Bernie Amaral, the first female field manager of a world champion women's softball team-guided the Fresno Rockets to three world titles and three second place finishes.The San Leandro High School graduate played third base for the 1938-39 World Champion Alameda girls' softball teams. During World War II, she played on an Alameda team that faced men's military teams throughout Northern California. Amaral moved to Fresno in 1946 and for four years was the starting third baseman for the Rockets. Amaral then teamed with coach and Rockets organizer, Dutch Chandler, and became team manager in 1951. During the following nine years, the Rockets won world championships in 1953, 1954, and 1957. In addition to three second place finishes, the Rockets won the strong Pacific Coast Women's Softball Championships six times. Fresno never lost a regional qualifying game. Amaral was a superb teacher of the game with a knack for analyzing a player's skills and bringing out the best in each one, stated fellow Rockets. Kay Rich and Jeanne Contel, both members of the Amateur Softball Hall of Fame. Amaral was a Fresno State University graduate who taught history and government for seventeen years at Sanger High School.
After a record-breaking career as a receiver for Fresno State, Henry Ellard soared to the top of the National Football League, leading the Los Angeles Rams in receiving nine out of the eleven seasons that he played for them. The Rams selected Ellard in the second round (32nd pick overall) in the 1983 draft, launching a career that included three Pro Bowls (1984, 1988 and 1989). By the time he left the team in 1994, Ellard had a firm grip on the Rams record book: first in career receptions (593), first in receiving yards (9,761), most 100-yard receiving yards (26), highest punt return average (11.3), and most total yards offense (11,663).
After the Rams, Ellard's NFL career was far from over. He played for the Washington Redskins from 1994 to 1997, with 1,397 yards receiving in 1994, finishing second by 102 yards to Jerry Rice that year. With Washington, he had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and caught 221 passes. Playing wide receiver in the NFL for sixteen years requires toughness, durability, and passion for the game; Ellard had all of these things. "Henry Ellard is the best route-runner ever," long-time NFL coach Norv Turner once said. "No one is better at it."Ellard had an abundance of natural talent, but his work ethic set him apart. "With me, it's all about rhythm, study, and preparation, he said. "Once I get comfortable, I could close my eyes and run certain routes and wind up in the same place every time." Other keys were his quickness and his amazing jumping ability to snag those flying footballs.
When Ellard retired from the NFL in 1998, his statistics told quite a story. He had 814 Career records: 814 receptions 13,777 yards receiving 65 touchdowns 1,527 punt return yards 364 kickoff return yards for 15,718 total yards Three Pro Bowls NCAA Record for yards receiving receptions, achieved 13,777 yards receiving, caught sixty-five touchdown passes, captured 1,527 punt return yards and ran 364 kickoff return yards for 15,718 total yards. His 16.9 yards per average catch put him in the NFL's Top 20 for receiver yards.
Growing up in Fresno, the youngest of nine children, Ellard spent his free time on the field, court, or track. At Hoover High School, Ellard was an AlI-North Yosemite League running back and receiver in football and a multi-event track star for the Patriots. Colleges offered scholarships in both sports. Fresno State University track coach Red Estes and football coach Bob Padilla were both after Ellard. They devised a plan in which Ellard competed in football and track with the agreement that he could skip spring football practices, so he could run and jump for the track team. "Henry was just a great young man with incredible talent and a willingness to work and learn," Estes said. "Even though he was a star football player at Fresno State, he stayed committed to track all four years and was one of our all-time best performers."He was a member of the Bulldog 4x I relay team, was a champion in the long jump, and set a Fresno State record in the triple jump at 55.5 feet.
Coincidentally, ten years after setting that Fresno State triple jump record and more than halfway through his sixteen-year career in the NFL, Ellard qualified for the Olympic Trials with a triple jump of 54.1 feet. Missing spring football practice did not slow Ellard's college career. His name is scattered throughout the Bulldogs record book, including career touchdown passes caught (25) and most receiving touchdowns in a season (15 in 1982). From 1979 through 1982, Henry kept Bulldog quarterbacks Sergio Toscano and Jeff Tedford and opponents' defensive back fields busy while he was attaining All-American status. In 1982, Ellard set a National Collegiate Athletic Association record with 1,510 yards receiving. He broke the mark for average yards per catch with 24.2-an all-time NCAA record for those with a minimum of fifty catches. In 2000, Ellard returned to Fresno State to coach the receivers and then, in 2001, was hired as the wide receivers coach for the St. Louis Rams. "I built up all this knowledge in sixteen years that I am obligated to pass on; I can't keep it to myself," Ellard said. "I was blessed to play as long as I did, and I think it would be a great compliment to have someone learn so well that they do it better than I did."
One of the best all-round athletes to hail from the Fresno area, Rex Hudler had a full-ride football scholarship waiting at Notre Dame, but chose baseball, drafting out of high school and signing with the New York Yankees. The 1978 Bullard High graduate played thirteen years on a six major-league teams after spending six years in the farm-club system. He became a TV and radio broadcaster for the Angels and formed a foundation to help children with Down Syndrome.
Hudler, nicknamed "Wonder Dog," was known for his enthusiasm and competitiveness. He was an All-American wide receiver at Bullard- but his best sport may have been soccer. As his high school days came to a close, Hudler had to choose: a full-ride scholarship to play football for the Fighting Irish or a signing bonus from the New York Yankees. Hudler chose baseball.
With Hudler's desire, enthusiasm and natural athletic ability, he was a cinch to succeed. "I believe he could have played pro in any sport he wanted to," said Teddy Papulias, a Bullard football and soccer teammate. "Out on the fields, it was like he could do anything he wanted to and he had the uncanny ability to be able to come up with the big play to win a game. In 1984, the Yankees drafted Hudler in the first round, but it took six years in the minors before he made it to "The Show" in Yankee Stadium. He played for the Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Montreal Expos, St. Louis Cardinals, California Angels, and the Philadelphia Phillies. In 1993, Hudler joined the Japanese Yakult Swallows, where he was a fan favorite and helped the Swallows to the Japan Series championship.
During his professional baseball career, Hudler mostly played second base, but had experience at every position except pitcher and catcher. He competed in 1,083 minor-league games and 774 major-league games. In the majors, he was a career batting average of .261, collected 461 hits, and fifty-six home runs. The sure-handed Hudler compiled a .972 career fielding percentage, never committing more than six errors in a season. All told in his pro career, he played for twenty-one years with eighteen different teams. "Rex was a great teammate," said Steve Ellsworth, who pitched for Bullard High and the Boston Red Sox. "He never let us down and he always gave 100% and that made it easy on the rest of us to do the same."
Throughout the minor leagues, Ellsworth said Hudler had the same effect on his teammates. "The one thing different was that his own teammates loved him, but other teams didn't like him very much at all. He was a great bench jockey and he could really get under opponents' skin," Ellsworth said. "In games, he liked to challenge opponents, like 'Hey what you got? Let's see it to egg on base runners to try to steal second or whatever."Papulias added, "Even in practice, Rex was always intense. And it made us all play better." Hudler's popularity did not stop when he hung up his cleats. He began his broadcasting career as a correspondent with ABC's Good Morning America, covering the 1997 American League playoffs and World Series that year as well as the 1998 Super Bowl.
In 1999, Hudler returned to the California Angels, this time as a radio and television color commentator alongside Steve Physioc's play-by-play. In 2003 and 2005, the Southern California Broadcasters named him Television Color Analyst of the Year for his work on the Angels' broadcasts for KCAL and Fox Sports Net. He also won an Emmy and was featured on ESPN's 2004 MLB video game, Sega's MLB 2K3 video game and the 2006-2008 versions of MLB The Show video game. Hudler was active in various baseball clinics and sought after as a motivational speaker all over the country. He and his wife, Jennifer, founded "Team Up for Down Syndrome" to help support the Down Syndrome community nationwide. Stillpoint Industries honored the Hudlers with the 2007 Humanitarian Award.
Erv Hunt played in the NFL and coached track and field for the Cal Bears for thirty-one years, setting a record for most coaching wins. Hunt established an international reputation as a coach and landed a prestigious assignment in 1996: the head men's track and field coach for the U.S. Olympic team for the Atlanta Games. Under Hunt's direction, the U.S. won sixteen medals: ten gold, four silver, and two bronze, one of the highest medal totals in U.S. Olympic track history. At University of California, Berkeley, the men's teams had a .765 winning percentage while the women's teams amassed a .700 winning mark. During his time at Cal, Hunt coached ninety All-Americans, fifty-one conference champions, and five national champions.
Hunt's athletic success began at Edison High where he starred in football, basketball, and track for the Tigers. At Fresno City College in 1967, Hunt established himself as one of America's top junior college athletes by running the 120-yard hurdles in fourteen seconds flat, giving him the fastest time in the nation that year. His 49'8" triple jump was also one of the finest track performances in 1967. In football, Hunt was an all-everything wide receiver and safety under Coach Clare Slaughter. At Fresno State University, Ervin excelled in track and football and was named a First Team All-American as a safety under Coach Darryl Rogers. "Erv was a great football player," said Fresno State teammate Mike Freeman. "He had a great attitude and love for the game and it was his quickness and natural reaction that gave that him a real fast close on the ball."
The Green Bay Packers selected Hunt in the sixth round of the 1970 NFL draft. A back injury forced Hunt into retirement from football in 1972. He returned to track and field as an assistant coach at Cal, the start of a long and successful tenure for Hunt and the Golden Bears. In 1973, Hunt took over as head coach and it didn't take him long to establish one of the nation's best college track and field programs. It was a storybook thirty-one seasons for Hunt, who set a new record for coaching wins for both the men's and women's teams in Cal's 100-plus years of track and field history. Hunts coaching prowess was recognized on the international stage long before the 1996 Olympics. In 1986, he was selected as an assistant coach for the U.S. at the Freedom Games in Moscow. This job led to additional assistant assignments for the 1989 World Cup Games in Barcelona, Spain for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and for the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany. His first head coaching job with U.S. track and field came at the 1995 World University Games in Fukada, Japan.
Hunt had a reputation as one of the finest hurdles coaches in the nation and was a member of the USATF National Olympic Development coaching staff. He was also named the1981 NCAA District VIII Coach of the Year. In 2005, he was inducted into the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He was also named to the Fresno State Bulldog Hall of Fame for football and track.
Margie Wright was the first Fresno State coach to bring home a National Collegiate Athletic Association title, leading the women's softball team to the championship in 1998. With dozens of conference, regional, and NCAA achievements to her name, Wright holds a place in ten Halls of Fame and broke the record for most NCAA softball victories.
A long list of All-Americans played for Wright, as well as athletes winning top honors for achievements in the classroom. More than a dozen Olympians came out of Wright's program as her teams averaged more than 50 wins a year and were among just a handful of squads nationwide to make ten or more trips to the Women's College World Series. She was the first NCAA Division I coach to reach 1,000 victories in softball.
Wright's Division I National Championship title was a highlight in the history of the university's sports programs: a l-0 victory against the University of Arizona behind the home run of Nina Lindenberg and the incredible pitching of Amanda Scott. It was a truly great day for Fresno State, fans, and the San Joaquin Valley. A few days later, the team was ranked#1 in the country.
Wright, whose career at Fresno State began in 1986, also was an accomplished public speaker, motivator and published author. Wright learned to play softball in her hometown of Warrensburg, Illinois. The all-around athlete went on to college at Illinois State University, where she earned four letters in both softball and basketball and three more in field hockey. After graduating in 1974, she taught physical education and coached at Metamora High School in Illinois. Her assignments included softball, volleyball, track, basketball and even bowling, and if that didn't keep her busy enough, she also played softball in a women's professional leagues.
When Fresno State hired Wright, she had already coached at the university level for six years at her alma mater, Illinois State, where she led the Redbirds to six winning seasons and a 163-92-1 record. In 1995, right after another fifty-win season at FSU, Wright was named an assistant coach for the USA softball team for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. In her first official role as an Olympic coach, she led the USA National Team to a gold medal at the 1995 Superball Classic and, in 1994, coached the USA National Team to its third consecutive World Championship title in Newfoundland, Canada. All of these feats led to the USA Olympic softball team capturing gold, beating China 3-1 in the final. The squad included five Bulldogs.
Wright's successes paved the way for the construction of Bulldog Diamond, the on-campus beauty of a stadium that was a testimony to Wright's ability to bring the community and the university together. Christened in 1982, Bulldog Diamond was a state-of-the-art facility that attracted some of the biggest softball crowds in the nation. It has hosted more than twenty NCAA regional tournaments.