Ygnacio Valley High honors four at its two main athletic facilities

Ygnacio Valley High honors four at its two main athletic facilities

Ygnacio Valley High honors four at its two main athletic facilitiesFourth in a series about athletic facilities at eight local high schools. Read previous articles: Mt. Diablo High athletic facilities | Clayton Valley Charter High athletic facilities | Concord High athletic facilities

CONCORD, CA—Three coaches and the school’s first principal have been honored with designations of facilities in their names on the Ygnacio Valley High School campus in the gymnasium and stadium.

Ygnacio Valley opened in 1962 on the western edge of Concord where two more high schools —De La Salle and Carondelet — adjacent to the campus would also open within three years. In every decade from the 1960s through the beginning of the 2020 decade in February, Warrior teams have earned North Coast Section championships.

Dr. Ernest Wutzke was principal for the first 25 years at Ygnacio Valley and upon his retirement in 1986 the school gymnasium was named in his honor. Hall of Fame coach Jim Grace this year was honored when the floor in Wutzke Gym was named Jim Grace Court.

Dick Ryan was the football coach at Ygnacio Valley from the time the school opened until 1976, coaching an exciting brand of football and had many of his players go on to successful careers in college and professional sports. Richard Ryan Stadium is now the home of Warrior football, soccer and lacrosse teams. Ironically, neither soccer nor lacrosse were official high school sports in the area for the majority of his tenure at Ygnacio.

Surrounding the artificial playing surface of Ryan Stadium is the all-weather Bob Giardina Track named in honor of the school’s successful track and field coach. Among Warrior track and field team members to excel in the stadium is two-time United States Olympian Kristin Heaston.

Richard Ryan Stadium

Ryan was born in Chicago and played college football for University of North Dakota as a halfback and wide receiver. He graduated with Bachelor and Master’s degrees from the school.

He developed Warrior football from the ground up into one of the Bay Area’s top football programs. His legacy includes former Ygnacio Valley football players making their mark in college and pro sports as players, coaches and executives.

Among his honors was being named the 1973 North coach for the annual North-South Shrine All-Star game that was held each summer in the Los Angeles Coliseum. He also surrounded himself with excellent coaches including Kent Robie (who succeed Ryan at Ygnacio), Bob Burkhart and Jack Biglins.

The school named the football stadium in his honor at the first home game of the 2014 season. One of his former players Jack “Scooter” Warren, a 2014 inductee to the school’s hall of fame, wrote the dedication speech, saying “We are honored tonight to recognize one of the most important figures in the history of Ygnacio Valley High School.”

Among the athletes who played for Ryan was Gordon Gravelle, a two-time Super Bowl winning lineman with the Pittsburgh Steelers after an all-America career at BYU. Gravelle also played in a Super Bowl for the Los Angeles Rams.

Kiko Garcia, a multi-sport star at YVHS who Ryan successfully converted to quarterback in his senior year, went on to a 10-year Major League Baseball career, including a starring role for the Baltimore Orioles in the 1979 World Series when he batted .400.

Garcia succeeded all-America QB Mike Sullivan for the 1970 season after Sullivan had gone to the University of Oregon where another ex-Warrior, Jim Anderson, was the starting fullback. Sullivan won a Super Bowl 50 ring with the Denver Broncos where he was the director of football administration (aka the Broncos’ cap wizard for a majority of the John Elway front-office era).

Another Warrior great who Ryan coached and influenced was Mike Bellotti, the all-time winningest football coach at Oregon, who is also the third all-time winningest coach in the Pac-12 conference.

Gravelle, Garcia, Robie and Bellotti were all inducted to the school’s Hall of Fame in its augural 2013 class along with coach Ryan. In 2017, Sullivan was installed in the Hall, joining a host of former Ryan players and coaches including his undefeated 1971 Turkey Bowl championship team.

Warren’s speech concluded, “We celebrate his victories, we celebrate his successes, but more than anything else we celebrate a gentleman who taught young men how to become real men.  We celebrate a gentleman who taught young men the importance of applying themselves in their academic work in the classroom – for treating their teachers and fellow students with respect and dignity. He was much more than a successful football coach; he was a positive role model to many – a man who was more focused on building character and instilling strong personal values than winning football games.”

Ygnacio Valley has also had alumni Chris Walsh, Rich Martini and Dave Zawatson all make it to the NFL. Walsh went from Stanford to the NFL and played in two Super Bowls for the Minnesota Vikings. Martini made it to a Super Bowl with the Oakland Raiders while Zawatson was a two-time all-Pac 10 player for Cal before playing or four NFL teams.

Bob Giardina Track

At Napa High School, Giardina played football, basketball, baseball and swimming. He played football at Napa Junior College and College of the Pacific (now UOP) as a running back.

Following college, he was commissioned a lieutenant in the Marine Corps, serving actively for three years and, remaining in the reserves reaching the rank of colonel. All of his athletes and fellow coaches referred to him as “General.”

Giardina taught many future Ygnacio Valley athletes at nearby Oak Grove Intermediate before he came to Ygnacio Valley in 1964.

He was head track and field coach for 15 years besides frosh and JV football duties. In 1968 his squad won the DVAL track and field championship and then tied powerhouse Pittsburg for the North Coast Section Valley Division boys title. He was named DVAL coach of the year.

Another of his legacies at the school was starting and sponsoring Block Y. It became the most successful club at YV and it was all due to Giardina’s energy tirelessly promoting sports at the school.

After his induction to the school Hall of Fame in 2015 it was announced the school track was going to be named in Giardina’s honor.

No track and field athlete from Ygnacio Valley has approached the success of 1993 grad Kristin Heaston, a two-time CIF State Meet champion and the 2003 American indoor and outdoor national champion in the shot putt. Heaston repeated as 2005 national outdoor champ. She still holds the NCS shot putt record by an incredible five feet, 27 years after her record toss. She is also second all-time in the Section discus rankings.

Heaston represented the United States at the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Olympic Games as well as the 2003 World Championships. At the 2004 Olympics she became the first woman ever to compete at the ancient site Olympia. She traveled around the world competing for the USA and for her club team.

Another YVHS female track and field standout was multi-sport star Shanita Bryant Williams, who was a three-time NCS long jump champion in 1998, 1999 and 2000. She was second at CIF State Meet as a senior (missing first-place by 3.25 inches) and seventh the year before. Bryant still holds the school long jump record at Sacramento State set in 2001.

Ygnacio Valley has also had some big team accomplishments in track and field. The 1968 boys team tied powerhouse Pittsburg for the 1968 NCS Valley Division championship with long jumper George Gage and shot putter Rolin Luka both winning their specialties at the NCS Meet of Champions. Double DVAL sprint champion Jim Anderson was another team mainstay. Luka went on to take second and Gage fourth at the CIF State Meet.

In 1988 the boys took the NCS 3A track and field title. Sprinter Darrell King took a first and second, John Barry won the 300 intermediate hurdles and Warrior 400 and 1600 relays each won championships. This time, YV outscored nearest rival Pitt for the team title.

Wutzke Gymnasium

Another Warrior immortal with North Dakota roots was original principal Wutzke, a native of the state.  Ernie served in the Navy and then went to the University of North Dakota, graduating with Bachelor and Master’s degrees. He eventually got his doctorate degree from the University of California.

Dr. Wutzke came to Ygnacio Valley to open the school in 1962 and stayed until he retired in 1986.

“Smilin’ Ernie,” as he was affectionately called because he always had a great big smile when he greeted you, loved sports.

He left Willows High in 1961 to begin planning and assembling a staff for Ygnacio Valley. One of his recruits came from Willows: Dick Ryan. It is said Wutzke “was a coach’s dream, as long as you acted correctly on and off the field of play.”

He supported the school’s coaches as YVHS became known for outstanding teams in many sports during his tenure. Girls volleyball, swimming and diving, track and field, boys golf and cross country all won NCS championships. Other sports would have taken similar honors had there been NCS competition in the 1960s and 70s.

Ygnacio Valley boys basketball was never better than in 1987 and 1988. The Warriors were led by the 1-2 punch of standout 6-9 center Eric Bamberger and Chris Walsh, a future NFL player.

In the 1986-87 season the team won the Northern California championship and lost to Mater Dei in the state Division I championship game in the Oakland Coliseum Arena. The duo followed that up in their 1987-88 senior year when Bamberger was named All-State and the Warriors won the North Coast Section Division II title in triple overtime.

Most recently YVHS girls basketball has won back-to-back Diablo Athletic League Valley Division titles.

Also, on the gym floor in Concord, the Warriors girls volleyball teams won the 1981 and 1983 NCS championships.

Not only was the school gymnasium named in Wutzke’s honor but also the school’s administrative building. He had a great response to teachers and staff who came into his office to complain about an issue. He would simply say, “Don’t come in here to complain unless you have a solution!”

The first principal of Ygnacio Valley died in April 2013.

Jim Grace Court

When the school decided to name its basketball court for long-time coach Grace, there was one main stumbling block. He did not want to draw attention to himself and it took athletic director Mark Tran a long-time to get Grace to settle on the place where his name was added this summer when the court surface was refurbished.

Grace was inducted in the school’s Hall of Fame twice in 2014. He was honored as a long-time coach but also with his 1987 boys varsity basketball team that reached the State Division I basketball championship game before losing to Mater Dei. The previous week the Warriors won the Northern California playoffs 56-54 in overtime over James Logan in the title game, led by school hall of famers Bamberger and Walsh.

He was a three-time Contra Costa coach of the year during his 35 years at Ygnacio Valley as a teacher, coach and athletic director. His 1988basketball team followed up the NorCal championship by winning NCS.