corpus Christi. I remember on a couple occasions I'd see him sitting, just praying in church. I later found out he had cancer of the spine. When he passed away I was devastated. But I had gone into the service, so I missed that fateful day. But I remember knowing he was very sick. He was a mentor, in the true sense of the word. He had me think about what I wanted to do, where I was going to go. I think even Clara may have gone to him, in fact. So he knew the family.
My very first girlfriend was Marilyn Kirk. I had a crush on her but I wouldn't dare say anything to her. She knew I liked her. She lived on Maynard. Every once in a while I'd walk home with her. On Maynard. We were so young, innocent, we'd maybe go to a party or something. I remember we had a dance. I probably danced with her. I liked going to the dances. I wasn't a good dancer but I liked the social part of it. Go out for dinner, what have you. She was my girlfriend for a bit, but that passed away, faded.
I played the trumpet. I played in the high school band. My music teacher's name was Thayer M. Kinkle. He was in the service. He was very frugal. It was very expensive to have your shoes repaired, so he went to the 5 and dime store, Woolworth's, where they'd sell these little rubber soles that you'd glue to the bottom of your shoes. When he'd be sitting up at the stool, you could see the bottoms, I remember a kid saying, "what do you have on the bottom?" He explained what this was. A cost thing.
Oren Qualls was the basketball coach. He had just gotten out of the navy. He was back in school. He had the suit that he wore before he went into the service. I remember it was so tight and so small for him, but it was the only suit he had. We had a lot of teachers who were in the service. Larry Webber. A guy named Pagano who had 1 arm missing. He wasn't in the service. Well, maybe he was. Maybe that's where he lost his arm.
I remember an experience with Mr. Blyle. He was a Mr. Peepers. Mr. Peepers was a TV character. A little guy. Fidgety. Not very competent. But funny. Very funny. Mr. Blyle was a very small, slight fellow. He wasn't feminine but he was effeminate. To taunt him a couple of the big guys opened the window and put him out and held him by his ankles out the window. He was yelling and screaming and the kids were getting a big kick out of it, of course. They brought him in and he brushed himself off and I honestly can't recall... you'd think... if anyone got expelled, they probably were.
I was in homeroom 204. We would go there first and hear the bulletin. No intercom. The teachers read the bulletins out. We would always start in homeroom and then we would go to our classes. Balboa was a very pretty school. Spanish architecture. Had a big center court. Coming into high school I was starting to develop skills as a baseball player and as a basketball player. And I remember having PE and gymnastics, which I loved. Tumbling. Somersaults on the mats. A lot of building bridges. They had a rope climbing activity. Up above what I thought was 900 feet. It was probably 25 feet. I just didn't have the strength. You know the rope is about this big and you'd go up like you'd slide down a pole like the firemen do and you'd reach up with one hand and pull yourself up and lock your legs. I could get half of the way up and I would slide down and get rope burns. I think part of it was the height. It affected my grade, I think, because I couldn't do it. There were guys --- it was humiliating --- they'd go up with just their hands, touch the top with their hands. That was one thing I remember being inadequate in. I did love the tumbling on the mats. I liked PE.
In my freshman and sophomore years I played soccer in a league where there were adults playing and there was a Greek team, it had a Greek name. I don't know how I got on the team but I did. They were older, it was mixed. They played at Beach Chalet which was out at the beach near the windmills. Then I played lightweight basketball, which they called "tens", a hundred ten pounds. You had to meet a certain criteria to qualify. They had a formula. It was an exponent thing. Your age plus your weight and your height. It evened the playing field because you wouldn't play against guys who were monsters. You'd play against your size. So it was 110s, 120s, 130s. I also eventually played 120s and 130s.
I also came into my own as a baseball player. Louie Haas was the coach. In freshmen year I was playing what was called semi-pro in the city. It was a wonderful program sponsored by a lot of the merchants, local businesses, what have you. We'd play all over the city. I was starting to play quite a bit. At Big Rec in Golden Gate Park there was an announcer. His name was Levine. The first time I batted at Big Rec I remember hearing, "coming to bat, Tony Basks." At Balboa I went out for the team and played on the freshman team. I played all 4 years. I made All-City, first team in my senior year.
We had marvelous games. Well-attended. There was overflow crowds and they'd put ropes out in the outfield and they'd all be standing out there, spectators. That was a thrill. Parents. Students. Kids. We didn't have cheerleaders or anything like that. The games were always well-attended. Particularly at Big Rec, which had two nice fields.
I remember playing Mission High School at a park called Clubhouse. Lloyd Dickie played for Mission and he was an absolute fireballer. I got to know him later because he became a custodian at Mills High School. He would come out when I was coaching and it was nice to see him there. He was good and he signed a professional contract. Anyways I got up to hit against him at Clubhouse and he was so fast. I swung and almost broke my hand. I hit the ball about 8 inches from my hands and it was enough to get over the second baseman's head for a base hit. "Oh hoh hoh. I got a base hit off of Lloyd Dickie." That's what I was thinking while on first base. On the very next pitch he picked me off at first base. I was probably thinking "God I got a hit off of Lloyd Dickie" and I wasn't even concentrating and he picked me off.
Funston was the first time I played under the lights. It was out in the Marina, by Lombard. They had 2 diamonds. One had lights. That was a thrill. There was a pitcher by the name of Ed Cherrigino who was a very big prospect. He was a pretty big sized guy. He eventually signed with the Yankees. We played in what was called a twilight league. The lights wouldn't be on at first but when it got dark enough they'd put the lights on. Ed Cherrigino was another Lloyd Dickie. I didn't even know. I was listening for the ball rather than watching for it. It would go POP into the catcher's glove. So yeah, I was not that successful against Ed Cherrigino.
The caliber of baseball in San Francisco was outstanding. There were a lot of professional players that came out of the city when I was playing. A lot of them. We played all year round. We played American Legion in the summer. And then we played Winter Ball for local merchants. They would sponsor teams. Merchants like Regal Pale, and a Chevrolet dealership.
Believe it or not I was also on the golf team at Balboa. I often wondered in reflection "how was I able to play baseball and be on the golf team?" The deal was our baseball season would be over maybe April, and then golf would start and on Mondays we could play Lake Merced golf course. We'd play the private courses because they were open to coaches and the high schools and they let us play there. Lincoln, Lake Merced, Harding, Sharpe Park. That's how I played on the golf team. I had above average success in golf. I remember I was shooting in the 70s when I was playing golf and I remember playing in the San Francisco Zamra. They had a junior tournament and all of these young kids, good golfers, would play in this tournament. It was competitive. I played with a guy named Ken Venturi, who went to Lincoln High School and ended up being a professional golfer. Very good. He played in the tournament, in fact I played against Venturi, two years, while I was in high school. I was the All-City selection. He was, hands down, dynamite. He was wealthy, I was so jealous. He had a car. A Ford convertible.
It wasn't until my junior and senior year that I started developing some golf skills. In '48, '49, I was playing in these all-city tournaments with Dick Kusich, God rest his soul. Dick and I played in the band together at Balboa. He was a trombone player, and the catcher on our high school team. He lived in the Excelsior with me. We would go to Balboa Park with our wooden shaft golf clubs. He would go down to one end of the park. There weren't many people around who we might kill with the ball. He'd hit the ball to me and I'd hit it back to him.
I had no instruction in golf. The day came when I was gonna play on a golf course for the first time. It was at Harding. They had a practice course, 6 holes. I was so cocky. I knew I was gonna hit the crap out of the ball. Tee'd up. Looked at Dick. I swung and I missed the ball. Completely whiffed it. I had a moment of truth there. I thought, "wait a moment, how could that happen?" That's when I realized how tough the game was.
But I got into it, played a lot, and got to be pretty good. We played Lincoln. Harding. Sharpe Park. We could get a month card for $5 and use it at any golf course. I had a set of golf clubs that my mother got me as a birthday gift. I told her the golf team coach, Ray Scott, had a set of golf clubs he would sell. I don't even know how much they were, but that's what I got for my 15th or 16th birthday. I think I still have them somewhere.
China Beach was the hangout spot in high school. I think the first alcoholic beverage I had was a Burgermeister beer in the back of a car. It came in a big bottle. We'd pass the bottle around. No hard liquor. It was foolish but if someone had a car we'd go out to the beach and we'd all chip in to get some beer. We'd have somebody's brother go in and buy it.
In my senior year, I got a '35 Chevy with suicide doors. An old clunker. I remember putting a Smitty on it. A Smitty is like a muffler that makes a roar, big time. One time, after I picked up Clara, we were driving up San Jose Avenue. A lot of streetcar tracks on San Jose. I hit a bump and the door came ajar. These were heavy doors. Clara reached over to close it, it went out of her hand, the door swung out, and fell straight off the car. Clara was crying. I couldn't stop laughing. Here she tries to close the door and the door flies off. She got mad at me for that one. I got out, grabbed the door, kinda pushed it back in, and then drove us back home. I eventually got the door back on. The hinge broke off. I had that car for a few years and then sold it in Willits, California, when I was playing ball up there. I can't believe I remember his name, but I remember who I sold it to. His name was Lou Merendett. I probably sold it for 35 or 40 dollars.
Clara and I had a big spat in my senior year. I don't even remember what it was about. I was probably jealous of her for some reason. It may have had something to do with my playing ball or going away. I'll always remember going to my senior ball, the biggest ball of the year, with Helen Russ, double-dating with Clara Tregenza and Jack Ditty. I was with Helen. Clara was with Jack. Jack had the car. On my senior ball we double-dated!
This Helen Russ showed a lot of interest in me. It probably hit my ego. There was another girl that I had a crush on. Georgia Neestroos. She was Greek. Beautiful blue eyes and dark hair. It was probably during that interim time. Maybe after Helen. Maybe before Helen. But I was so shy. I'd get on the phone and I could talk OK. But if I had to see her face-to-face, I'd get so shy. She was interested, then not interested. We went out on a couple of dates. Georgia Nisyros was another one of my crushes. We dated once or twice only.
Next chapter: Early adulthood