Joe Davidson

Hometown Report: Foothill High’s first Hall of Fame class highlights 50-year celebration

The room emits all the smells and charm of an old muffler shop, minus the ankle-deep shag carpet.

Drew Hibbs agreed, enhancing the claim as a visitor stopped by his cramped office last week.

“This was Frank Negri’s war room, and it used to be worse,” said Hibbs, Foothill High School’s longtime basketball coach, punctuating matters with a laugh. “Negri coached football here forever, and this room had the look and smell of years of cigarette smoke. It’s still airing out.”

Foothill turned 50 this academic year. The place may have some rusted and frayed edges with limited resources to tidy, but there’s still a lot of sparkle and shine.

The football field has been replaced by new turf, which glistens in the sun. It’ll shine under the lights for the first time Friday night as Foothill celebrates its golden anniversary against Bear River.

The event also will include the school’s first induction into its Hall of Fame.

The headliner is Negri, who won more than 200 games and multiple championships with the Mustangs. Joining Negri in the Hall is perhaps his greatest player, Kevin Thomas, who is flying in from Texas. Thomas played football and basketball at Foothill in the 1990s and was a defensive back for the Buffalo Bills from 2002 to 2004.

Also being inducted are Larry Webber, who averaged a triple double in 1966-67 as perhaps the school’s best-ever basketball player; retired basketball coach John Karsten; retired English teacher Larry Bordeaux; and longtime school contributor Annabelle Kennedy.

Hibbs will join this inaugural class someday, though he humbly downplays his significance. He shouldn’t.

Hibbs is the only boys coach in Sac-Joaquin Section history to win two CIF State basketball championships (1994 and 2003). The Mustangs have earned 24 consecutive playoff berths, the section’s longest streak in any division. It’s a great measure of staying power despite the odds facing a public school.

Foothill has endured changing times. The school faces myriad challenges in remaining athletically relevant. While boys basketball under Hibbs and wrestling under coach and athletic director Bill Lum remain formidable, other Foothill teams struggle with participation numbers.

A constant is the number of two-sport athletes at Foothill, a credit to coaches who implore sharing. The best athlete on campus these days is Vernon Robertson, a strapping quarterback and versatile basketball player. His father, Vernon Sr., , also was an athlete at Foothill.

“Athletes should play more than one sport,” Hibbs said. “Half the guys on our basketball wall of fame here played two sports. It’s a great experience for them and the school.”

Sports can help give a school an identity and shape the mood, but Foothill is losing the numbers game. Enrollment has dwindled to 1,026, the lowest since the school’s infancy. The high-water mark was 2,000 students in the 1980s. Twenty years ago, the school still had 1,850 students. Nearby Antelope, which opened in 2008, is the “new” school on the proverbial block and often draws students entering high school.

“Antelope has that new-car smell,” Hibbs said, “but we still have a lot of pride here.”

Pride with an old-campus look and smell.

Family football fun – It was a family reunion of sorts Saturday afternoon in Placer County.

After Cole Brownholtz threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to Romello Bently with 17 seconds left to lift Sierra College past state-ranked No. 12 Diablo Valley 34-30, the quarterback waded through waves of family for hugs. The biggest was for his father, Scott, who played center at Georgia.

Brownholtz also was bearhugged by his grandfather, John Volek, the retired Sacramento State football coach and Sierra athletic director, who played center at Sierra a generation ago.

About the same time Brownholtz was leading the winning drive, kid brother Calvin was quarterbacking Jesuit past Davis 42-26. The brothers Brownholtz continue the family quarterback legacy that includes retired NFL passer Billy Volek.

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