1974: Coach Willie White Had Berkeley Championship Ready

Fourth in a Series


Almost all the coaches for the girls in the 1974 California State Track and Field Championships also coached the boys.

Berkeley High's Willie White was one of them, but with a big difference.

"I'd coached at Berkeley since 1969 but I fully expected to win the girls' team championship in 1974," said the now 81-year-old White, who still coaches with the East Oakland Track Gems. "We had sprinters, hurdlers, relay teams and jumpers."

In other words, he had a girls team, which isn't something that could be said for the vast majority of schools which sent mostly individuals to the first CIF-State Track and Field Championships that included girls. Many of those girls competed for the Berkeley East Bay Track Club.

White's girls, including his daughter Sharon, did indeed capture the first of his five state team titles for the girls, winning by three points, 13-10, over La Jolla High which had just one athlete, Janice Wiser, who swept the 100y and 220y.

In the 5-3-1 scoring format, Berkeley won the 440-yard relay and the 880-yard medley relay plus got three points when Marie Nickson finished second in the 220y at 25.1.

The Yellowjackets' team of Sharon White, Annette Robinson, Nickson and Terri Knight clocked a fine 47.5 in the 440 relay to win by a full second over Pasadena Muir. In the sprint medley (110-110-220-440), Berkeley's lineup of Robinson, White, Shirley Parker and Nickson beat L.A. Washington by another whole second at 1:46.4.

Although California and many other states had not officially introduced girls track to the high school program until Title IX came along, some states added girls before that.

As a result, national records were kept and both of the Berkeley relay teams improved on the old marks collected by the National Division for Girls' and Women's Sports. That 47.5 eclipsed the 47.8 run by Lebanon, Oregon, in 1966 and the 1:46.4 crushed the 1:48.3 by the same Lebanon High team.

Overall, the girls trimmed seven national records at the 1974 State Meet.   

"Adding the girls that year made it a little harder," said the gravely-voiced White. "There was twice as much work and since we couldn't add any coaches, we had to break it up.

"They weren't the best team we ever had, but they were good.

"The difference with the girls and boys is the girls were more excitable. For example, later on we were getting ready for the North Coast Section championships and some guy came over and told the girls the Howard Sisters (of Granada Hills Kennedy) had just broken our national record.

"The girls suddenly lost focus and before you knew it, we didn't even make it to the State Meet. That kind of thing happens more with girls."

White knew first-hand what it would take to win events and a team title. He won five girls team titles -- 1974, '76, '81, '82, 83 -- (second all-time only to Long Beach Poly's Don Norford, who won 14), and he also coached boys team champions in 1980 and '81.

In addition, White accounted for 15 of Los Angeles Jefferson's team-high 24 2/3 points in 1956 by winning the 100-yard dash in a state-record 9.5 seconds and the 180-low hurdles, becoming the first California athlete to dip under 19 seconds at 18.9. He also ran the fastest leg of the 880-yard relay team that set a national record of 1:25.9. He was the meet's only double winner.

In the first State Meet with girls, each section could only advance its champion. There would be no heats and finals for girls, just finals on Saturday. That certainly didn't help Berkeley which had a full team but couldn't take advantage of its depth.

Still, White said he could tell the crowd embraced adding the girls.

"I think the people enjoyed watching the girls," he said. "They worked hard, just like the boys and it didn't really slow the meet down.

"There were a lot of (girls) records set that day but we never coached running for records. We coached winning. If you ran a world record and finished second, you not only didn't win, you didn't really set a world record."

White's daughter Sharon, now Sharon Edwards, confirmed that the Yellowjackets were primed for the state title quest.

"He wanted to win and we started in the fall with cross country workouts," she said. "We meant business that year and my dad peaked us at just the right time. We were very disciplined and my dad always taught us to have a hunger to win.

"I felt everyone respected the girls that first year. I didn't feel like a pioneer or anything going to the state meet but I did feel that way about running track. Everyone I talked to at the State Meet said they were happy to have us there."

Willie White said he was aware that several major club teams felt threatened by the high school programs and heard that they discouraged their top athletes from running for their high school.

"They were wanting to keep control," said White. "But it's always about the competition and I could tell even back then that the girls were going to be a major addition. I encouraged all my club girls, even those from other schools, to run for their school.

"Of course, it wasn't nearly as good as it is now or would be a couple years later, but you knew what was coming."

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This is the fourth installment in a series of articles focusing on the first year girls were able to compete at the CIF-State Track and Field Championships. If you have further information on this event and/or its participants, please email Jeffrey.Parenti@flosports.tv.