School spirit was very much in evidence at Millikan last Friday night. Photo by Jim "Woody" Woods.
"Why are they crying?" asked a Millikan football player last Friday night, gesturing toward a group of middle-aged gentlemen who had returned to the playing field of their youth to help honor Millikan's late, great head football coach, Dick DeHaven.
Someday, like those Ram alumni, the young athlete might return to Millikan, decades after graduating, and understand what the tears were for when he recalls the camaraderie, the excitement and the tough lessons learned during his high school football years.
From 1965 through the late '80s, including a 15-year run as head coach, Dick DeHaven was the face of the Millikan football program, leading countless young men into battle on the Millikan gridiron and helping them build the foundation for lives of excellence and integrity. On Friday night, at halftime of a game between the Rams and the visiting Downey Vikings, Millikan re-dedicated its football stadium in honor of DeHaven, who brought two C.I.F. championships ('77 and '79) and a true old-school football pedigree to the school
Head Coach Dick DeHaven (foreground, in letterman's jacket) surrounded by the players and coaches of the 1979 C.I.F. champions, the Millikan Rams.
"I drove by last night when the tarp was still covering the name, and the tears rolled down my cheeks," said Brad DeHaven, Dick's son, an '84 Millikan graduate. "It was an amazing moment. My Dad was so humble, though, that I don't think he would allow something like this to happen while he was alive."
Dick DeHaven, who was a star player for the Blue Streaks of Sandusky High in Ohio in the mid-'50s, picked up the knack for coaching early, at the dinner table: His Father Jeff was Sandusky High's head coach. Dick went on to excel on both sides of the ball at Ohio Wesleyan University, and had a brief stint with the Dallas Cowboys in the early '60s.
Plenty of school spirit was in evidence last Friday at Millikan, but in 1965, when DeHaven started coaching at Millikan, high school football occupied a different, more essential place in the community than it does now. Kids played for the school in their neighborhood, and didn't transfer at will. Coaching staffs took years to develop together.
On Friday nights, the town was abuzz with the energy of the high school football games. The Millikan-Lakewood game would often draw 14,000 fans to Veterans Stadium, and they'd rock to the sounds of 120-piece marching bands.
Local sports reporters in suits and fedora hats could be seen on the sidelines, note pads in hand. After games, kids and fans would congregate at the Bob's Big Boy on Bellflower Boulevard, the patio at the Golden Lantern on Palo Verde Avenue or the counter at the Thrifty Drug across the street, where, for a quarter, they could select five of their favorite hits from the jukebox. During DeHaven's first football season, they might have picked "Help!" or "Yesterday" by the Beatles, or "I Hear A Symphony" by The Supremes.
Each year, in the sweltering mid-summer heat, the football team at Millikan would begin practice. DeHaven and his squad of coaches would lead with unquestioned authority, putting the team through relentless toughness and conditioning drills, developing teamwork, always stressing the importance of the "we" before the "I."
"The program they ran here taught us discipline, taught us to be focused, taught us to have goals, and all that carried over into adulthood," said Randy Hausauer, a retired Long Beach police officer who played offensive and defensive tackle on DeHaven's '77 C.I.F. championship team. "It was a great foundation. They taught us everything that was important about success in life."
Hausauer was one of many former Ram coaches and players on Friday night who used the word "family" to describe the football culture created by DeHaven and his staff.
"My Dad passed away a week before my junior season," said Randy. "It was a real critical time in my life, and the coaches sort of became my surrogate fathers. Coach DeHaven and his wife had me over to their house to have dinner with them, creating that family environment. It's something I hold dear to this day."
"Dick DeHaven had incredible integrity," said Ram legend Dave Radford, who was a member of Millikan's first football team in 1956. Radford joined DeHaven's coaching staff in 1977 and succeeded DeHaven as head coach in '85.
"Kids believed in Coach DeHaven, and believed in what he would tell them," said Radford. "He was extremely focused. In all my years of football, he was the greatest game-night coach I've ever seen."
DeHaven will be remembered for making one of the most courageous play-calls in C.I.F. playoff history: After scoring late in the game and pulling within one point of Compton in the 1979 C.I.F. championship game at Anaheim Stadium, DeHaven disdained going for the tie and made the gutsy call; a two-point conversion for the win. The Rams were successful, and the second C.I.F. title in three years was theirs.
"We were never allowed to brag or hold up the 'number one' unless we were really were number one,"said Dan Barrett, a member of the '79 championship team. "So when we were in the locker room at Anaheim Stadium after we won the '79 C.I.F. championship, and Coach DeHaven got down on one knee and put his finger in the air saluting number one, it was a crowning achievement for our team."
Coach Radford and his successor in the early '90s, Dave Shawver, see big differences today in the students and in high school football itself, compared to the DeHaven era. "We see two things," said Radford. "Kids identities have changed, from a collective identity to an individual identity, and secondly, today we have too many parents who care more about their kid's performance than they do about their character."
Coach Shawver elaborated: "In those days we had eight coaches. We used to sleep here on campus from Friday through Sunday getting ready for the next game, and we had a chance to really relate to the kids because they were our students [many coaches also taught in the classroom back then]. These days, many coaches just aren't on campus for their kids," said Shawver.
This touchdown pass from Kijjon Foots to Malik Bradford was one of the few bright spots for Millikan Friday night during a 48-21 loss Friday night against the Downey Vikings. Photo by Jim "Woody" Woods.
Tony Peralta, who played on DeHaven's '77 championship squad and succeeded Dave Shawver as Millikan's head coach in 1993, cited "a mercenary ethic" among both players and coaches as the biggest change affecting high school football today. "What you see now is walk-on coaches who aren't teachers here, who don't have the longevity. It's difficult for staffs to stay in one place any longer," said Peralta. "People want to get somewhere fast, and aren't willing to persevere, grow and develop."
Kirk King, a former Marine Corps drill instructor, coaching colleague of DeHaven's and one of the most fearsome men ever to walk the Millikan campus, had a different outlook on Friday night. "I think that among football players there's not that much of a difference between then and now. They still get that fire inside, that yearning that needs to be stoked."
Dick DeHaven's son Brad with his own sons Blake (L) and Brady (R). Photo by Jim "Woody" Woods.
Perhaps this year's Ram team gained a measure of inspiration from the tribute they saw Friday night. Entering Moore League play at 0-4, the Rams will next face the Lakewood Lancers, whom they haven't beaten in a decade and a half. A win against their archrival would turn the tide this season, get the coveted Hamilton Trophy back to Millikan, and wake up the echoes of Coach DeHaven, whose name now looks down upon Millikan's football field.
"Dick kind of named the stadium when he started coaching here," said Kirk King. "It just took us a little while to catch up. It was a privilege to coach with him."
Above left, top: Dick DeHaven during his playing days at Ohio Wesleyan University in the late '50s.
Above, right: Newspaper clipping about DeHaven's high school football exploits, from 1955.
Above, left, bottom: From the Millikan yearbook, 1969. Photo courtesy of Qione Holmes and Millikan High School