Upcoming Introduction to the Sports Hall of Fame
During this year's homecoming game's half-time show on Saturday, Nov. 8, 25 of the original 53 members of the undefeated 1958 Junior Rose Bowl Championship football team will have a big induction ceremony into the Sports Hall of Fame in front of family, friends and fans of the "original" SMC Corsairs.
Although the actual ceremony will be held in private with all the inducted attendees present at a small gathering later that night on Saturday, the "fan's ceremony" will be presented to the public in recognition of the past with the present.
Jack Silas, one of the soon-to-be inducted hall of famers, was one of the key players on the team and the main reason for the occurrence of this event.
Silas, who played quarterback in high school and a defensive half-back in college, had been trying to reconnect with his former teammates for more than eight months before gathering all the remaining players he teamed up with more than 50 years ago.
Silas' story, among others is a compelling one. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Silas was originally recruited by UCLA to play for their football team on a scholarship. However, his decision to skip college and move to California threw him an ultimate curveball.
"After moving here (in January 1958), UCLA was still interested in me and began an interview process with me for about two weeks," said Silas. "But, during the two week process of interviewing, I had the misfortune of being hit by an uninsured truck driver."
"After he drove over my left leg (and I was examined by the doctor,) I was told that I would never be able to play football again," said Silas.
But, after "falling in love with Southern California," Silas decided to attend Santa Monica City College (as it was known before 1970) that fall.
"In those days, you could go to SMC for one semester and become a legal resident," said Silas.
As he started settling into his new grounds at the college, Silas decided to take up a physical education course to stay in the top physical shape he'd always been in.
"Once I took this gym class, Coach Wolleno, the gym instructor and football coach, made us practice wind-sprints to see the type of physical shape we were all in," said Silas. "Because I was out-running everybody by 10-yards, the Coach asked me if I was interested in playing football here at Santa Monica and I said no."
Not taking "no" for an answer, Coach Wolleno invited Silas back a couple days later to his office to discuss Silas' quick decision for saying no.
"He said, 'Jack, would you explain to me why you were so abrupt in giving me a 'no-answer' when I asked you to play for us?" recalled Silas.
Later explaining the accident and the problems with his leg, Silas accepted the challenge of playing defense so as not to put his leg in major risk or danger of disability.
"I took on the position of defensive halfback even though the coach approached me after the first game of the season was played," said Silas. "And I never even participated in pre-season or training camp."
After trying out for the team, he quickly made it into the rotation serving in the same position with Bernie Coffee, the starting defensive halfback and subsequent flanker. Throughout the years, Silas and Coffee had tried to stay in-touch with one another as best as they could.
As the season progressed and the players meshed and bonded with one another, they became a true success story and actually went "all...the...way."
Drawing in crowds of more than 50,000 people, the 1958 SMCC Corsairs demolished all competitors to pieces with numerous blow-out wins, especially a crucial blow-out win against Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, with a final score of 30-12, on Dec. 13 at the Rose Bowl Stadium, that earned them the junior national title.
Describing his feelings for his teammates and the brotherhood they shared during that season only makes the story even more inspirational.
"Fortunately, we went undefeated and won the title with a fantastic group of guys to work with," said Silas. "With all the sports that I had played in my life, I had never played on a team that got along so well."
As much as this event is an induction ceremony, it's even more so a reunion for all the players to see one another and reminisce about all of their lives' journeys they've experienced in the last 50 years since their history making season.
"We were a really close group of guys and that's why I'm putting this thing together," said Silas. "And, you know, it's one of the few times in your life that you get to play on a team that was unbeaten and wins a national championship."
In the early '90s, Silas served as a member of the foundation board at SMC where he received a plaque commemorating his achievements and service to the foundation. It was there and then when a fellow member of the board brought up the idea of a reunion for this team that sparked Silas' interest in putting together this event. With his knowledge from the foundation's dealings, Silas was able to understand the whole process that would need to be taken in order to properly execute this project of his.
"I'm the one responsible for putting this event together," said Silas. "We're gonna have a really great turn-out. Everyone's excited about the ceremony/ event and I'm excited for them as well."
Said Silas, "I don't think there was any other national football team or SMC football team that went undefeated and won a national championship."
Twenty-four of the players that will be honored will bring along more than 76 family members and friends, collectively, who will be in attendance to support these men at the ceremony.
Along with Silas, who will be inducted into the SMC Sports Hall of Fame this Saturday, are (in alphabetical order): Mike Arntz; Pete Barbarito; Lou Cambra; Bernie Coffee; Don Collis; Al Dellinger; Dave Dillon; Larry Dinovitz; Jim Epstein; Tom Flusty; Vince Guercio; Tom Gutman; Jay Henry; Steve Hoy; Larry Longo; Jim Meyer; Monty Meyers; Frank Miyoshi; Dennis Montoya; Bill O'Brien; Myles Sahlgren; Skip Van Aken; Lloyd Winston; and Ralph Yarro.
Silas urges everyone to attend Saturday's homecoming game to acknowledge and respect these men in their honorable achievements accomplished more than 50 years ago.