LONG BEACH — It was the kind of media attention a star high school athlete usually dreams about. Front page headlines and photos in the local newspaper. Reporters calling his house at all hours of the day and night. Coverage from television stations and national exposure from the Associated Press.
But these were not the headlines of a hero. This was not the acclaim sought by a star high school quarterback with a scholarship to play football at UCLA.
Robert David (Bobby) San Jose is one of the most celebrated quarterbacks to come out of Wilson High School, but his arrest in May on suspicion of petty theft and offering to sell cocaine threatened an abrupt end to a promising athletic future.
Although prosecutors eventually declined to file charges against San Jose, the school district Board of Education refused to let him return to classes at Wilson. The board said it was in San Jose's "best interests" that he earn his diploma through home study or at another Long Beach campus.
Although the chain of events certainly rocked San Jose and his family, the athlete says he has come out of the arrest a stronger person.
"I think I've grown up faster than most high school kids," San Jose said. "I think I've learned from my mistakes."
UCLA Coach Terry Donahue says that San Jose--whom Donahue calls "a young-looking Joe Montana"--will be on the university campus next fall.
Donahue labeled as "ridiculous" rumors that San Jose would be dropped from UCLA after his freshman year because his situation had become a liability in Westwood.
"We bring athletes to UCLA for four or five years. We don't give one-year scholarships," he said.
While Donahue compares San Jose to Montana, Long Beach sports enthusiasts have compared his athletic ability to both Bobby Grich and Dennis Dummit, who 20 years earlier shared the quarterbacking duties at Wilson. Grich is now an all-star second baseman with the California Angels. Dummit was an all-Southern Section choice who went on to earn all-American honors as a quarterback at UCLA.
San Jose was a three-year football and basketball starter at Wilson, with the talent to perform with all-star ability in baseball as well. An articulate 18-year-old, he served as student body vice president in the fall semester.
At 6-1, 180 pounds, San Jose can sling a football down the field with little effort. He stood out in a program that lost more games than it won in his three years. In his final season, San Jose threw for nearly 1,100 yards and the team finished 6-3 overall, one of its best records.
When he begins practice at UCLA in the fall, San Jose hopes the numbers will speak louder than the words. He said that he fears he will be best remembered by this city's tightly knit athletic community more for the innuendo surrounding him than for his athletic accomplishments. He says he has been become a "paperboy" quarterback, tried in the media in front of the citizenry.
"This is the time I must prove myself," he said. "If I have it in me now, I know what's most important."
A prime goal of the drug sting operation at Wilson, according to Detective Mike Halliday of the Long Beach Police Department, was to "impact thoughts on campus" and in the community about drug abuse.
"There was no publicity seeking for some specific arrest within that group of people. The idea . . . of that operation was to bring to the attention of all students and selected people that we don't tolerate that type of behavior," said Police Sgt. Mike Hill, who headed the operation.
But San Jose and his supporters claim that he was singled out. They say his visibility in the city, and the fact that he was 18 years old (which permitted authorities to legally release his name to the press), made him a prize catch in a police "sting" operation that began in February without the knowledge of school officials.
The May 1 bust at Wilson received ample attention. When San Jose was summoned to the school nurses' office the Thursday of his arrest, he was greeted by a handful of police officers holding six other students--all juveniles--and a reporter and photographer from the Long Beach Press-Telegram.
Hill said he tipped a Press-Telegram reporter a day or so before the arrest that "an investigation" would culminate at Wilson High. He said the reporter and a photographer rode in his squad car to the school to witness the arrests.
Hill says he "doesn't remember specifically" if he mentioned San Jose by name, or his legal age, when he contacted the reporter. But, he said, in the course of their conversation that information "probably was" mentioned.
On the morning after San Jose's arrest, both the Press-Telegram and The Times carried stories of the arrest.
"I feel Bobby has been tried in the media and he won't get a retraction," Bobby's mother, Jeanie, said after his arrest.