A flu outbreak couldn’t stop Dos Pueblos High’s march to the 1971 CIF-Southern Section 3A boys basketball championship, so it would take more than a pandemic to prevent this month’s celebration of its 50th anniversary.
Mark Looker, one of the team’s student managers and the sports editor who covered the 27-2 Chargers for the school newspaper, has been helping his schoolmates relive their past glory with an online blog that includes old newspaper clippers, photographs, statistics and the recollections of those who were part of that dream season.
“I had a unique perspective from which to view this championship team,” said Looker, who now runs a communications consulting company in Modesto. “I am reposting a collection of players’ memories that I first posted 20 years ago, long before the days of Facebook and Twitter.
“Their recollections give some insight into the team chemistry that produced a memorable basketball season.”
The players were a collection of gym rats who began playing together as kids at the Goleta Boys & Girls Club.
“They were always down here,” said Sal Rodriguez, who was the club director at the time. “They played and played and played. We had an adult team that went against them, and by their senior year, we couldn’t touch them.”
High school basketball had already become the talk of the town, with Jamaal Wilkes and Don Ford leading Santa Barbara High to a top ranking the previous season.
Dos Pueblos had opened just five years earlier and was trying to establish its own athletic reputation during a time when the news was dominated by protests of the Vietnam War.
“We were going through some turbulent times,” coach Don Volpi said during the team’s 10-year anniversary celebration in 1981. “We showed teamwork and discipline when the times didn’t foster those things.
“Our school was getting flak from the community about being Hippie High. The basketball team made everybody realize we had some special people.”
The team was led by senior Richard Stein, a wily 6-foot-3 forward who averaged 17.9 points per game. He would continue on to star at Santa Barbara City College before concentrating on his studies to become a dentist.
“I think the greatest memory I have is the wonderful friendship we had with one another,” he said. “Barclay (Hope) and I are still best friends to this day.
“Everybody played well together. That made us better than teams that had more physical talent.”
They also had playful fun, and continue to rib one another long after their graduation from DP.
Tom Henderson, the team’s feisty point guard, said Stein was good only because “He had a big butt and was smart.”
Dan Melendez averaged 10 points a game as DP’s shooting guard while 6-foot-4 Scott Roberts crashed the backboards from his forward position.
“The big thing wasn’t winning,” Roberts said. “It was the close personal bond we started two years before the season.”
In the middle was 6-7 Bruce Coldren, a budding superstar and the only junior in the starting five. Hope recalled how the seniors were constantly “ragging on and beating up on Coldren, who just kept taking it and kept coming back with jumpers and tough rebounds.”
By the end of the season, Coldren was averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds per game to earn recruiting overtures from the University of Oregon. Three years later, he scored 24 points to lead the Ducks to an epic win over a UCLA team that was coming off its seventh-straight NCAA championship.
But nothing could match 1971.
“It was a perfect season,” Coldren said.
The team had a feisty bench which included juniors such as Melendez’s brother, Marc, as well as Hope, Steve Terry and Greg Hanson. Senior Brent McClurg, an all-league fullback off the football team, and fellow senior Bill Irving and Stephen Vonasek gave the reserve squad an edge.
“There was enough evenness in talent to make practices intensely competitive,” Hope recalled.
The team stayed loose on the eve of its season opener by playing trampoline basketball at the Boys Club.
“Minor injuries are common … Jammed fingers, cut hands,” Henderson said. “But then Richard Stein slams against the rim, slicing his noggin open and requiring several stitches to sew up the gash.
“I am mad as all get out. Not because Stein may be out for our first game … I was upset because I knew we would never get to play trampoline basketball again, and it was such an awesome game.”
The team went undefeated throughout the preseason before getting trounced at a holiday tournament by powerhouse Crescenta Valley, which would advance to the CIF 4A finals.
“They humbled us, which worked to our benefit,” Hope said. “We had been rolling over other pre-season opponents and this took us down a notch or two and made us work harder.”
Crescenta Valley’s players did pay their respects to Stein after the game.
“They told us we were a really good team and we had a great chance to win a championship,” he recalled. “That was a great confidence builder, and the next game we went out and beat a good Santa Barbara team.”
In those days, the Chargers played in a different league than the Dons — the old Santa Barbara County League. They cruised through conference play and clinched the title before suffering only their second loss of the season to Santa Maria.
“That was a great wake up call for us,” Stein said.
DP won playoff games over Newbury Park, Artesia, and Lausen before facing Katella in a semifinal game at Orange Coast College that was televised by KNBC.
The Chargers were blinded by the lights and fell behind quickly, 10-2.
“I was so nervous, I didn’t know who I was guarding for the first five minutes,” Stein said. “I remember thinking this was the end of the line. How embarrassing to get blown out on TV.
“But Scott had that great game and we came back to win.”
Roberts scored 12 of his team-high18 points in the second half and also grabbed 12 rebounds to lead a 64-50 victory. The large throng of DP fans that made the trip carried him off the court.
That brilliant evening did lead to some foreboding days the next week when Coldren and several other Chargers came down with the flu.
“I had to take some smelling salts at halftime,” Coldren said of the championship game at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
But he rubbed those salts into the wounds of Bellflower High School, finishing with 25 points and 16 rebounds in a 49-40 victory.
DP smothered Bellflower’s shooters, holding them to 29% — and the backboards, as well, winning the rebound battle, 47-27. Roberts got 17 all by himself. Bellflower’s leading scorer on the season didn’t get his first points until after Melendez left the game with a sprained ankle in the fourth quarter.
The team did suffer several tragedies in the years that followed. Dan Melendez was killed in a car accident only eight years later. Just four years after that, Volpi died of a heart attack at age 49 while playing in a city league basketball game.
Stein admitted that they had their “struggles” that 1971 season in trying to convince Volpi to play a “more wide-open game.”
But 50 years have brought wisdom as well as reflective satisfaction.
“We never would have won that way,” Stein said. “He was a much better coach then we gave him credit for at the time.”