The quarterback for the 1972 Fresno City College football team, Rick Jelmini, described the secret to their gridiron success this way: "I think the best thing about us was that there really wasn't one big star in every game; we just were a team that learned to play together, and we won a state championship doing it."
Although the Rams had quite a few outstanding athletes, it was chemistry and teamwork that set them apart. Under the direction of Hall of Fame Coach Claire Slaughter, the team finished the 1972 season ranked number one in the nation by the JC Athletic Bureau after winning the Central Valley Conference championship, and then defeating Pasadena College, 21-7, for the California Community College championship. The game was played in Bakersfield in front of thousands of Fresno City College Rams fans. Slaughter gave credit to "a small, but excellent coaching staff" that included Bill Musick, Billy Wayte, and Jack Maddox. "And we had great kids to coach, and it was just wonderful," Slaughter said.
The team attracted loyal backers from the school and community, with bus loads of fans following the squad all over the Valley. The Rams finished the season with an 11-1-1 record, ending the campaign with five straight wins, including three in the state playoffs. In the Championship against the Lancers of Pasadena, Jelmini was the game's MVP, while Jeff Johnson was named the Offensive Player of the game and Curtiss Wright took home the Defensive Player honors.
Led by All-Americans Rod Perry and Tom Ryska, six Rams made the 1972 All-Valley Conference team, including defensive tackle Don Poladian, offensive linemen Dan Upton and Delmar Brown, and linebacker Curtiss Wright. Perry and defensive lineman Greg Boyd went on to careers in the NFL. The 1972 Rams were a hometown team, with the squad made up mainly of players from Fresno and other Valley high schools Wide receiver Lamont Jarrett, from Rochester, N.Y, was the lone exception. A showdown with Reedley College on October 18th at Ratcliffe Stadium emerged as a pivotal game.
An electrified crowd watched the Rams defeat their arch rival-also the nation's number one ranked team 22-19. A Jelmini-to-Perry two-point conversion pass play, and a late interception by Perry, solidified the victory. When asked about his biggest thrill of that great year, Ryska said, "Oh, the Reedley game had to be it. What a game, what a battle! The wild crowd, the windy conditions, every play was huge, and there was so much on the line. It set us on the road to winning the state and beating the Tigers was the best way to get there."
Winning an NCAA Division I championship in any field is an incredible thrill. Just a fraction of millions of student-athletes who have participated in college sports make it all the way. Doug Fraley not only did it once, he did it three times. Doug’s future as a world-class pole vaulter was already obvious at the tender age of seven when he cleared 6’1.70” in 1972 for an Inter-Age record in competition involving athletes five to nineteen from thirty-nine countries. Born in Hanford and raised in Lemoore, Doug was coached by his father, Bob, who would later mentor Doug all the way to NCAA Gold during his tenure at Fresno State. Bob built a backyard vaulting runway and pit for the younger Fraley to practice on, and by the time Doug was in eighth grade, he was clearing eleven feet. Later, when the family moved to Fresno, Doug left his mark as a Golden Eagle at Clovis West. In his sophomore year, he placed third in the state meet, but came back the next season to finish second with a 14’8” vault. As a senior, Doug became the first Valley athlete to ever clear 17’. at Fresno State, Doug got right to work, setting a school record as a freshman, with a vault of 17’9” and winning the Pan-American Games Junior Championship. The talented Mr. Fraley broke the eighteen-foot mark while a sophomore, which was good enough for third place in the NCAA championships. He was zeroing in on his lifelong goal of breaking the nineteen feet barrier. The following year he won his first NCAA gold medal by vaulting 18’11” for the title; the second-best mark ever, at the time, for a collegian and third highest in NCAA history. During Doug’s senior year at FSU, he dominated the pole vault event, by winning both the NCAA indoor and outdoor titles.
One of the greatest pole vaulters in collegiate history, the five-time All-American, Three-time NCAA champion left a school record vault of 18’11” and was the only Bulldog ever to win back to back NCAA titles. After graduating Fresno State with a degree in Physical Education and Exercise, Doug competed eight years on the IAAF Grand Prix Circuit in Europe which brought him to international caliber track meets all over the world. He managed to reach the long time goal of crossing over the nineteen-foot barrier when he vaulted 19’ ¼” at the 1992 Sisteire meet in Italy. Doug was a member of the USA Track and Field National Pole Vault Development staff where his father, Bob, was director. Together, they worked on such activities as the annual Pole Vault Summit held in Reno, Nevada and the North American Pole Vault Championships staged in Clovis since 2003. Both events draw thousands of fans and participants to the excitement and science of pole vaulting. Doug resides in New Orleans where he is a partner in a spinal care business and also is the coaching director for the Mardi Gras Track Club. Fraley was named the Co-Male Athlete of the Year with Kevin Sweeney in 1986. He is the only FSU athlete to win the award in three consecutive years.
Many of our Hall of Fame athletes played more than one sport. McLane High School's Mike Freeman was no exception. Besides excelling on the football field, Mike was also a wrestler for the Highlanders and a sprinter in the 100- and 220-yard dashes for the track team.
Make no mistake about it, though, Mike Freeman was a football player. His roots in the game went all the way back to Bradfield Elementary School in Dallas, Texas in the late 1950s. He loved playing for the Bradfield Rams and knew then that football would be taking up a lot of his dreams. After the family moved to Fresno, Mike played at McLane his junior and senior years before embarking on a career that would take him through junior college, Division I college, and professional football. Mike later recalled, "I was a skinny little high school kid, 135 pounds soaking wet," but he had the heart and love for the game. At McLane, he was coached by Vico Bondietti, who taught Mike good football sense and anticipation.
Though small in stature, Mike won postseason awards and also played in the Fresno City/County ALL-Star game before going to Fresno City College. He weighed in at 145 pounds when he played in the defensive back field of legendary coach Claire Slaughter's Rams. It was also at FCC where Mike met the man who would become his mentor. The defensive secondary position coach was a young man by the name of Darryl Rogers. It was Rogers who recognized the talent for anticipation that Freeman possessed and it was also Rogers who instilled in Mike the most important thing about his role on the football team. "He taught me that it was my job to stop the other team from completing passes. Simple as that," laughed Mike later. “It wasn't because I was such a hard hitter in my career that helped me advance; it was that I did whatever it took to cause an incompletion."
Mike had two great years at FCC doing just that, making life miserable for quarterbacks and receivers. By the time he went to Fresno State to play for the Bulldogs, he had those skills finely honed. By then, he was all the way up to a solid 165 pounds. Freeman was thrilled to be playing for Fresno State and even more thrilled when Darryl Rogers was named the head coach of the Bulldogs. The student and his mentor were reunited and their Winning ways would continue on the next level. Fresno State was in the Pacific Coast Athletic Association then and Mike was an All-PCAA cornerback for two years. In 1978, his senior year, Mike was the captain of the Bulldogs and was named as a first team AIl-West Coast performer and named to the Associated Press All-American team as an honorable mention.
He was picked by the Minnesota Vikings in the fourth round of the NFL draft. Claimed on waivers by Atlanta, Mike played for the Falcons for three years as a cornerback and punt returner, "It was insta great experience playing at that level, says Mike. "I loved it all, the games, the players, the fans, even the traveling. "Mike Freeman came back to Fresno in 1973 after the conclusion of his NFL career and got his teaching credential at Fresno State. He coached at San Joaquin Memorial from 1973-1975 followed by more than thirty years as a part of one of the most highly decorated coaching staffs in local history at Clovis High School. Mike became the Cougars' running back coach under Tim Simons with Larry Kellom. John Sexton, Jack Erdman, Cliff Wetzel, and Bill Biggs. The Cougars won seven Valley Section Championships as well as many league and division titles under this coaching combination. "Clovis gn rootball nas been a great tradition and it's been great watching the youngsters grow into successful young men."says Mike, "I am grateful to be a part of it." Mike currently lives in Fresno with his wife, Janette.
Mike "Blackie" Gejeian made a name for himself as the king of vintage hot rods and exceptionalcustomized cars. Known for his head-turning street rods and customized coupes, Gejeian is the originator of the Fresno Autorama, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in March 2009.
Gejeian's array of out-of-the-ordinary machines is the answer to every man's dream of the combination of mechanical power and creative design. Visitors to the Autorama know what it takes to polish a chrome manifold until you can eat off of it and some will do anything to incorporate these masterpieces into their own collections. What makes Gejeian's showcase of horsepower and dramatic auto designs so special is that he travels to just about every other auto show, hand-picks the winners that he wants in his production, and invites them to participate. One may wonder: why such a demand for exclusivity? It's Gejeian's show and his instincts always produce an envious array of machinery. All car owners that are invited-already winners at other shows-leave with three-foot high trophies for agreeing to display their "rides" to Fresno's car fanatics.
Gejeian is not just a behind-the-scenes organizer and producer. He knows machines from grills to exhaust pipes because he's also a builder and collector. Perhaps the most well-known of his cars is the "Shish Kabob Special," a Ford Flathead V-8 roadster that he built in 1952 featuring a tubular frame. It's one of five machines from his own collection that he has exhibited including Chuck Kirkorian's "Emperor," judged 1960's "Most Beautiful Roadster." Gejeian's shows are not just spit-and-polish displays. Most of these machines are so meticulously designed that in addition to incredibly beautiful hand painting and buffed chassis, some of these show-stoppers even feature engraved bolt heads.
Gejeian's background includes growing up in Easton, outside of Fresno on a farm surrounded by vineyards. He joined the Navy two weeks after graduating from Washington Union High School in 1944 and served in the Pacific during World War II. Car fever consumed him after he left the Navy and he built a modified 1926 Model T that was designed for street racing and salt flats drag racing. By the time 1949 rolled around, Gejeian was racing hardtops on circle tracks in auto racing-crazed communities up and down California. It wasn't long before he had won a fistful of trophies, racing in Madera, Selma, Hanford and Fresno's Kearney Bowl. He was good enough to win the NASCAR circle track title five times consecutively from 1953 through 1957.
By the time a track accident halted his racing career,Gejeian had already begun making inroads as a show-car builder, winning the World's Most Beautiful Roadster Award in the Grand National Roadster Show in Oakland in 1955. The next natural undertaking for Gejeian was opening and running the Clovis Speedway from 1964 to 1976, then producing racing programs at the Madera Speedway for five years. Throughout all of his various undertakings, Gejeian continued to build customized cars-his true passion. In fact, he won the highly coveted Builder of the Year Award and has even shown his creations at the internationally renowned Concours d' Elegance in Pebble Beach.
Bobby Jones never anticipated playing ten seasons of professional baseball. After all, he had loved ice hockey above all sports as a youngster and was so laid back about being drafted, he went golfing the day the big selections were made. Jones had an eight-year career with the New York Mets that included playing on the National League All-Star team and in the World Series against the Yankees. He finished his major-league career with eighty-nine wins, eighty-three losses and a very respectable 4.36 ERA. He struck out eighty-seven in 241 games started. He was also an outstanding fielding pitcher, with a career.968 fielding percentage, and five times, he finished the season with a 1.000 fielding percentage.
For Jones, among the elite few to make it to the big leagues out of Fresno, the dream of playing professional baseball dawned gradually as he developed into a stellar pitcher for Fresno State. Early on, though, his aspirations focused on hockey. Robert Joseph "Bobby" Jones was the kind of kid who loved to play sports year round, and whacking a puck around the ice was his favorite. "My dad played hockey in his native Michigan and he taught me to skate and I was in the Junior Fresno Falcons program. I could skate backwards pretty good for a big kid and I wound up playing defenseman," Jones said. In Little League and Babe Ruth League, he was a "regular kid" who pitched and played shortstop. "I wasn't particularly over-powering, but I could throw strikes," Jones said. "Even in my early high school years, I wouldn't say that I was a star. At Fresno High, I got brought up to varsity at the tail end of my sophomore year, and then had pretty good years in my junior and senior years and got some college offers."
There were a whole lot of letters in the Jones mailbox from various colleges looking for pitching help, but there were ten or so teams that really came after the now 6'4" right-hander who could throw strikes when he needed to with a growing assortment of pitches. Texas A&M, University of California, Berkeley, and Fresno State were among the colleges that recruited him heavily, but for Jones, the choice was easy. "I had Fresno State all the way," Jones said. "They had gone to the College World Series in 1988, they were pre-season number one-ranked in 1989, and they had Bob Bennett as their coach. Plus, they had the new state-of-the-art Pete Beiden Field to play in. All that was super, but to stay at home and play in front of my family and friends, well, that was just great."p Bobby said Fresno High School Coach Ken Papi and Bennett had similar styles that prepared him well. "Both of them are guys who played at Fresno State and know the Bulldog way about dedication, determination, 100 percent every time, being responsible for your actions and playıng the game hard," Jones said. Jones learned a great deal about baseball and life situations as well from both men: "So many of the players they worked with have gone on to success in other areas besides baseball, to success in business, family, and personal responsibility."
Even though Jones did well as a freshman at Fresno State (he set the single season record for saves), it still didn't dawn on him that he might be able to play ball for a living, and he gave the draft little thought. Then, in his sophomore year, he became much stronger and he developed as a starting pitcher under Bennett. His junior season was a breakout year for Jones, who went 16-2 and led the Bulldogs' return to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska while being named the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Player of the Year. Although awards and recognition were plentiful, the All-American pitcher still wasn't sure he would be drafted. "I figured the offer would have to be pretty good if I was to go because I had three years invested into my degree [criminology]," Jones said. On the day of the draft, he and his dad went golfing as they often did, and "had a great time," Jones recalled. When word came that the New York Mets had selected Jones in the first round, it was a happy day for the Jones family and friends. Fresno folks began thinking about the other young pitcher from Fresno High School who was drafted by the Mets, the great Tom Seaver. Bobby worked his way up to the big leagues through the Mets farm system. "It was a great experience, making friends, working hard, and hoping to achieve the goal of getting to "the show," Jones said. In 1993, Jones made it to Shea Stadium, first year in an eight-year career with the Mets. In 2001, Jones was traded to the San Diego Padres, where he pitched for two years.
Bobby married his college sweetheart, Kristi, and they have three children. Family was definitely number one on Jones’ list and his wife and kids were with him throughout his career. But they always looked forward to coming back to Fresno. In 2003, the Colorado Rockies offered him a lucrative contract. At the dinner table that night, Bobby left that decision up to the family as to whether "Daddy should pitch another year of baseball or stay home in Fresno." Young Breyton Jones answered, "Daddy, I think you should stay home with us, here." Jones and Kristi looked at each other and the decision was a done deal.
Still, Jones said his career in professional baseball was an unexpected success with unforgettable achievements. While pitching during the 1997 All-Star game against the American League, Jones struck out Ken Grifey Jr. and then Mark McGwire, two of the most prolific homerun hitters. When he returned to the dugout, pitcher Curt Shilling shook Jones' hand and said, "Bobby, one day your son is going to be able to tell people that his dad struck out Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mark McGwire, back- to-back, and you know what? I don't think anybody else is ever going to be able to say that." At the time, the two sluggers were on different teams and in different leagues.
Another thrill for Jones was pitching a one-hitter against the San Francisco Giants in the 2000 NL Playoffs. It was an especially poignant win as Jones had started the season with a 0-4 record and had been sent down to the Mets Triple A team in Norfolk, Virginia. When he returned to the club, he went 12-2 as the Mets won the league playoffs and made it to the World Series.
With success as both a linebacker and fullback at Taft Union High School Tracy Rogers had to decide which side of the line of scrimmage to pursue after high school. He chose defense, a decision that would clear a path for a seven-year career with the Kansas City Chiefs. "My game plan was to put big hits on the offensive players and that way they don't want to come around to your side next time," Rogers said. After graduating from Taft Union, the 6'2", 230-pounder excelled for two years as a linebacker at Taft College, harassing junior college ball carriers and pass receivers. He did even more damage on special teams.
His Taft career brought him team MVP awards and All-Northern California and Honorable Mention All-American honors. His performance also attracted college recruiters, and he headed to Fresno State. In his two years at Fresno State in 1987 and 1988, Rogers made 149 tackles, thirteen sacks and forced three fumbles. In his junior year, the Bulldogs went 6-5 and came back in 1988 to finish 10-2 and win the Big West Conference and beat Western Michigan, 35-30, in the California Bowl. Tracy was a two-time All-Big West Conference linebacker and also a two-time AP Honorable Mention All-American. He also starred in the East-West Shrine Game, with eight tackles and an interception.
When Rogers was inducted into the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame in 2004, he gave credit to his Fresno State coaches. He noted head coach Jim Sweeney s "great passion" and ability to motivate his players. Rogers stated, "And Wily Robinson, my position coach, was a great teacher of the game and that helped me. I am so honored to be a member of the Bulldogs' family." The Houston Oilers chose Rogers 7th in the 1989 NFL draft. He spent a year on the Oilers developmental squad, and then played seven years with the Kansas City Chiefs.
He had duties on special teams for the Chiefs,but also started at linebacker for twenty games. He battled injuries for three years, but came back and played in forty-four more games for Kansas City. He was a leader on the team in 1993, with 94 tackles, including six games where he had ten or more tackles. In a 1994 game against the Denver Broncos, Rogers had fifteen tackles, including three on a famous goal line stand in which the Broncos failed to get into the end zone from the one-yard line in four tries. In 1995, Rogers also led the Chiefs with twenty-three special teams tackles. "There are always special moments in the games, but mainly. you remember the coaches and the players you played with. I think you should set your goals high and work to get them, and hopefully it will work out for you, no matter how big or how small you are. The big guys feel the pain just like the little guys," Rogers said.
Knee injuries forced Rogers to retire in 1997. He was grateful for the experience of playing professional football with the likes of Joe Montana, Marcus Allen and Derrick Thomas, stating, "Playing in the NFL is every young player's dream and I was fortunate enough to live that dream and play with some of the greatest athletes in the world. Tracy lived in Bakersfield with his family, focused on a career in business. His wife, Suzanne said, "Things that made him a successful athlete have also made him successful in business and family."
Maurice "Mighty Mo" Talbot was born and raised on a 28,000-acre cattle ranch between Porterville and Springville in Tulare County, and didn't play his first basketball game until high school. He was a star at Porterville High and Porterville Junior College before launching a record-breaking three-year career at Fresno State. He opted for a livelihood with Pepsi-Cola instead of pursuing professional basketball. The 6'5", 225-pounder did play on two strong Amateur Athletic Union teams, competing against some of the best amateurs in the country.
How did a daily routine of rising at five a.m., milking cows, going to school, milking cows again before an eight o'clock dinner prepares him for a basketball career? "As a kid on that cattle ranch, I was always in great shape," Talbot explained. "When we had time, we ran up and down those hills around the ranch just out of boredom. I didn't see my first movie until I was a freshman in high school." Talbot grew six inches from 5'10" to 64" the eighth and ninth grades. He was pretty slender, but by the time he reached high school, Talbot had bulked up to 210 pounds. His father wanted him to play football, but he was too big for the freshman team and had to play on the junior varsity which helped to toughen him. Talbot was playing intramural basketball when high school coach Al Nelson spotted him and asked him to come out for the team. Nelson started teaching Talbot the fundamentals, along with tipping, hand-eye coordination drills, and lay-ups.
"My junior and senior years, I averaged around twenty points a game," Talbot said, "We had two excellent guards and another good forward, so they couldn't concentrate on stopping me. I played center most of the time, but some forward. Our gym held 1,500 people, so we had good turnouts." Talbot's next stop was Porterville JC for two seasons under Coach Jim Maples. Talbot had grown another inch and was highly recruited by about thirty schools, but he focused on UCLA and Fresno State. UCLA's John Wooden came down to his in-laws' house as Talbot was married with one child and another on the way. "I made two visits to UCLA, but Los Angeles just wasn't me," Talbot recalled, "Part of me was sorry I didn't take the offer, but I had played with several Fresno State players on the AAU team and I was comfortable playing with the people who actually recruited me." He started working at Pepsi while at Fresno State and continued there for forty-three years. "My typical work day during basketball season was to get up at six a.m., go to school, basketball practice, then work until eleven o' clock. Go home, sleep, and do the same thing the next day," Talbot said. Despite the lack of sleep, Talbot became one of the best combination scorers, rebounders, and defenders in Fresno State history. He remains the all-time Bulldog free throw leader, with 418 out of 570. He is sixth in points with 1,480, fifth in scoring average (19.5), third in rebounds (865) and third in rebound average (11.4). Talbot had two thirty-eight-point nights and another thirty-point game.
Fresno won the conference championship all three of Talbot's seasons and he was All-CCAA first team for three years. When Talbot and Lonnie Hughey were teammates for a season, they were among the best tandems in the country. Talbot said Coach Harry Miller's practices were more grueling than most games. "He taught us to play tough, but not dirty," Talbot said. "I remember my first game against Los Angeles State when Bill Sharman was coach. On the opening tip-off, the LA center threw an elbow into my mouth, loosening a few teeth. I went out and Loren Thomson went in. In a scuffle under the basket the LA center was flattened by Thomson. "It was fun playing for Harry and Fresno State. [During) most of our home games, the fire marshal had to close the gym because it was standing-room only." Miller said Talbot was quick and strong: "One of the best combination boardmen and scorers I ever had."