Not many people who were associated with the Ramona High School team that played for the 1973 CIF football championship could be contacted about that game, but one very important person who still lives in Ramona was available.
Head coach and athletic director Jerry Van Zant has a house in Ramona and in Texas, and just returned from the Lone Star State. I got in touch with him to set the record straight and to talk Ramona football.
Van Zant is well known to football and baseball coaches in the San Diego Section of the CIF. Van Zant was one of the premier football officials and baseball umpires for 24 years. However, there is a reason that Van Zant was inducted into the Coaching Legends of the CIF in the 2006 class. Van Zant graduated from Gardena High School and joined the navy. After serving his country honorably, he attended El Camino College and then transferred to Long Beach State and earned a degree in what is now called kinesiology, but was then called physical education.
Upon earning his teaching credential, Van Zant took a job in Borrego Springs and started the Rams’ football from scratch.
In 1969, Van Zant moved to the Valley of the Sun and won CIF championships in his first two years at the helm, beating Army-Navy Academy in 1969 and 1970. He then moved on to Poway High School where he guided the Titans to two CIF appearances before he got into officiating.
Van Zant wanted to set the record straight on what has been widely reported in most of the media.
“We actually tied San Diego Military Academy 28-28 in 1973 and not Army-Navy,” he said. “The San Diego Section was a lot different in those days. There were only two divisions—Large Schools and Small Schools. We were a small school. At the end of the regular season there was a one game CIF championship for the Small Schools Division.”
Only league champions and some second and third place finishers in league play advanced to the eight- team Large School playoffs. There were no power ratings. Ramona was moved into the Large School Division in 1974 and had to compete with schools with enrollments of over 2,000 and 3,000.
“We had about 350 students at the time,” said Van Zant. “Most of the small schools had fewer than 200 so we didn’t fit into either division.”
The result: a 39-year span between playing in a CIF championship game.
“We always had big strong kids but team speed was not one of our strengths,” Van Zant said. “Ramona kids always competed and played hard. They still do. Coach Baldwin is doing a great job. I’ll be rooting for him and the Bulldogs. I am still a Bulldog at heart.”
Van Zant still lives in Ramona but also owns a home in Texas. He does a lot of traveling. “When I am in Texas I take in the local football games. I saw Johnny Manziel (Johnny Football) play when he was in high school,” he said.
At least two of Van Zant’s players from the 1973 championship game were at Escondido High for the Dec. 1 CIF game and had children participating. Linemen Eddie Anderson and Ed Ketchem played in the game in 1973. Anderson’s son, Connor, suited up for the Dawgs at Escondido, and Ketchem’s daughter, Kelsey, was a member of the Bulldog Angels hydration crew. Joe Edwards, head of security at RHS, pointed out that his late brother, Mike, a longtime employee of the Ramona school district, played in the 1969 and 1970 championship games.
History has a way of repeating itself. It is my guess that it won’t be 40 more years until a Bulldog football team returns to the CIF football championship.
Usually four of the five CIF championship games are played at Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers pick up the tab for the games. This year, however, because the Chargers had back to back home games, the stadium was not available. The CIF and Escondido did a great job of hosting the events. John “The Coach” Kentera” is one of the biggest proponents of high school athletics in the history of San Diego County and he called the championship games on the radio.
“Every kid wants to suit up in the Chargers locker room and play in the stadium. But after the ball is kicked off it is about the game. These kids would play in the parking lot if it meant playing for a championship. Escondido has a great venue and the games here have more of a high school atmosphere. This is a great place for the championships,” said The Coach.
Win or lose, last Saturday was a great day to be a Bulldog.