Thursday, April 09, 2015

Catching up with Crestmoor HS grad and 1971 State 220 champion, Chuck Bommarito

I ran and graduated from Capuchino HS (San Bruno) in 1987. I remember reading about Chuck Bommarito (pictured to the left as as senior by Tony Machado) who graduated from the now closed Crestmoor HS (also in San Bruno) in 1971. His name was splattered all over our school record list and was the 1971 state champion in the 220. My freshman Track and Field coach, Ron Etherton, who was also Chuck's coach, wrote the following about him "Chuck was easily the greatest and most exciting trackman in the history of Peninsula high school track. He won the state championship in the 220 in 1971. He finished in second in the 100 that year in a disputed race that had to be run TWICE! He won 8 MPL, 7 region, and 5 Central Coast Section championships. In his junior year he finished second in the state meet 220 and third in the 100. No Bay Area male athlete has ever scored more points in the state track meet! Chuck was a tall sprinter who had a slow start but finished races with an incredible burst of speed that had to be seen to be believed. Chuck had a short college career at UC Berkeley." Chuck's first experience at the CA state meet came as a member of Crestmoor's mile relay team. They won CCS in 1969 and clocked 3:20.4 in the state trials. 

1) What sports did you play before you got to high school? When did you first realize you were fast and discover Track and Field?
In grade school I went to St. Roberts, a parochial school in San Bruno and there I played basketball and baseball. As a child I had a father that never really worked me on sports and it seems like I was always up against kids with their dads or older brothers who helped them become better at sports and/or like when I wanted to pitch, the coach's son was the pitcher. So my basketball and baseball careers as a young boy were okay, nothing dramatic. At St. Roberts, starting in the fifth or six grade (I think fifth grade) you had to attend a spirit festival once a year and at that spirit festival was a track meet. Well as a fifth-grader, I had to sit in the stands and it was very much of a regiment in terms of cheers, how you sat, what you did, you couldn't get out of the stands. It was kind of like a hell day. So my thought was the next year I'm gonna run track so I don't have to sit in the stands so I went out for the track team and I ran track the next three years (6, 7 and 8th grades). In the eighth grade, I won the hundred yard dash for the north section, if I remember correctly, long  time ago. Anyway, that's when I started to understand that I was fast. I never really was very good at any kind of distance, at all Never had the ability. So that's my start to running track as a career, as a sport.

2) How did you end up attending to Crestmoor HS? How was it determined who went to Crestmoor and who went to Capuchino HS in San Bruno?
As I mentioned earlier, I went to a parochial grade school, one through eight, and of course there was a lot of discussion about going to Serra HS which was down the peninsula. At the time I was done with parochial school, not that I was a wild guy but wanted some freedom. So I did attend Crestmoor HS and the decision to go there was based on the boundary maps for San Bruno.

3) What sports did you play as a freshman? Highlights? 
My freshman year, I decided to go out for C basketball in the fall and went to the first tryouts and realized that I had a lose too much weight to make the C cut off so I switched and went to freshman football. In freshman football, I was a third string alternate halfback with 50+ people on the team. Coming from St. Roberts, when we played on the play yard, I was always the quarterback. At Crestmoor, I was behind the scale since I never play tackle football and didn't do very well. I didn't play a winter sport and then went out for the track team in the spring. My freshman year on the track team, I primarily ran the 440 and the mile relay. I did some sprints but pretty much was more of a quarter-miler. I did fairly well. One of the funny stories was one of my teammates who was a senior came up to me at a home duel meet and said if I beat him, he would kick my butt. At the end of my freshman year, we held a freshman track meet against Capuchino HS. At the time, the high school record we had at Crestmoor was 10.2 for the hundred yard dash. I was timed at either a 10.2 or 10.0 (can't remember which) but my coach said no way so he ended up giving me the freshman record for the school at 10.5. I don't know if he had a watch on me or not that day but that's pretty much my highlights of my freshman year.

4) You made it to the CCS finals as a sophomore. What did you learn from that experience?
Honestly, I don't have a lot of recall about the CCS meet. I know it took place at the College of San Mateo and that we did go to the state meet that year in the mile relay so for me that was the highlight. My sophomore year, as a sprinter, I competed against a fellow from San Mateo HS, Alonzo Emery, who was the elite sprinter at the time. I think the fastest he ever ran was a 9.9. He beat me in the hundred in a duel meet and I beat him in the 220. If I remember right, at the finals, I think he beat me again in the hundred at the MPL (Mid Peninsula League) and I think he withdrew from the 220 but our mile relay team was the was the main main event that was going on. What I learned from my sophomore year is that upperclassman again didn't appreciate my abilities and wanted to kick my butt often. When I arrived at the state meet hotel with my teammates, we got out of the car and somebody opened up one of the other doors at the hotel and there were some guys from San Mateo and Hillsdale and they said come over here, come in this room and I knew to stay far away.

5) You had an even better junior season with CCS championships in the 100 yard and 220 yard races as well as a 3rd place finish (100 yard) and 2nd place finish (220 yard) at the state meet. How helpful was it for you to compete at the state meet the year before? (Picture to the right was taken at Foothill College winning 100 yard race)
I think that running in the state track meet as a sophomore definitely helped me as a junior because it took all the surprises out of the grand stage and how everything was handled. I think it was definitely a benefit to compete my sophomore year at state. I think it was also helpful that the state meet my junior year was held at Berkeley so I could actually go home at night and I could have more of a typical life rather than the travel life there.

6) You repeated as CCS champion in both events as a senior. How much pressure did you experience as far as repeating the double victory? 
I don't know that there was much pressure or at least in my mindset thinking about it back then. The interesting thing though was Benny Brown who went to Sunnyvale HS, earlier that year, we competed at Foothill College in the Kiwanis Invitational and he beat me in the 220. At the finish line of that race I was coming on him and coming from behind which was typical for me but he won. The timer came up to me and says to me that I got second and you ran 20.5. I looked at the guy and said there is no way I ran that fast since I dogged the turn. It turns out that we ran a 200 yard dash instead of the 220 yard dash so had we run the right race distance, I  would've beat him and ran right by him before the finish line. My brother-in-law was a counselor and teacher at Sunnyville HS and once CCS came along, of course, there was no way, in my mind, that I was gonna lose to Benny Brown in 220. I had to prove that I was better than him and my brother-in-law started this whole thing with lots of talk in the stands and he had all this stuff happening on top of it. So on that day, there was no way I was gonna loaf the turn. I was going to run the turn hard to make sure that I would win the race and if I remember correctly I'm pretty sure I passed Benny on the turn. He was a heck of a runner and actually went to the Olympics and I am not sure if you know who Benny Brown was but I think he made it on the mile relay team and he actually died fairly young.

7) The 1971 CA state meet was held at UCLA. You finished 2nd in the 100 yard race that had to be run twice. What was the reason for the re-run of the race? How much rest did the competitors get? You won the 200 yard sprint in a time of 21.2. Describe crossing the finish line of that race as the CA state champion.
Let me backtrack a little bit. Going to the state meet my senior year, I felt really confident I could win the 220. It wasn't really a worry for me. My real worry and concern was placing in the hundred yard dash. I knew I could place in the 220, if not win it. In the trials, in the hundred yard dash, I was known for my slow start. The gun went off and the first step out of the blocks (or second step) but my memory was that once I was up and everybody was next to me, my immediate thought was you guys lose. If you are not in front of me, there's no way I'm gonna lose this race and I won the 100 very easily. In the 220 that day (my trials) I dogged the turn like I typically would do and coming out of the turn I had to run to actually place and go to the finals. In hindsight it may have helped me a little bit because it put me out in a different lane. The rerun of the hundred took place during the second day of finals and I was standing there in the middle of the 9 lane track at UCLA in lane 5. Not being racial in my my mind, I had four black competitors to my right and four black competitors to my left. I was standing there and relatively calm and confident and as I stood there looking on the track, I realized that I was way too calm. I thought that I needed to get up and think about what this race meant to me. Then all of a sudden, the competitor to my right said "What's a white boy doing in this race?" It was the eventual winner from the LA Hamilton and I just kinda disregarded the whole comment, just trying to keep my focus but he said he said something else again. I just said "Hey, we'll just see who wins the race" (something like that). Honestly all the other guys I pretty much knew and had run against him before. So this fellow from LA Hamilton, George Reddick, was his name, was the fastest qualifier heading into the final. We ran the race and I was coming on him and probably in the first race (if he didn't false start) I probably would've won the 100. I was really exhausted after the race probably just a let down and remember as I was down at the far end of the stadium sitting against the wall by myself just thinking how damn tired I was and that I still had to run the 220. Then I heard over the announcement that the race was going to be rerun and I want to say that they wanted to run it after the mile. We went back and ran the second race. I had just a lethargic start and probably about the the 70-75 yards into the race I found myself in the back of the pack and thought to myself that I'm gonna lose this thing. Somehow I kicked it in the next gear and could see myself closing and passing people and ended up getting second in the re-run 100. Going to the 220, I remember getting into the blocks and I was flat out exhausted. As I got down in the blocks and the starter said set, I said to myself "I don't know that I can lift myself up to get in the set position" That's how weak I felt. Of course, the gun went off and as I was running the turn I recall that I wasn't trying to dog the turn in this race. After the race, Sammy Burns from El Cerrito told me somewhere just coming out of the turn (I must of been on the inside of him) that I came up alongside him and he said it was just amazing, Chuck you just lifted your knees higher and you just started to run away from me. I tried to go but couldn't stay near you. Interesting perspective from a fellow competitor. Close to the finish line, I could see that I was going to win the race, I was very excited, ecstatic and I threw my hands up you know that over my head as I crossed the finish line. I remember thinking "oh my god did I just lose the race because I did that?" Did somebody lean and get me? Thankfully I didn't screw myself out of that victory.

8) What do you remember about your training in high school? Who were your coaches that had the biggest impact on you? Knowing what you know now, what would have you done differently in HS?
My goal in high school track was to win state and get a scholarship. I gave up a lot of things in high school because I had those goals. Ron Etherton (on right behind relay team) was my coach in high school. We called him the fly, after a cartoon about a fearless fly that wore glasses. Somewhere in my 20s, I had a conversation with him asking him how far I ran in 40 seconds in practice. He told me that sometimes he turned the watch on and sometimes he didn't. He told us what we needed to hear. We thought we manipulated him but in actuality he was manipulating us. He competed in the Big 10. He was a world record holder indoors so we respected him as a coach. He was still beating us all as freshmen. He was the biggest influence to me. My future brother-in-law, Johnny Brown, came to our school to be the football coach and wanted to coach me in track but I trusted Mr. Etherton. In high school, there was always the Bommarito challenge (match sprint). Different people challenged me including the math teacher who also coached me in football. Despite my slow starts, I beat them all. They never realized that I had slow starts compared to very good sprinters but compared to them, my start was pretty good. All the bantering with my older teammates made for competitive practices and kept me motivated. I was labeled as a light worker in practice but they didn't understand that we ran the winter circuit, all the all comers meets in the winter and summer. It was a lot of running that left me tired at the end of each season. I learned how to pace myself but when we ran different distances in practices, those were all at a very hard effort.

9) Did you get to compete in any sport in college? If so, highlights?
I competed in college. I had a full athletic scholarship to UC Berkeley. Getting there, Dave Maggard recruited me. He was the Track and Field coach at the time. As a sophomore, I went to a track camp that Dave ran and met him there. I was recruited primarily, my two choices were UC Berkeley or Oregon State. I wanted to go to USC but I really had no interest for any Southern California colleges. I did compete at Cal and when I got there my freshman year, Dave Maggard became the athletic director and so we ended up with no track coach. I had put on weight over the summer, drinking, and just enjoying my fruits of my wins and when I got to Cal I never really developed a college life. I would come home on the weekends and hang with my buddies and track wise, Etherton pretty much kept a tab on me in high school. So I was little lackadaisical starting out and we had no coach. Maggard turned out to be just a figurehead. He would come out and jog around and horse around with the weight guys. We ended up with a long distance runner as the coach (from American River College). He started with the training but never really looked at what training worked well for me so it wasn't working well. All of a sudden, one day, we had Eddie Hart who went to the Olympics and if you remember he lost to Valeriy Borzov (actually missed his heat). He was our sprint coach at the time but was in his own quandary preparing for the Olympics. I came to practice one day and there was a man over there, a young gentleman so I asked Eddie who he was and the reply was that was my new coach, Irv Hunt. So then we had Eddie Hart, Irv Hunt and the long distance coach but they never really looked at how I was trained, what motivated me or how to work me. Etherton knew how to work me. One of the things that soured me was the 440 relay. The other person that was supposed to be there was another sprinter, Isaac Curtis. He ended up redshirting and went to San Diego so it ended up being myself and other underclassmen on the team. One of them was Sammy Burns from El Cerrito. Sammy and I were basically fierce competitors in high school. They came to me in college and told me that I was going to run 2nd leg with Sammy as the anchor. Every major race (Downey Games, Fresno Relays, State Meet etc.) I had beaten Sammy. The camera is at the finish line and that is where you get the recognition. So that peeved me and left a sour taste in my mouth. During the season, I had my best times when we where down in Arizona. I got to work out with Eddie Hart. It was very similar to being a sophomore in high school, chasing the upperclassmen. My workouts with him, those couple of days were fantastic. I ran my best times there. We ended up competing back then in the PAC 8. The other sprinters were Donald Quarrie, Willie Deckard, Warren Edmonson. Quarrie went to the Olympics and the other two were elite sprinters as well. I ended up not placing in the 200 in the PAC 8. I ended up running the mile relay where we placed 3rd. I never liked running the quarter because I usually ended up throwing up after the race from running so hard. At that race, I ended up running because somebody else wouldn't run. I was going to run the 2nd leg and before the race I told the runner I was handing off to that he shouldn't move because I wasn't going to take any more steps past the beginning of the zone. We both laughed about this after. During the 2nd leg, it got very physical and elbows were thrown at two different portions of the race (backstretch and 300 mark). Maggard came up to me after the race and told me he had never seen anybody run a quarter mile like that before. I competed my freshman year and did so-so and my sophomore year, I returned back to school and opted to leave at the end of the first quarter (Christmas). I met with Maggard as the athletic director and he told me that if I didn't graduate from Cal, I would never be a man. That didn't go very well with me. Irv Hunt, to his credit, tried and spent significant time trying to convince me to stay but things in my personal life changed so I ended up leaving. Years later when I spoke with Irv and having a better perspective of what he was doing for me, thanked him for his efforts.

10) What has been your primary occupation as an adult? How often do you reflect back to your high school Track and Field experiences?
I quit college and wanted to be a mechanic and I worked as a mechanic for a couple of years. I also worked in public works for a city in maintenance. By chance, I then worked for my brother-in-law who was becoming a home builder and in ten years, they were a company doing 40 million dollars a year. I was #3 in the company and I decided to leave and start my own business. That didn't work out and then worked for different developers and after 10 years returned working with my brother-in-law. I have been there from 1996 to currently. The interesting part with working as a mechanic, public works and building homes and office buildings is all about problem solving. My hobby now is machine which is all about problem solving. Everything I have done in my career is self taught, as a mechanic, public works etc. I am a VP in construction, have built 1000s of homes, 4-story homes, built 40000 square foot buildings, intense grading hillsides and it's all about problem solving. How much does it cost, how to cut costs, how to do it, how to make sure it's going to last. It all goes back to me and through track and my competitive nature. All through my career, any day that I showed up on a day and I didn't know what I was supposed to know, I showed up the next day with the answers. It's the competitive side of me.

The question about track, people remember me. I was quite the star athlete on the peninsula. My buddies that I ran with, we always talk about our competing track days. It was some challenging times and I somewhat regret that I didn't finish my career and see how far I could have went. In a career, it's not only about yourself but people around you who support you as an athlete. The running days are gone. At 50 years old, I was still doing sprint workouts, totally enjoying it. My back started giving me problems and worked down to my calves. I am now 62 and haven't run since my 50s.

Here winning the CCS Region 1 220 race as a junior at Serramonte HS.

Thank you very much for your time Chuck! AJC


Unknown said...

Nice article, thanks

Anonymous said...

I came across this article by happenstance. I found it interesting. I was a freshman when Chuck was a senior. Although I heard about him--who couldn't?--I never saw him run.

And Coach Etherton was my coach on the Crestmoor High School Cross Country and Track teams from 1971 through 1974. He was a great coach and a wonderful person.

-Ralph Mateo

Bart said...

Awesome article...I ran with Chuck during my time on the track team...I would agree that Coach Etherton was a great mentor...
Bart Pierce
Class of 1972
High hurdles and sprints

Albert Caruana said...

Thanks for the positive feedback from both Ralph and Bart. I certainly enjoyed posting this last summer and learning about one of the legendary athletes that came out of San Bruno.

Anonymous said...

Really nice to read of Chuck's athletic career as well as his future success in construction. I went to Hillsdale and was blown away watching Chuck win the 100. Sure had no idea he didn't have a fast start. When he was a senior we had a sophomore come really close to him, but this kid smoked cigarettes. Our coaches were heartbroken because they thought he might have had a chance to catch Chuck, and go on to tbe Olympics, but he didn't run track after his sophomore year. Chuck dominated.

Steve said...

Yesterday I was thinking of the fastest sprinters I'd seen in high school. Chuck's name popped into my head so I googled him. This is a great article. I'm glad Chuck mentioned Olympic Gold Medal Winner Benny Brown. It was awesome to see them compete on the same track so many years ago.

Mark said...

I just ran across this article. I ran with Chuck on the Track team at Crestmoor. I was a long distance runner and remember him well. I remember Chuck taught me how to breath better and more efficiently when I was a freshman. Bart (see the comment above) and I went to the State track meet at UCLA and watched Chuck run the finals of the 100 yd dash twice! and, of course, win the finals of the 220 yd dash. I haven't seen Chuck since he was working as a mechanic after he left Cal. I hope you're doing well Chuck.

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