MUNSON'S GAZETTA: The Servite Year

We're a long way from the season, not from the calendar maybe, but the blistering July heat makes the fall seem a lot farther off, as do the summer doldrums. I noticed we got us another Servite Friar, and as a sort of ex (1966-7) I have always been on the lookout for these So Cal guys. In recent years, Wynterswyck was from La Habra; after my year at Servite, I went to Sonora, which was in La Habra (although part of the Fullerton school district). Gallarda, and Alex Guerrero before him, were from Brea; my house straddled the Brea/Fullerton border. Pendergast is a Servite from Whittier-a fairly long haul (Servite is in Anaheim, not far from Disneyland, and no bus service 'cuz private). The Orange County area has been good to us, and I think Servite was one of the first schools there we started to recruit effectively  in the day. First guy I recall from there is Eric Andre who came here in '83. I went to Servite with his oldest brother (there were 16 or so of 'em) also a WR. 

Servite combined that odd conflation of football and Roman Catholicism epitomiized by Notre Dame (in the day) and emulated at all the Catholic  high schools. Servite then was 700 guys, 2 women, 50 or so clergy and  lay teachers. Our chief nemesis was Mater Dei (it had girls), a program that has achieved more national attention. FACT: when we played MD in '66 at Angel stadium, the 32,000+ plus crowd was a then CIF record. The president of Notre Dame called us before the game and his blessing was transmitted over the intercom.

The Order of Friar Servants of Mary (Servites) were all from Chicago, and the priory there was in a very tough neighborhood-a murder victim was found on its doorsteps, which was often related to us by the priests, who were by and large tough guys too. We said prayers before classes in the morning,  recited a Hail Mary before each class, and said prayers at the end of the day. Dennis Watson, my English teacher, also served as the Dean of Discipline (actual title) and had an office lined with paddles, each capable of delivering an effective "swat". And these were not trifling pats; Watson went 200 lbs. or so, and these were given with emphasis and an overhand that occassionally resulted in a tailbone getting nicked. I never got a swat, remarkable because I got a big red "F" in conduct.

Servite celebrated physical contact. I never got swatted, but I got damn near punched out a couple of times. Father Duplessis ("Dupey"-but don't let him catch you calling him that) was an extremely intense, passionate man. He taught Latin, and would walk around the class asking "Amasne Latinum?"("Do you love Latin?"). Invariably someone would respond "NO", or in Spanish "Si!" which got him a couple of knuckle slams in the head. But I must've pushed him too far one day-he went off. Yelling, bellowing even, he meant to slap but got the heel of his hand in several times to my face, his blows strong enough to turn my head. It hurt, brought tears to my eyes, and as I quietly sat at my desk Father realized he gone too far. He came back, got me and we stood at the back of the class as he told me how he only did that 'cuz he knew I was man enough to take it, unlike so-and-so (classmates, seated nearby and in complete earshot) who were no where near as tough. His attempt to deflect the situation worked, and I understood that he was genuinely penitent for what he'd done.

To give you an idea of the zeitgeist prevailing there, football players had "Hell Week", a pre-season week where they lived in the "gym" (very, very small, cramped even) and were woken at all hours of the night for drills.When they slept there were tapes playing subliminal messages ("you are very strong"). Arriving on campus for summer school before my freshman year as a 14 year old, I will never forget the baleful stares of the18 year old seniors with their new Mohawks as they lounged between practices, their summer tans offseting the gleaming white of their exposed scalps. For "Spirit WeeK' we shipped in a truckload of snow for a snowball fight, the seniors versus everyone. It ended up, as always, in a brawl, and I got knocked unconscious by a body shot delivered by Geoff Delapp, who would play for Cal and reportedly got sent to prison. The final event of the week was a basketball game between the seniors and the lay faculty. Other seniors began throwing pennies at the faculty, and then a real, serious,nose-breaking jaw-cracking fight ensued. Several seniors made the mistake of standing up to guys like Dennis-big mistake.The faculty provided a brief but unforgettable lesson in the difference between men and boys, and the senior class walked a much finer line the rest of the school year. 

That was the lay faculty, but the priests were no shrinking violets either. We played Compton that year; I'll never forget their team's powder blue shoes. We exchanged cheerleaders; now remember this 1966 and cheeleading was the staid "sis-coom-bah" stuff. Not these Compton sisters; they performed "Land of a 1,000 Dances",  gryating lasciviously, their behinds levitating but their faces saying "not even in your dreams white boys". We won, and there was an altercation outside the stadium. I remember seeing Father Paul holding his smock in an almost feminine fashion with his left hand whilst his right landed ringingly on every head within 15 feet. Brother Tim actually had been a boxer ("pugilist" as he characterized it); his face was marked by those years, and he is the only man I've ever met who actually was "ham handed". Fearless, relentless,  not even excited by the violence, he acquitted himself admirably despite being nearer to 60 than 50. 

I left after one year. When asked why I invariably come back to this. We had to carpool, so our moms had to take turns driving us. There we'd be in our ties (required), sitting geek-like in our moms' station wagons, and at least twice a week a carload of gorgeous So Cal girls ("California Girls" is right on, or at least was in '66), who'd spot us and giggle as though we were in dresses, which we might as well have been. I'd swear I wasn't going back and  the next year ('67) I went to Sonora in La Habra where on my first day I walked in the door and  smack into a girl's modern dance class. Such an image:lithe, long-limbed, insouciantly warming up in their black leotards near spray painted on, including my impossibly beautiful next door neighbor Barb Johnson.

And she didn't have a Mohawk. 

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