The Tracy Sports Hall of Fame banquet on Saturday night at the Tracy Elks Lodge was a reunion for people who have made athletic excellence the cornerstone of their lives and friendships.
Brad Smith, Tracy High Class of 1980, was inducted into the hall of fame for his football and track and field accomplishments at Tracy High. He traveled from his home in Florida to accept the honor and took the opportunity in turn to recognize former coaches — including Wayne Schneider, Dutch Grose, Manuel Costa, Mike Miller — as valuable mentors to his generation.
“Tracy was just a great place for me to grow up, go to high school and play football,” Smith told the crowd. “There were so many advantages for athletes here in the late 1970s.”
With many former Tracy High coaches already in the hall of fame — including Schneider, Don Nicholson and Bill Swenson, who were in attendance Saturday — Smith said he was honored to join a prestigious list. That list also includes his track and field coach, Henry Welch, who was inducted Saturday night for his longtime dedication to Bulldog track and field and Tracy Junior Olympics athletes.
“When found out that I was inducted, one of the things that made me smile was to be here on the same program as Coach Welch,” Smith said.
Welch got the evening’s standing ovation after he spoke of the teaching and coaching environment during his 35-year career at Tracy High, including 26 years, from 1957 to 1982, as the Bulldogs’ track and field coach.
“Tracy High School, when I would put on meets, they would give me teachers and sometimes administrators to help me put on the meet,” he said, adding that it was easy to love his job when he saw how much student-athletes enjoyed their role on his teams. “The athletes were very inspirational to me, and they helped me advance through the years.”
Tom Bonin, who introduced Welch, got to know his coach through Junior Olympics and looked forward to workouts, often arriving to practice before any of the other athletes.
“Nobody else was there but one person, and that was Henry Welch. Henry Welch was always there, making chalk lines for Tracy Junior Olympics for the next day,” Bonin said. “He didn’t get paid for this. He did it for the community.
“He brought things out in people. You learned honor, respect and sportsmanship.”
Former Tracy High swimming and water polo coach Steve Donahue recognized others who helped him during his career, including Jim and Chuck Ennis, his own coaches, and Pinkie Phillips, who developed the Tracy Tritons swim club during Donahue’s tenure as the Tracy High swim coach.
“By the time I got the kids, they knew how start, they knew how to swim, they knew everything, and I’m glad they named the West High swim complex after her,” Donahue said.
He also echoed the sentiment of the night — of working in a town where the schools, athletes and families were all devoted to athletics.
“Tracy is a great place to work. I was here 37 years, and I never once thought of going anywhere else to go anywhere else ,” Donahue said. “There was just a certain atmosphere here in Tracy. No matter how big it gets, there’s still that personable, small-town atmosphere, and I love it.”
Tracy’s sports tradition now includes figures who grew up as Bulldogs and then helped the town make the transition to its second high school.
Former West High Athletic Director Steve Thornton introduced inductee Steve Lopez. The two were among the original coaches at West High and had to make their own transitions from Bulldogs to Wolf Pack when the school opened in 1993.
“That was a difficult move for Steve (Lopez),” Thornton said. “Remember, he’s a Tracy guy, and he bled green and gold. He made a decision to go to West High, and at that time, it wasn’t a very popular thing,” Thornton said.
“It became a great move for him and certainly for West High School. West High School has never been as successful as they were when Steve Lopez was the head football coach.”
Thornton added that as the crosstown rivalry between Tracy and West took hold, Lopez gave his former colleagues at Tracy High reason to be jealous. In 14 crosstown football games from 1996 until his retirement in 2009, Lopez led West to 9-5 record against Tracy, including an 8-2 run between 1997 and 2006.
Lopez was humble about his accomplishments, crediting Nicholson and Schneider with teaching him how to coach football and thanking others around him for supporting his achievements as a coach.
“The success I had (at West High), it’s easy to say it was all up to me, but I hardly did anything. I got some really good coaches, … and then we also had some great players. You wonder why were beating Tracy so much? Well, we had better athletes, and I tried to stay out of everybody’s way so we could win.”
West High also got recognition with induction of the 2001-02 girls basketball team. Joe Lawrence, the team’s coach, said he knew from the start that it was a special group, even before the Wolf Pack went 30-2 for the season.
Sara Ross, who lives in Vacaville, and Dominique Carter, who lives in Santa Clara, were the only players who made it to the banquet. They said that playing on the team and the lesson of working hard to achieve big goals were important parts of their education at West High.
“It’s always great being part of a team, especially one that’s so successful,” Ross said. “It really helps shape the rest of your life, being able to commit to something and work so hard. I’m proud to even be a small part of this team.”
Lisa Anastasio, Tracy High Class of 1998, was a three-sport athlete and a softball star at Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina. She didn’t make it to Saturday’s event, but her grandmother, Jeffie Evans, said Lisa is getting her own five daughters involved in sports. The oldest, an eighth-grader, is already playing on varsity team at her local high school.
Tracy High baseball coach Vic Alkire was recognized, as were his son Stevie and daughter Sunny. Another son, Richie, lives in Michigan and was unable to attend.
“This honor means a lot to me tonight, primarily because I get to do it with my family,” Vic Alkire said. “To have your children here being inducted at the same time as you is really important to me.”
Stevie Alkire added that he was happy to see his former coaches at the dinner, including the mentors who inspired him to become a coach.
“After playing sports, and my career being over, it’s men like you that inspire me to go in and keep giving back and keep coaching, and I’m still coaching today,” he said.
Former Tracy High football coach Wayne Schneider introduced the 1971 Bulldogs, who had 19 players from their 45-player roster in attendance Saturday.
“This 1971 team was an outstanding team, but they just had a great attitude. They worked hard and they were an easy team to coach,” Schneider said.
Team member Greg Smith, who went on to a career teaching and coaching at Tracy High, described a football experience that started in his freshman year with frosh coach Emmett Lee and continued under junior varsity coach Don Nicholson and then varsity coach Schneider.
Team member David Kaiser added that playing for the Bulldogs was a dream that all boys in Tracy aspired to, and he and his peers would make the most of that opportunity.
“We grew up here. It was a small town, and we were only going to go to one high school. It was a blue-collar town, and we all knew where we were going to high school.”