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Column: Once unthinkable, three S.D. high school teams winning state championships in the same season

Sez Me …

As Encinitas’ marvelous songwriter Hugh Martin wrote, “in happy golden days of yore,” I covered San Diego high school sports for the highly professional but fun-loving Evening Tribune.

Since then, the 1970s, we’ve had many changes in our sports — gone is the NFL, the NBA (twice), and whatever else didn’t work — so most of it has been negative.

Maybe it’s fitting that, in a city that has grown immensely and yet continues to think small (and often wrong) — a great exception is high school sports. Especially football.

Just last week, three local schools — Cathedral Catholic, Mater Dei Catholic and Scripps Ranch — won state football titles. Congratulations. A major accomplishment.

Back when I covered preps, the thought of that would be as far-fetched as San Diego State becoming good at basketball.

Not that we didn’t have some fine teams. If state championships were available then, a few may have succeeded. Certainly not three in one season.

But when our schools went up against teams from the Los Angeles area or elsewhere, success didn’t come regularly, if at all. Most of our coaches didn’t want any part of it, anyway.

And we had some players — Lincoln’s Marcus Allen, the best to come out of here, was one.

But, again, it wasn’t hard to count the number of players who went to Division I schools.

Now it’s difficult to keep up. The other day our John Maffei composed a piece on San Diego kids going to bowl games. There were at least three dozen. And that number doesn’t include those whose teams didn’t make it into the postseason.

Three Aztecs who played high school ball here made AP’s All-America teams — Rancho Bernardo punter Matt Araiza (first team), and two second-teamers, defensive end Cam Thomas (Carlsbad) guard William Dunkle (Eastlake).

San Diego has become one of the nation’s recruiting destinations. No other city can claim four Heisman Trophy winners — Allen, Rashaan Salaam, Ricky Williams and Reggie Bush — and Allen and Terrell Davis (Lincoln) and the late Junior Seau (Oceanside) have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall.

Why the change? Well, for one, the number of people. The San Diego metro area had a 1975 population of 1,442,000. Now it’s at 3,272,000. More kids, more good players — and many, many more schools.

And of course better coaching and training.

John Shacklett, one of our all-time prep coaches, worked at El Capitan and San Diego as an assistant during the ’60s and was head coach at Morse from the ’70s into this century. His 1991 Tigers team was ranked No. 2 nationally.

He says: “Coaching really is much stronger now. There’s so much experience. Not many are walking in cold. They stick around and make a career of it. They’re very dedicated, and more kids, from Pop Warner on up, are interested in playing.

“I always had recruiters coming into my office, but San Diego really became a strong recruiting area around 15 years ago. We have kids playing everywhere — and many are coaching everywhere. And we have schools playing L.A. schools on a regular basis. Cathedral has to hustle to find 10 schools to play.

“When I coached, no way I would have thought we could have three state champions in the same year.”

Makes at least two of us. …

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