by Larry Ham
The Reedley College Athletic Hall of Fame conducted it’s annual induction ceremony and banquet this past Saturday, and the evening was dedicated to perhaps the greatest team the Tigers have ever fielded–the 2002 State and National champion football team.
Seven members of the team, along with head coach Michael White were inducted into the hall of fame on a night that brought back wonderful memories of a special team and a very special season. Master of Ceremonies Ed Kezarian did his usual wonderful job of running the show, and keeping those in attendance laughing with some good humor. But it was seeing the former players return to Reedley College that made it really special.
The 2002 season began with a game in Lancaster against Antelope Valley College. I remember the game distinctly because the team had undergone a high turnover of players from the previous season and was essentially an unknown commodity. As the radio play by play announcer, I was there with color commentator and statistician Will Goldbeck, and Tiger public address announcer Paul Mitchell, and after a come from behind win, all three of us commented on the drive home that the 2002 Tigers had the potential to accomplish some special things. Little did we know that the team would go undefeated, beat Fresno City College twice, and hammer College of the Canyons in the state title game in Bakersfield. An explosive offense, led by quarterback Robert Johnson, and a stifling 3-5-3 defense designed by coach Randy Whited made for a dominating team on both sides of the ball.
The hall of fame banquet was a celebration of all of those wins and championships, but it was also a celebration of what’s right in college sports. Quality kids come to a rural junior college from as far away as Florida, they mesh as a unit, they are guided and taught to play the game the right way, they go to class and they go out on the field and execute the game plan. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, but as we see repeatedly in the sports pages, it’s not always done that way. The seven players from the 2002 team who were inducted into the hall of fame last Saturday are prime examples of doing it the right way. Donyell Booker, Sylvester Brinkley, Robert Johnson, Doug Langenfeld, Aaron Rankin, Nate Saari and Bryant Stewart all did it the right way and were rewarded with much deserved recognition.
But the highlight of the evening for me was seeing Coach Michael White get the recognition he so richly deserves. I have known quite a number of football coaches in my thirty years in local radio, but I have never known anyone quite like Michael White. He is, simply put, a human being of the highest caliber. He took a football program that didn’t even field a team in 1989, and turned it into a national champion in twelve years.
Along the way, he set a new standard in sportsmanship, and I’ll give you a couple of examples. In one game at Monterey Peninsula, the Tigers led 49-0 at halftime. On the way to the locker room, Coach White stopped the Monterey Peninsula coach and asked him what they could work on in the second half to help the Monterey team improve for their upcoming games. And on more than one occasion, Coach White ordered his quarterback to take a knee rather than run up the score against an already beaten opponent. I remember one game at Reedley that the Tigers won by a lopsided score. As I was talking to Coach White after the game, he broke off our conversation to run halfway across the field to congratulate an opposing player who had had a particularly good game. That’s the kind of person Michael White is, and he deservedly got a standing ovation at the banquet, and, keeping with his self deprecating style, gave all the credit for the 2002 championship to his assistant coaches and the players.
Coach White moved on from coaching prior to the 2009 season, becoming Reedley College’s Vice President of student services, and is now serving as interim president of the school.
So all in all the 2012 Tiger hall of fame banquet was a great night to see old friends again and celebrate a special team, a special coach and a special season that may never again be duplicated by any team anywhere.
Special thanks to Hall of Fame chairman John Perkins, and to Hugh Adams who worked so hard behind the scenes to make the banquet a success.