Gunn football began with an inauspicious start in 1964


Gunn High has turned 50. This celebration begs for something more than just a cake with a bonfire of candles.

Only 49 graduating classes have gone out into the world, however, as the 1964-65 school year featured no seniors. That made it interesting for Gunn's first football team, which had only sophomores and juniors that first season and kicked off the year unlike any team since.

Bob Bow shared the duties of athletic director with Ernie Leydecker that first year and the two decided that an eight-game junior varsity schedule better-suited the program before jumping feet first into the tough South Peninsula Athletic League.

"It was a great experience," said Bow, who came over from Cubberley and brought Leydecker in from Wilbur (now JLS) Middle School. "We won five games in a row -- doing well -- and then all of a sudden we were in trouble. We got a call on Monday morning that three players had been accused of drinking at a Saturday night party."

Bow and Leydecker sat down with Gunn principal Robert McLean and assistant principal Jerry Hathaway to decide how best to handle the situation.

"We decided, unfortunately for the kids, that they were finished for that year," the 88-year-old Bow recalled this week. "They missed the last three games and we lost all three."

It was an inauspicious start for Gunn football, to say the least.

That bumpy road continued into the school's first varsity season in 1965, where the Titans started 0-8 before winning its first-ever varsity game against Carlmont.

Perhaps coincidentally, Gunn will help celebrate its 50 years of existence this weekend with a football home game on Friday against -- you guessed it -- Carlmont. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.

The game is a centerpiece around a weekend of activities. There will be a barbecue on Friday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m at Bol Park to kick off the weekend off, followed by a special football halftime show, dubbed "Parade of Decades."

It hasn't quite been five decades since Gunn football emerged from its JV beginnings.

"We didn't really blossom until 1969," Bow said off the 8-2 finish that year.

The Gunn frosh-soph team went 10-0 that season before players moved on to the varsity in '70. The Titans finished 5-5 at the varsity level as coaches spent much of the year trying to find a quarterback.

Don Briggs finished his junior season as the starter before leading Gunn to its finest season ever in 1971, a 10-0 campaign.

Unfortunately for that senior class, the Central Coast Section playoffs began in 1972. Gunn finally made the section playoffs for the first time in 1999, 35 years after the Titans put on their helmets for the first time.

It was a stark beginning for the school in 1964.

"The first half of the year, we were outside in the parking lot," Bow said of holding gym classes. "The gym wasn't ready yet. We had a locker room, but no weight room. We put up some volleyball nets (outside). We had a pretty good boys volleyball team."

Of course, there was no varsity sport of volleyball in those days, nor were there any organized teams for girls. They finally were recognized in 1967.

Gunn, however, was very forward-thinking with its physical education program with the men and women coaches working together. Bow said there were still schools, many in the valley, where the male coaches wouldn't even talk to the female coaches in those days.

Bow takes pride in how the school took shape that first year and where the journey has taken the Titans in 50 years. Gunn now has a second gym, a new pool, new baseball and softball fields and tennis courts plus a first-class track and field facility -- all making for a sports complex that rivals any in Northern California.

Truly, the Titans have come of age over the past 50 years on all fronts.

"It's weathered well," Bow said of the school. "It's better now than it has ever been."

Bow, who will take part in many of the celebration activities this weekend, also has weathered well.

"I don't feel that much older," he said.

He'll rub shoulders with former Gunn teachers, coaches and students this weekend and talk, of course, of the good old days. And they were.

Gunn joined Palo Alto and Cubberley as the third high school in town, establishing a new rivalry with each school. The Titans had to work hard to gain respect in athletics, but finally did so with the first of its 35 Central Coast Section titles (over 10 sports) being earned in 1972 by the boys tennis team.

Now, however, is a time for celebration. Fifty years is a long time to stay in business at any level. Younger elementary schools in Palo Alto since have been plowed under for housing and middle schools have been closed, re-opened and renamed, but Gunn remains. That alone is worth a party.

-- Keith Peters is a 1969 Gunn High grad

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Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 11, 2014 at 4:07 pm

If anyone wants to volunteer to help the football team at tomorrow's game, we still need some help - chain gang for JV and Varsity, ticket takers at the gate. We'd love the help. If interested, we can get you in contact with some of the parents who are organizing.

The current team is small in numbers, but dedicated, hard working, athletic, tough, (and brave), and very big hearted! They played San Mateo really tough last weekend, only losing by 1 TD in the last 2 minutes of the game So tomorrow night promises to be a good game!

We can't wait to see everyone there tomorrow night!
Congratulation to Gunn, and 50 years of Awesome Titan Alum!
Class of '82 (Back in Black)

1 person likes this
Posted by John Thomas-Whitcomb McCoy
a resident of another community
on Sep 12, 2014 at 2:02 pm

I have become such a boob! Seeing Coach Bow and Dr. McLean again in today's paper edition brought tears of happiness! Is the ghost of Clay Henry here for the festivities? You bet he is! Coaches Yelton and Verwest rate high in my book; these two were mainly across the street at Terman but they were two major forces also making me a human being, a thinking American and taught how our own actions affects others. Thank you guys!!!

Like this comment
Posted by Talia G
a resident of Stanford
on Sep 12, 2014 at 5:30 pm

As I recall, Gunn did not win any games in any sport between 1974 and 1999!

3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 13, 2014 at 8:14 am

Really Talia G? Took about 2 minutes to look this up, found right here in Palo Alto Online article.. Just one of too many examples to count. (of Talia G being wrong since 1974...)

"Gunn (Tennis) set the record from 1969-79, winning a remarkable 200 dual matches in a row. According to the Cal-Hi Sports record book, it remains the longest streak in any prep sport in state history."

[Portion removed.]

2 people like this
Posted by John Thomas-Whitcomb McCoy
a resident of another community
on Sep 13, 2014 at 8:24 am

Here, here!!! @resident of Gunn High School

1 person likes this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 13, 2014 at 9:15 am

Just say, "Nozo".

1 person likes this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 13, 2014 at 9:19 am

We got the ghost of Bon Scott on our team, or our boys', no doubt.

Good on Phil Bibo and Matt Maltz for the right amount of wine, women and song to put points on the scoreboard, and that is not a Kim Kempton reference. Go, Jamie, as well. And Bonnie and Janet are smiling of course.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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