CLIFF JOHNSON'S 1954 DREAM TEAM by Pres Miranda
Pres Miranda '57
For once I couldn’t wait to get to school. On the way to school, I passed Busters, our local hangout where we played pool and had our favorite hamburgers but today I had to hurry because I needed to be on campus by 8 a.m. While I was walking, I couldn’t help but wonder how this day would turn out.
When I got to school my teammates were already there. Earlier that morning, our cousin, Frank Montejano, had come by and picked up my brother Greg. Besides myself, Greg and Frank, there was also Joe Alcoser, Joe Montejano, Joe Aguayo (who was our alternate player) and Manuel Avila. We were the golf team that was to represent Laton High School against Bakersfield High School.
The carry-all van that we would travel in was already in front of the school. There were a few others students milling around. The word had spread that we would be playing Bakersfield High so some of the guys’ girlfriends were there to give them a proper sendoff.
Bakersfield High School had a student body of approximately 2,000, whereas, our little school had about 200 students. Somehow, our coach had arranged a match between our two schools. To this day, I don’t know how he did it. Our coach was Clifford Johnson and he also served as the Principal. He was a real golf nut. He ate and slept golf! Mr. Johnson was a big man and had a potbelly like someone who loved his beer as much as he loved his golf. On the golf course he always wore a sweatshirt like the ones a coach would wear. A big cigar was usually hanging from the side of his mouth and at the same time, he would talk out of the opposite side of his mouth. He was a character!
So off we went that fall morning in 1954. We headed south toward Bakersfield on Highway 99. During the first few miles we were kind of quiet. I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one who had a case of the butterflies; that funny, queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach. It’s probably a feeling that most athletes experience at one time or another. I guess it hit us what we were about to attempt with a high school as big as Bakersfield.
Mr. Johnson broke the silence with his big booming voice. “Fellas” he said, “when we are on the golf course you can call me Cliff. But just remember this! When we are back on campus, I am Mr. Johnson and don’t you ever forget it! OK?” We all looked at each other and nodded. Right off the bat, the older guys started calling him Cliff, especially Manuel Avila. I just couldn’t do it! I was just a freshman and a real rookie, plus I had too much respect for his position as the principal.
We arrived at the golf course in Bakersfield around 9:30 in the morning. It was beautiful! There were palm trees and palm plants of all kinds. In Laton, where we played at the Kings Country Club, the fairways were lined with Oak trees. This was an entirely different terrain and we were going to play at this beautiful place.
We unloaded our clubs which consisted of 5 irons, 2 woods and a putter. The irons were 3, 5, 7, 9 and a wedge. The woods were a driver and a spoon, the spoon being the equivalent of a 3-wood today. Our bags were maroon and very small and included a small packet for few extra balls and tees. That was all we needed!
It wasn’t long before we saw our opponents on the putting green. Most of them were blonde haired and blue-eyed, with cashmere sweaters and wearing golf shoes! That was something that most of us had not even tried on. Their bags were large and expensive looking. They stared at us with an amused look on their faces. We all wore tennis shoes, Levi’s and carried cheap equipment. We must have looked pretty pathetic!
There we were, six Mexican kids against these ‘rich’ kids who most likely grew up taking golf lessons and using the latest equipment. How dare we have the audacity to think we could beat this well-equipped team!
The golf teams were made up of a number one man, being the best, and a number two man, being the second best, and so on down to the number six man being the highest handicapper on the team. Our number one and number two men would play their number one and number two men and so on down the line.
Mr. Johnson, being the shyster that he was, had the brilliant idea of moving us around to where our number one and two men would play their number three and number four men. Hopefully, that would give us a sure win with that team. Our number three and number four men would play their number five and number six men for another win. Our number five and six men were then sacrificed by being moved up to the first position against their number one and number two men.
I had to admit that it was brilliant; maybe a bit unethical but still legal.
We were all waiting around the 18th green for the last group to come in and you should have seen the faces of our opponents when they realized that Laton had just won two of the three matches.
We Won! David had beaten Goliath! The Mexican kids with the cheap clubs, tennis shoes and Levi’s had won!
Mr. Johnson was beside himself. He was so proud of his team. We could have asked for anything and I’m sure he would have done everything in his power to grant it.
On the way home, along a lonely country road, Manuel had finished his bottle of pop and threw it at a passing telephone pole. The bottle shattered into pieces! Cliff started laughing and challenged Manuel that he couldn’t do it again. “Oh yeah! Stop this van!” Manuel said. We all scrambled out of the carry-all then spent the next 20 minutes looking for empty bottles. Once we had twenty or thirty bottles, we all climbed back in the van except for Manuel. He was still about 50 yards behind the van. Cliff started blowing the horn but when Manuel came close to the van, Cliff pulled away leaving him behind. Cliff was laughing and having a good ole’ time leaving Manuel behind. Manuel finally sat down in the middle of the road and waited for Cliff to pull alongside of him, which he finally did. We must have hit fifteen posts before we finally ran out of bottles. After that, we headed home with no more delays.
The next day, Mr. Johnson called for a special assembly. The whole student body was in the auditorium and the golf team was on the stage. Joe Montejano, Joe Alcoser, Manuel Avila, Frank Montejano, Joe Aguayo, Greg Miranda, and me, Pres Miranda. We were all given Certificates of Achievement and Mr. Johnson could not say enough about us and praised us highly. The band was playing, the cheerleaders were doing their thing and we were heroes!
This was to be the only year that Cliff Johnson worked at Laton High School. He left the area and died a few years later. We later heard that one of the kids from the Bakersfield team played on the pro golf tour for a while. I’m sure that we have had fonder memories of that fall day in 1954 than he has.