The Names Behind Our Fields and Stadiums
Gene “Skip” Rowland Field Wilson High School On the corner of Seventh Street and Park Avenue, the Wilson Bruins baseball team plays at Gene “Skip” Rowland Field. The late Skip Rowland was an icon and a legend in the entire Long Beach sports community. “Everyone was scared to even say a word to him because he was such a legend,” Rowland’s long time friend, Dan Gooch said. “It took me years to get the courage to say something, but he was like a father figure to me.” Rowland played football, basketball, and baseball at Wilson in the 1940’s where he was All-City and All-League, while adding All-CIF honors in both football and baseball. He was named Long Beach Football Player of the Year in 1943 before attending college at UCLA where he lettered in football and baseball all four years. Rowland remains the only athlete to letter in both football and baseball for all four years in UCLA history. He was an All-Conference performer once for football and twice for baseball and followed it up with a short stint playing baseball professionally.
After his playing days, Rowland made his way back to Wilson where he coached and mentored some of the city’s elite athletes such as former Major League Baseball All-Star Bobby Grich and nine-year NFL veteran Jeff Severson. Rowland spent 14 years as Wilson’s baseball coach, 11 years as the football coach and 17 years as the golf coach. He accumulated over 396 wins, including 24 combined Moore League titles, and one CIF championship. “Long Beach is blessed to have many coaches stick around the community for years,” Gooch said. “(Rowland) was stern, but soft-spoken and all he demanded was effort.” His accomplishments on the field are well know as he was inducted into six different Halls of Fame. Rowland was inducted in the Wilson, Long Beach Baseball, UCLA Baseball, UCLA Athletics, CIF and Long Beach Century Club Halls of Fame showing the impact he’s had on Long Beach and Southern California sports in general. Even after his coaching days were over, Rowland continued to serve his high school by helping found the Wilson Alumni Golf Tournament, which he helped run for 25 years. The proceeds went to the Wilson Athletic Department. Rowland’s presence continues to be felt by the Long Beach community and his name will forever be a part of Wilson folklore.
Joe Rodgers Stadium and Red Meairs Field 4900 East 7th Street
Joe Rodgers is known as “the father of softball” in Long Beach. The stadium that now bears his name was once the home of the best men’s softball team in the entire country: The Long Beach Nitehawks. “Long Beach was the fastpitch capital of the United States when the Nitehawks were playing in the 1950s,” long-time fan and Long Beach resident Dan Gooch said. “Joe Rodgers was the conductor.” Rodgers was the founder, owner, and manager of the Nitehawks and scrounged money from sponsors to help his teams play in the International Softball Congress world championships. He managed the Nitehawks to seven ISC world titles and earned a spot into both the ISC and Helms Halls of Fame. According to Gooch, Nitehawks games were the hot spot to be during the Summer in the 1950s. The stadium was electric and standing room only for watching some of the best fastpitch softball players in the world. “It was such a great experience,” Gooch said. “It cost 25 cents to get in, but most of us young kids would try to sneak in to avoid the cost.” “Some games would last 20-plus innings,” he added. “It was incredible.” Rodgers always had the Long Beach community in mind and was the original owner of the land where the Nitehawks would play (formerly known as Park Avenue Field). So when the team disbanded in 1988, he donated the land and the field to the city for the up-and-coming softball players in Long Beach, helping keep the sport alive. The facility was renamed in Rodgers’ honor and then again in 2009 as Red Meairs Field at Joe Rodgers Stadium. Meairs took over for Rodgers after his retirement and was also inducted in the ISC Hall of Fame. He played on all seven of Rodgers’ ISC world title teams and also managed the Nitehawks to three more world championships before 1988. Red Meairs Field at Joe Rodgers Stadium continues to play host to many of the marquee Moore League softball matchups and late-night slowpitch games in the city. Just as Rodgers’ suspected, the elite athletes that cycle through Long Beach continue to carry his legacy.
Ron Palmer Pavilion Long Beach Polytechnic High School The basketball championship banners that hang in the Poly High School gymnasium paint a picture of Ron Palmer’s success as a basketball coach. During Palmer’s 25 years at Poly, he finished with a unheard of 609-150 record with 20 Moore League titles, eight CIF championships, including 15 trips to the championship game, three state titles and national title in 1984. He was named CIF coach of the year seven times, and national coach of the year once. He also received the Helms Foundation’s John Wooden Award in 1999. Palmer coached professional athletes such as Hall of Fame baseball player Tony Gwynn and 15-year NFL veteran Willie McGinnest, among others. At Poly’s peak as a basketball program, there were 14 Jackrabbit alumni playing Division I college basketball all at the same time. Palmer remains a legend in his own building at Poly. When he goes to watch a game, it’s not uncommon for the crowd will surround him as he enters the pavilion. Palmer’s a winner and a person all coaches strive to be.
Joe Hicks Memorial Field Long Beach City College Long-time head baseball coach Joe Hicks always stuck to his I.D.E.A.L.S. as it says on his memorial at Long Beach City College’s (LBCC) baseball field: Intelligence Dependability Enthusiasm Attitude Loyalty Stick-to-it-iveness That was the Viking way and a reason for the program’s success when Hicks was at the helm. Hicks coached the Vikings from 1950 to 1975 and led them to 13 conference championships, six Southern California championships and three state championships. He finished with a record of 513-253, which is second all-time in LBCC history behind current head coach Casey Crook. Crook recently passed Hicks on the all-time list in 2016. Hicks went to Banning High School in Wilmington before playing college baseball at UCLA. He also pitched two years in the St. Louis Browns organization. In 1969, Hicks was named California Community College Coach of the Year and since then has been inducted in four different halls of fame. He was inducted in the Long Beach Century Cub Hall of Fame in 1986, the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1988, the California Community College Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990 and the UCLA Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992.
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