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MILITARY GLORY : Service Teams, in Their Heyday, Won Championships, Thrilled the Fans

June 13, 1986|STEVE DOLAN | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Long before Dan Fouts or Tony Gwynn came along, San Diego had its share of sports heroes.

Some of the more prominent from the 1930s to the 1950s were Tex Guentert, Albert Jantz, Bill Asimos, Robert (Bull) Trometter and A. C. Raimondi.

None made a name for himself in professional sports. But all had a tremendous impact on the people of San Diego.

Back then, military sporting events were considered the "in" place to be in San Diego. That was before the Padres, Chargers, Sockers or even television.

Military sports began declining during the Vietnam War and never had the same impact thereafter. In a changing world, military sports changed their emphasis from varsity to intramural competition.

Among the best military football teams in San Diego was the Battle Force of the Navy. The team lasted three years, posting a 16-3 record from 1931 to 1933.

Tom Hamilton, an All-American halfback at the Naval Academy in 1926, was player-coach for the Battle Force.

In 1931, the Battle Force defeated the Army All-Stars, 17-0, marking the first time a Navy team had beaten the Army All-Stars since the series began in 1925. In 1932, the Battle Force defeated the Army All-Stars, 32-0. Both games were played in front of 70,000 fans in California's Memorial Stadium in Berkeley on Armistice Day, Nov. 11.

"The first year (1931) was the first time the Navy put together a combined team," said Hamilton, retired commissioner of the Pacific 10 Conference. "Before that, we put a winning team from the battleships or submarines against an Army all-star team from west of the Mississippi. Then we organized a fleet team and took the best players from submarines, battleships, cruisers and so forth."

At the time, the Battle Force also was superior to the San Diego Marines, beating the Marines in 1931 (24-10), 1932 (13-0) and 1933 (14-7). All three games were played in front of capacity crowds at Balboa Stadium.

"I coached at the Naval Academy and Pitt," Hamilton said, "and I never had the manpower that I had with the squad out here."

The Marines, meanwhile, were having difficulty with San Diego State as well. They finally beat the Aztecs, 13-0, in 1932, the 11th year of the series.

On the upswing, the Marines pulled an upset in 1933 by defeating Santa Clara, 14-7, at Balboa Stadium.

"Santa Clara had been to the Sugar Bowl two years in a row before we beat them," said Jean (Cheesy) Neil, a member of the 1933 Marine team. "The next week, we went out and got beat by UCLA, 14-13. We had six guys on our team who could kick extra points. The guy we selected had hurt his foot and didn't tell anybody. I was so mad at him."

The Marines might have been at their best in 1939 and 1940. They were defeated only once--a 12-2 loss to Oregon in 1939--in those two seasons under Coach Elmer Hall.

Bull Trometter, who played for the Marines from 1935 to 1940, said his team had a numbers advantage.

"There were 26,000 or 27,000 Marines in service then," said Trometter, retired athletic director from University High School. "We had two teams, San Diego on the West Coast and Quantico on the East Coast. You're talking about 40 people on our team and 80 people total on the two teams."

Service teams also played basketball, and the 1957 San Diego Marines won the All-Marine basketball championship by defeating Quantico, 68-62.

The San Diego Marines also won the National Baseball Congress championship against semipro teams in 1957.

Earl Wilson, who later pitched for Boston, Detroit and the Padres, was the Marines' top player. He had a 126-109 record in his major league career, which began two years after the Marines won their baseball championship.

Football returned to prominence in the early 1960s, the Marines going 38-6 under Coach Scotty Harris and advancing to bowl games three straight years.

The military always had a recruiting advantage when the draft was on. Athletes were not exempt from the draft.

"During the war years, all of the name athletes were in some branch of the service," said Stan Winters, special services director at Naval Training Center from 1945 to 1980. "The sports tapered off after World War II, but there was still good competition. Then came the Korean thing in the 1950s, and people were pressed back into the service. After that, things tapered off again and the big names were not forced into the services. Schools like USC and UCLA wouldn't play us any longer because we didn't have the big-name athletes."

SDSU remained on the Marines' football schedule until 1963. However, that series concluded after the Marines won a disputed 16-12 game in 1963.

Recalled Bob Moss, then a player for the San Diego Marines: "We had a controversial call near the end of the game. One of the San Diego State players was called for pass interference at the goal line. When we lined up, one of their players intentionally jumped offside and decked our halfback. Both benches emptied. After that was cleared up, we went on to score the touchdown and win the game."

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