A trio of prominent Crenshaw High School athletic legends — John Williams, Darryl Strawberry and Johnny Gray — were among 44 individuals inducted into the CIF Los Angeles City Section Hall of Fame at a ceremony held at the Westside Hilton Doubletree Hotel in Culver City April 26.
The biennial event honored a group of athletes, coaches and contributors in aquatics, baseball, basketball, football, golf, gymnastics, soccer, softball, tennis, track and field, volleyball and wrestling. Each inductee was a graduate of a City Section school.
Williams, one of the greatest players in the Crenshaw basketball program’s history, was an All-City selection in 1983 and 1984. In the 1983-84 season he averaged 26.1 points per game.
He went on to Louisiana State University, where he played for two seasons before entering the 1986 NBA Draft as a sophomore and being drafted by the Washington Bullets, where he made the All-NBA Rookie Team in 1987. He later played with the Los Angeles Clippers and Indiana Pacers, before he retired in 1995.
Strawberry, an All-City outfielder at Crenshaw in 1980, batted .400 with five home runs during that senior season. That helped him become the top selected player in the 1980 Major League free agent draft, where he signed with the New York Mets and played briefly in the minors before being selected as the 1983 National League Rookie of the Year.
During a career that ran from 1983-99, he played in eight consecutive All-Star games from 1984-1991, led the National League in home runs (39) in 1988 and finished with 335 lifetime home runs.
Gray, one of a few athletes to compete in four Olympic Games, began his domination of the 800-meter run at Crenshaw. He was the 1978 City Section 880-yard run champion in 1:54.46. He was the U.S. national 800 champion from 1985-87 and also was the 1987 Pan American Games champion at that distance.
In the Olympics, he placed seventh (1984), fifth (1988), earned a bronze medal in 1992 and placed seventh in the 1996 Games. As the American record holder in the 800 (1:42.60), he is a member of the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame.
The Crenshaw alumni were joined by several other prominent local City Section inductees. Journalist Brad Pye Jr.; former City Section Commissioner Barbara Fiege; and former Washington Prep basketball star Charisse Sampson.
Pye, a 1949 graduate and football standout at Jefferson High, has covered high school sports for more than 50 years, writing for The Wave and other South Los Angeles publications, and serving as program director for radio station KGFJ for more than 20 years.
Fiege, who taught and coached volleyball and softball at Dorsey and Belmont high schools, was a major factor in the maturity of the City Section. She was selected as the director of interscholastic athletics in 1993, taking over from Hal Harkness, making an immediate impact with a focus on the advancement of gender equity in high school athletics and competitive integrity.
During her tenure, Fiege, who also coached basketball at Belmont, helped the City Section grow in many ways. The number of member high schools grew from 49 schools to 140 by 2013, her last year at the post; girls’ soccer, water polo and wrestling were added to the district’s program and a junior varsity level was added to previously one-level sports during her tenure
She also promoted the expansion of the number of playoff divisions in each sport, allowing a greater number of students the opportunity to compete for a section championship. The television contract she helped negotiate with Time-Warner Cable also helped lift the City Section’s visibility.
Ironically, when Fiege stepped down from the commissioner’s position in 2013, the City Section separated itself from the Los Angeles Unified School District, which ran and financed the section’s activities for years.
Under current Commissioner John Aguirre, member schools pay dues to help run an independent organization that coordinates playoffs, handles eligibility questions and does the business of the California Interscholastic Federation.
Sampson is considered the most dominant player in City Section girls’ basketball history, earning All-City honors from 1989-1992, being named City Player of the Year in 1990, 1991 and 1992 and winning All-American and California State Player of the Year honors in 1992.
She was a major part of powerful Washington High teams coached by Phil Chase. She later attended Kansas, where she was an all-Big Eight selection in 1996. She also played professionally in Spain, Portugal and Germany, the ABL with New England and in the WNBA with the Seattle Storm.
Other honorees included Bill Thayer (basketball coach), Eric Davis (baseball, basketball) and Curtis Rowe (basketball) of Fremont High; Jon Arnett (football) and Lee Elder (golf) of Manual Arts; Dennis Gilbert (baseball) of Gardena; Sam Balter (basketball) of Roosevelt; Gene Mauch (baseball) of Fremont; Jim Mora (football) of University; Pat Nordell (track coach) of Westchester; Vern Wolfe (track coach) of Gardena; Bob Meusel of Los Angeles and Willie Davis of Roosevelt (baseball); Dora Dome of Fairfax and Trisha Stafford-Odum of Westchester (basketball); Aaron Rosenberg of Fairfax and Charles White of USC (football); Dallas Bixler (Los Angeles) and Armando Vega (Wilson) for gymnastics; Waldir Guerra (Bell) and Chris Pezzulo (Narbonne) for soccer; Helen Pastall Perez (Fremont), John “Budge” Patty (Los Angeles) and Joe Hunt (Fairfax) for tennis; Jodi Anderson (Washington High) and Danny Everett (Fairfax) for track and field; Ninja Jorgensen (Los Angeles) for volleyball; and George Retzer (Los Angeles) for wrestling.