Clovis Unified’s second annual Athletic Hall of Fame inductees shine

Clovis Unified School District honored seven individuals and two teams during its second annual Athletic Hall of Fame ceremony at Clovis North’s Paul Shaghoian Hall on Nov. 4, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Ron Webb/CUSD)

In a night of stars at Clovis Unified’s 2017 Athletic Hall of Fame ceremony on Nov. 4, seven new inductees and three teams shined the brightest during an emotional evening that captured the essence of sports and character.

Lloyd Merriman (baseball), Joan Pitcock (golf), Martin Simpson (cross country), Adrian Williams-Strong (basketball), Steve Baxter (swimming), Jamie Southern (softball), the 1974 Clovis High wrestling team and the 1997 and 1998 Clovis High baseball teams were honored, along with George W. “Tink” Kastner, who received the Doc Buchanan Award.

More than 2,000 nominations were submitted for the selection committee to consider. The Athletic Hall of Fame was created in 2016 to honor and recognize legendary athletes, coaches and teams that hail from Clovis Unified.

“The 2017 Clovis Athletic Hall of Fame class embodies all the characteristics we strive for in our student-athletes,” said Joe Aiello, Buchanan High School principal and an organizer of the Hall of Fame. “Their success on the playing field is a direct result of the character and competitive drive they exhibited in all aspects of their lives.”

The first-class event, held at Paul Shaghoian Hall, drew over 600 people and was emceed by George Takata, a Clovis Unified graduate and current host of KSEE24 Sunrise morning show. A video of each inductee, featuring interviews, pictures and clips of each athlete, was shown followed by a sit-down, one-on-one interview with Takata – a time filled with stories and laughs. In the foyer, each inductee had a table filled with newspaper clips, letterman’s jackets, pictures, medals and awards.

“It’s awesome to come back; this is home, this is where I grew up,” said Southern, who was a standout pitcher and hitter for Clovis High from 1996-2000 and is considered one of the greatest California softball players of all time. “I loved Fresno State and everything about it, but Clovis is where I spent all my years. It’s something I get emotional from because it’s where all my good memories come from.”

Southern had a storied career at Fresno State and was a four-time All-American, leading the nation in ERA in 2002 and 2004 and at that time was only the third freshman pitcher in the history of the NCAA to strike out over 400 batters. She was also a part of Team USA, and pitched professionally. Southern speaks fondly of her high school softball days.

“We were just good and that was just the expectation,” said Southern, who won two Valley titles at Clovis and is now married with two kids living in Leander, Texas. “The big games are what we thrived on, it was fun to play at that level.”

She is also known for throwing every inning of games lasting 21, 22 and 24 innings her senior year, all against Bullard. The Cougars lost the first two but won the last 1-0, a game in which Southern struck out 20 and was perfect through the first 11 innings. She also collected over 200 hits in her career.

Steve Baxter is never at a loss for words and the highly revered and enthusiastic swim and water polo coach is a fixture in Central Valley swimming circles, most notably during his time at Clovis West from 1997-2011, where his girls swimming program won 15 consecutive and boys 13 consecutive CIF Section Championships. He also coached the girls polo program to seven Valley titles.

Baxter swam and played polo at UCLA from 1972-1976 and was a two-time national champion and four-time All-American. His enthusiasm for coaching and love for his athletes was contagious.

“I think kids appreciate enthusiastic coaches. I have a lot of energy and coached with a lot of energy,” said Baxter. “I never didn’t want to go to a workout. I just really enjoyed coaching.”

On hand were 11 members from the 1997 and 1998 Clovis High baseball team, two of the greatest teams in Central Section history in which their accolades speak for themselves: a combined record of 65-4, two Valley titles, No. 1 in California and No. 1 in nation by USA Today.

“These guys were truly a team; talented and unselfish,” said head coach James Patrick, who is the Central Section’s all-time winningest baseball coach with 720 victories. “Great pitching both years and such great hitters. But what really separated this team from many others is the talent and decision making that they displayed defensively. Very smart group of players.”

Cody Nowlin, Mike Bumatay and Greg Donato were all drafted on the first day of the MLB Draft in 1998 and signed. Carson White also played professional baseball and was All Pac-10 while playing at Cal and Chris Patrick was a four year letterman at Fresno State, an Academic All-American in 2004 and played professionally.

“Every coach should have a chance to coach a team like this,” continued Patrick, whose Cougars won the 2017 Valley championship, their eighth in school history. “They were winners, never intimidated by the game or opponents. These guys taught me way more about winning baseball than I could have ever taught them.”

Clovis West alum Adrian Williams-Strong is one of the premier basketball players to come out of the Central Section. Her teams won two Valley titles in 1994 and 1995 and she went on to play at USC and the WNBA for eight years. Just like Southern, she looks at her high school playing days as a special time.

“Those were my favorite teams of my basketball career,” said Williams-Strong, who now lives in Arizona and is married with two young children. “I was talking to some of my teammates and they don’t even know how special they are to me. We had fun with no drama, we enjoyed being together.”

She, like many of the other athletes, were flooded with emotions at the thought of being inducted in the Clovis Unified Athletic Hall of Fame.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Williams-Strong. “When I saw the video today I was crying. To be honored is a blessing.”

1974 Clovis High School Wrestling Team

Head coach: Dennis DeLiddo

  • Accomplishments

-1973-74 NYL, Valley Champions

-1974 state wrestling tournament winner

-17-0 in dual meets

1997 and 1998 Clovis High School Baseball Teams

Head Coach: James Patrick
Assistant Coaches: Anthony Essien, Joe Kemp, Dick Selma, Bobby Smitheran

  • Accomplishments

-1997 Season Record: 32-2
-1998 Season Record: 33-2
-1997, 1998 Cal-Hi Sports Baseball Team of the Year, USA Today’s No. 1 team in the nation
-First baseball program to finish two consecutive years ranked No. 1 in California and nation
-1998 team had 33 wins, tied for second highest in Central Section history
-1998 team compiled 13 shutouts, second highest in Central Section history
-1998 is ranked fourth best team all-time in California by Cal-Hi Sports
-Six players from the teams played college and professional baseball

Representing the Pre-1960s:

Lloyd Merriman, Clovis High School, Baseball

  • Clovis History
    -Weldon Elementary School
    -Clark Intermediate School
    -Clovis High School
  • High School
    -Four-year letterwinner in baseball
    -Three-year letterwinner in basketball and football
  • College (Stanford)
    -Played football and baseball
    -1946 All-Pacific Coast in football and baseball
    -Stanford Athletic Hall of Fame
  • Professional
    -Signed with Cincinnati Reds in 1947 and played nine years of professional baseball
    -Played football for the Chicago Bears
    -1968 Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame inductee
    -Clovis High Baseball Hall of Fame inductee

Representing the 1980s:

Joan Pitcock, Clovis West High School, Golf

  • Clovis History
    -Fort Washington Elementary School
    -Kastner Intermediate School
    -Clovis West High School
  • High School
    -1983 California State Junior Champion
    -1984 Callaway Junior World Champion
    -1985 CIF Women’s High School State Champion
    -1985 CIF Southern California Regional Individual Champion
  • Amatuer
    -1986 USGA Women’s Open Low Amateur
  • Professional
    -1988: Qualified for LPGA Tour
    -1988-2004: Player on the LPGA Tour
    -1995-1996: Represented the United State team in the Nichirei International matches in Japan
    -1996 Jamie Farr Classic Champion
    -Current member of LPGA Legends Tour
    -23 Top 10 finishes on the LPGA Tour

Representing 1980s, 1990s, 2000s:

Martin Simpson, Buchanan High School, cross country

  • Coaching History
    -1980-1983: Kastner Intermediate School
    -1983-1991: Clovis West High School, Cross Country head coach and Track & Field assistant
    -1991-1999, 2002-2009: Buchanan High School, Cross Country head coach and Track & Field assistant
    -1995-2009: Director of State Cross Country Meet
    -2010-Present: Buchanan High School assistant coach for Cross Country and Track & Field
  • Accomplishments
    -20 section championships in Boys and Girls Cross Country
    -Girls State Meet Placing: 1994-1st, 2006-3rd
    -Boys State Meet Placing: 1999-2nd, 2008-2nd
    -Central Valley Cross Country Coach of the Decade-1990s
    -2007-2009 Buchanan Boys Cross Country CIF Central Section Champions
    -1993-1996, 2002-2007, 2009 Buchanan Girls Cross Country CIF Central Section Champions
    -2009 State Coach of the Year, Cross Country

Representing the 1990s:

Adrian Williams-Strong, Clovis West High School, basketball

  • Clovis History
    -Fort Washington Elementary School
    -Kastner Intermediate School
    -Clovis West High School
  • High School
    -1994, 1995: Standout basketball and track athlete
    -1994, 1995: Earned All-League, All-Section, All-State honors in basketball
    -1994, 1995: Member of Central Section basketball champs
    -Clovis West Female Athlete of the Year, 1995
  • College (USC)
    -First Team All-Pac 10
    -Ninth all-time in rebounding (694)
    -Ninth in blocks (97)
    -10th in free throws made (258)
    -One of only 19 players to reach the 1,000 point plateau with 1,185
  • Professional
    -2000: drafted No. 21 overall in the WNBA by the Phoenix Mercury
    -2003: WNBA All-Star
    -2000-2008: played in the WNBA: Mercury, Silver Stars, Lynx and Monarchs
    -2003: FIBA World Cup Silver Medalist
    -2003: Athlete of the Year by Athletes International
    -2007: inductee Clovis West Hall of Fame

Representing the 1990s, 2000s:

Steve Baxter, Clovis West High School, swimming

  • Coaching History
    -Kastner Intermediate School
    -Clovis West High School
  • Accomplishments
    -30 Conference Championships
    -28 CIF Section Championships (out of 30)
    -Clovis West Girls Swimming Record 121-1
    -Clovis West Boys Swimming Record 119-3-1
    -1997-2011: Girls Swimming won 15 consecutive CIF Section Championships
    -1997-2011: Boys Swimming won 13 consecutive CIF Section Championships
    -Undefeated in League Dual Meets for Boys and Girls for 15 years
    -2004 State Coach of the Year girls Water Polo, California Coaches Association
    -Seven CIF Section Championship in Girls Water Polo

Representing the 2000s:

Jamie Southern, Clovis High School, softball

  • Clovis History
    -Temperance-Kutner Elementary School
    -Clark Intermediate School
    -Clovis High School
  • High School
    -2000 Cal-Hi Sports Miss Softball
    -2000 All-American
    -1997, 2000 Valley champion
  • College (Fresno State)
    -4-time All-American, 2002-2005
    -4-time WAC Pitcher of the Year, 2002-2005
    -Led nation in ERA 2002, 2004
    -3.50 GPA and she won the NCAA Top VIII Award which is given to the top eight student-athletes in all college sports
    -All-time Bulldog leader in appearances, games started, wins, complete games, innings pitched, strikeouts, shutouts, saves and no-hitters.
    -Overall ERA of 0.51 and a record of 118-34 while also hitting for .314 with 127 RBI
    Member of USA softball’s national team, winning gold in World Championships in 2006
  • Professional
    -2005 first round draft pick National Pro Fastpitch League
    -2005 National Pro Fastpitch League Champion
    -2005 John Wooden Top 8 Award
    -2006 World Champion, Team USA
    -2012 Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame inductee

Doc Buchanan Award: George Kastner

George Kastner, for whom Kastner Intermediate School is named, was a successful athlete at Clovis High and later at Fresno State. He earned varsity letters in track and football, and he was the 880 track record holder for Clovis High. In 1936 and 1937 he was the Fresno County Half-Mile Champion. In college he earned three varsity letters in track and in 1939 was the Far Western Conference Champion Miler.

After college, Kastner served in the U.S. Army Air Corps flying missions in World War II and U.S Air Force during the Korean Conflict. He returned to Clovis and worked for Clovis Unified in many capacities that included history teacher, football coach, track coach, vice principal and principal of Clovis High. He was the first assistant superintendent for the district and also an associate superintendent. Kastner was the president of the North Sequoia League and of the North Yosemite League, chairman of the Central Section CIF Track Committee and Track Commissioner for 10 years.