Three coaches visit Los Altos Rotary, recall beginnings of LAHS sports

Photo Steve Pomeroy/Special To The Town Crier

Former Los Altos High School principal Dude Angius, from left, reunites with former coaches Leo Long, Tom Burt and Nort Thornton.

Three legendary coaches from the Physical Education staff of Los Altos High School took a walk down memory lane to salute Dushan “Dude” Angius, former coach and principal, at a Feb. 16 Rotary Club of Los Altos meeting.

Angius, who started at Los Altos High in 1955, hired Tom Burt, Leo Long and Nort Thornton in 1956 to coach for the new high school. Their 1964 teams were so successful that their records have never been equaled. More than 20 former Los Altos High student-athletes joined the reunion.

Football coach Burt’s teams were Santa Clara Valley champions in six of the nine years between 1961 and 1970 and won the first Santa Clara County playoff in 1970. Honors including 1966 Northern California Coach of the Year, 1976 CCS Coach of the Year and CCS Athletic Director of the Year marked his career. Burt praised the caliber of his 1961 athletes: Eight of the 24 players earned full scholarships to Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA or the University of Washington.

During the 1963-1964 school year, Los Altos High athletes won every varsity championship in the 10-school league, he said.

Track and field coach Long’s teams racked up a 128-3 record and were 1970 California State champions. Long coached three national discus record holders. As the 1954 NCAA javelin champion, he was inducted into the 1954 Stanford Hall of Fame. He was team coach for Pakistan and Sudan for the 1958 and 1960 Olympics, and State Track Coach of the Year in 1970.

Long recounted his humble origins. During the Depression, he said, his family was so poor that he “rode on the fender of their car from Oklahoma to California.” His coaching motto was, “Heck with the plays; give me the players!”

Thornton’s swim squad earned the school’s first water polo championship in 1957. He coached swimming and water polo from 1956 to 1960, then transferred to Foothill College from 1961 to 1974 and UC Berkeley from 1975 to 2011, where he is now Head Coach Emeritus.

Thornton has coached 55 Olympic swimmers, including world record-holder Matt Biondi, 2000 gold medalist Anthony Ervin and 2004 silver medalist Duje Draganja. His first Olympic champion, 16-year-old Steve Clark of Los Altos High, is now a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, as is Thornton. He was selected Pac-10 Coach of the Year four times, most recently in 1999.

What was the secret to their teams’ successes? Bob Stoecker, who graduated in 1962, said the teams’ great achievements were due to the excellent coaching staff.

Stoecker recalled that Long noticed him in a PE class and asked him, “Do you want to make something of yourself or just spend your time flopping around? Come see me when you decide to do something.”

A year later, without any specific athletic goal in mind, Stoecker went to see the coach, and the rest is history. Long motivated him to earn a full scholarship to Stanford as a discus thrower. Stoecker eventually entered Stanford’s Hall of Fame.


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