School’s first principal, three alums honored at CVCHS athletic facilities

School’s first principal, three alums honored at CVCHS athletic facilities

School’s first principal, three alums honored at CVCHS athletic facilitiesThird in a series about athletic facilities at eight local high schools. Read related stories:

Clayton Valley High School opened in 1958 as Concord’s second high school in the midst of the housing and population boom that would turn the city into the largest in Contra Costa County.

Greeting the students at the new Alberta Way campus was principal Dan Della and his name is memorialized there 62 years later. The gymnasium where Ugly Eagles basketball, volleyball and wrestling teams compete and school assemblies and PE classes are held is named in his honor.

Three Clayton Valley graduates who have maintained strong ties to their alma mater are also honored at the school. Matt Mazzei (Class of 1971) spearheaded the refurbishing of the baseball complex that now bears his name.

Steve Gonsalves (1971) and his wife Debra Culum Gonsalves (1972) were the leading force in the fund-raising drive that transformed the football/soccer/lacrosse field with lights, artificial turf and other upgrades in the early part of this century into Gonsalves Stadium, home of the 2019 Division 2-AA State Championship football team.

The honorees have all been inducted to the school’s Hall of Fame as well. Dr. Della was in the inaugural 2008 Hall Class, fittingly on the 50th Anniversary of the school’s opening. The Gonsalves were inducted in 2013 and Mazzei two years later.

Dan G. Della Memorial Gymnasium

According to his Hall of Fame biography, Della was “known for his beaming smile, wonderful sense of humor, tremendous intelligence and respect for all who crossed the threshold of the Eagles. Dan inspired hundreds of teachers and thousands of students to reach for the stars in every endeavor.”

Della was an outstanding four-sport athlete in high school in Delano including taking third in the pole vault at the State Meet. He accepted a track scholarship to USC but later transferred to Fresno State and finally ended up at Cal Berkeley, playing football for the Golden Bears in 1943.

He served in the US Navy during World War II. With his two degrees from UC Berkeley he returned to teach and coach at his high school alma mater and even coached the 1948 Peruvian basketball team in the London Olympics. He was appointed to an International Olympic Committee on basketball that set many of the modern-day rules including widening the free throw lane.

He came to the Bay Area as an administrator at Pleasant Hill High before being tabbed as principal of the new Mt. Diablo Unified School District high school. He spent a year planning and shaping CVHS

With his athletic background as an athlete and coach it is no coincidence that Eagles athletic teams enjoyed so much success during his tenure. He took pride in the coaches that came through the program including Bob See, Bruce Iversen, Bill Smith, Vic Petroshene and Tom DiMercurio.

And he was especially proud of the girls program that started under his watch with coaches Gary Gardner, Karen Johnson, George Smylie, Larry Fogelstrom, Dennis Bledsoe, Roger Zino and others. Della was an ever-present figure at the school’s athletic games and meets.

Since it opened in 1958 the gym has been the site for many exciting basketball, volleyball and wresting competitions as well as school assemblies for tens of thousands of Clayton Valley students over the past 62 years.

Gym hosts championship teams

Clayton Valley wrestling had a strong run from 1967 to 1983. The Eagles of coach Smith were seven-time DVAL, 1977 and 78 North Coast Section and 1977 state wrestling champions. Coach Roger Zino won the first NCS title with his 1967 wrestlers and Glenn Scrimger’s 1972 wrestling squad also took home a Section title.

Al Ossello’s girls basketball team won the NCS Division II title in 1998 after Howard Marshall’s 1988 girls basketball won the DVAL title and was second at NCS, qualifying for the Northern California championships, a first for Clayton Valley basketball.

Della talked See into becoming the school’s first basketball coach. In 1960 in their second year of varsity basketball the Eagles stunned the league by winning the championship. They earned a berth in the prestigious Tournament of Championships where they lost in the second round when they scared mighty McClymonds with Paul Silas before losing to the Oakland powerhouse which won its 66th straight game.

Iversen took over for See the next season and was actually at the school longer than Della. He coached his exciting boys basketball teams over 800 times, finishing first or second 15 of 31 league seasons.

The dominant, ground-breaking CVHS girls volleyball teams of coach Gary Gardner won Section championships in 1976, ‘77 and ‘79.

Della took a leave of absence in 1969 and went to Colombia for the World Bank to help plan and build 19 large high schools. He returned to Clayton Valley until his 1981 retirement when the school yearbook called him “Mr. Clayton Valley.” Among the laurels Della received during his sendoff were a framed Block CV letter, the “Granddaddy Altair” award and the large sign signifying “Dan G. Della Memorial Gymnasium.”

Matt Mazzei Baseball Complex

Mazzei followed his brothers Mike and Chris to Clayton Valley, meaning he was already familiar with the school after attending sports events and extracurricular events for his older siblings. He played football, basketball and baseball and sang in the school concert choir.

He entered the family business working for his dad’s auto dealership while in high school. He also embraced his family’s tradition of community involvement including the new St. Bonaventure CYO track team in 1974. Eight years after graduating from Clayton Valley he took over the dealership from his dad, Slats Mazzei, while continuing the “Mazzei Way” of assisting local programs.

In 1987 when his children Angela and Matthew began swimming for the Dana Hills Swim Team, he noticed that the Clayton recreation team swimmers were competing in a 20-yard Cabana Club pool. He joined forces with his dad, brother-in-law Steve Sutton, friend Steve Gonsalves and Dana Hills parents Ray Vignola, John Benda and others to raise funds for a state-of-the-art 8-lane, 25-yard pool that is still the envy of teams near and far. The Otters have become a swimming powerhouse in the county in their pool.

As his children grew up, he was involved in Clayton Valley Little League and other local programs as well as many CVHS activities.

His son was on coach Bob Ralston’s baseball team and Mazzei enlisted friend Gonsalves and team parents to transform the 40-year-old baseball field much like the Dana Hills swim pool was done years earlier.

The Matt Mazzei Baseball Complex is now among the finest high school facilities in the Bay Area with scoreboard, unique covered batting cage with multiple hitting tunnels, dugout storage sheds, irrigation, bullpens and an outstanding field with a stunning view of Mt. Diablo for spectators.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that Ugly Eagles baseball is a perennial North Coast Section playoff contender, culminated by Ralston’s 2009 NCS championship team after several heartbreaking near misses. His Eagles teams finished second in the 2002, 2003 and 2011 playoffs.

Gonsalves Stadium

Steve Gonsalves and Debra Culum were high school sweethearts and have never lost their love for each other or their alma mater.

It is probably easier to list the things the Gonsalves have not been a part of than the lengthy athletic, educational, charitable, philanthropic and community endeavors they have supported with their talents, hard work, advocacy and financial backing. This applies to Clayton Valley High but also, Clayton and Concord churches, schools and other community organizations.

Steve Gonsalves was a two-time all-league basketball player for the Eagles and still holds the school career rebounding record. He also played football and golf before his 1971 graduation. Debra followed as a CV grad in ’72 after “the best years of her life” as a student, cheerleader and teaching assistant to Dee Billeter in the PE department.

Like Mazzei, Gonsalves joined his family business, eventually taking over from his Homebuilders Hall of Fame father Matt Gonsalves as president of Conco Companies based in Concord. Their daughters Kelli and Jennifer followed their parents as Clayton Valley grads.

The get-it-done Gonsalves duo stepped up when it became apparent that the school’s football field needed upgrading. In 1996 there was a new scoreboard due to a donation by alumni Mike and Laurie Rose and the first home football game since 1980 was played against Northgate. Two years later, a new press box was installed from the Gonsalves.

By 2004, lights illuminated a turf field, allowing for the first home night games on campus. With the Gonsalves’ leading the way, community and parental support raised the necessary funding to transfer Gonsalves Stadium into a site of school pride and a year-round community resource.

Football, track NCS titles

Since it became a charter school in 2012, Ugly Eagles teams coached by Tim Murphy won the school’s first four NCS football championships in 2012, ‘14, ‘15 and last year. In 2014, ‘15 and ‘19 they won Northern California Regional Bowl Games and last December won the 2019 State Division 2-AA championship.

Herc Pardi coached Clayton Valley football for 16 years, winning 107 games and taking three teams to the NCS championship game but fell just short each time of winning the title, including an incredible triple overtime 2003 game at Diablo Valley College against Las Lomas that ended 37-36.

The boys track and field team of coach Keisha Lowe won the NCS Tri-Valley meet in 2017 and ‘19 and tacked on the 2017 NCS Meet of Champions team crown. The boys team made a valiant challenge for the 2018 CIF State Meet championship, finishing third in the 100th edition of the nation’s top high school meet.

Boys and girls soccer and lacrosse teams have also enjoyed success in league play and advancing to NCS playoffs in the stadium.

Funds from MDUSD Measure C finished the entrance, concession stands and surrounding areas to match the interior of the stadium, which has a new green turf field this fall. Just no football until 2021.