Bill Otta


Bill OttaPhysical Education and Athletics Instructor Bill Otta

I was on the faculty at Cypress College, and I'd known George Hartman for a number of years because he'd come out of the Anaheim district. I was actually hired here beginning as an athletic trainer. I did all the athletic injuries and took care of all insurance and rehabilitation. But also I had a background in sociology as well as health ed and first aid. So I had my first interview with Dr. Fred Bremer after talking with George Hartman; Fred was the dean of instruction at the time. I was a good mix because they knew I had junior college experience since I was at Cypress College. That was kind of a feather, too, because I was teaching sociology and health up there.

I was living in the Anaheim/Cypress area at the time, so it was a situation where I could start in a new college, and I could come here and get closer to the beach. I was here in 1968. A lot of people don't realize that our campus started up where Mission Hospital sits today, but then the next summer they took tractors and pulled all those buildings across the hills and down to where they sit today. So we really didn't start here until 1969. Another thing is that a lot of people don't realize that we were on the quarter system for quite a few years. Everybody wanted to change to the semester system, and I don't know how many years that was but probably five years or so. I think we started with about 800 students around here, 1,000 max.

Like I said, we were up at the Mission Hospital site, and we were in bungalows, so we traveled to football practice. We worked out of Capo High School, the old Capo High School down by the mission, the athletic field down there. Every day we would travel; the students would get in cars and drive themselves down there. We were always worried about the insurance part of it, but we didn't have buses and the money enough to do anything else. We'd all go down to the Capo High School down by the Mission in San Juan and work out there every day. Roy Stevens, who was our basketball coach at the time, worked out at various gyms and community rec centers in the area. Baseball was the same way. We lived out of suitcases and the back seats of our cars and went everywhere.

At first, we had group offices. Six or eight coaches would be in one large room, and there was never enough room. Students would come in to talk, and we couldn't really talk privately about a class or anything. But we were in large offices with eight desks probably for the first 10 or 12 years. You just learned to not think too much about it and everything. The rest of the faculty were in these little cubicles that were about six feet by seven feet in M or N Building. They were very, very small and it was crazy on lower campus down there. For lunch we'd eat off a wagon, one of the truck wagons that would come through and serve food right out of the back just like a construction site. And that's the way it was for the first few years. The library was down there in a temporary building. And when they built the library we had to hike through the mud. If it would rain, you'd have to go through the mud and everything to get up there. So it was very crazy, very interesting.

I always taught a few marriage and family classes. I had been at a high school where I helped set up the program, Anaheim Union High School, years ago, set up their family life/sex education program and all that. There was a core of us back then that was doing that. I had a minor in sociology and did my master's in health and sociology back when I was at Cal State LA. I really didn't realize that I would go on in sociology much. Bremer said at the time that I could have three or four different things to do. I could teach one or two health classes and one or two soc classes and maybe have a first aid at night because the people in the community wanted these different classes. And then about six, seven years ago, we were getting 16, 17, 18 coaches and we were having a lot more trouble getting our classes to fill up with students because of time slots. So I had a chance to move completely into sociology. I could be in the classroom; I like the student contact.

I didn't talk about this earlier but one of the reasons I came here was that George Hartman had indicated to me that if we ever had tennis, I would have a shot at being tennis coach. So in 1975, we finally started tennis. So I have been the tennis coach here since 1975, with the few years in between being athletic director and assistant athletic director under Keith Calkins. Calkins has been great for athletics here! We started with about five coaches. You know, we had cross country, basketball, baseball, football, maybe golf. Roy Stevens had golf as well as being head basketball coach. Then, Doug Fritz was here, who has since passed away. Time goes by so fast.

In developing curriculum for Sociology, 'I was able to get some help from people at Cypress College that I had been with there. And there were other people in sociology and social science. I was just teaching mostly marriage and family classes at that point, but there were some other people on staff that were teaching a Iittle bit. I think Shirley, she goes by Shirley Carter now, but anyway, McCorkell was here. She'd been a great friend of mine and we looked at textbooks and things together. The college has been very, very good about helping get curriculum through and getting things in order for our courses so that they are transferable over to UC and Cal State. They'd been very, very good about that. I never had any problems with people saying, "No, you can't teach that," or whatever. It's sociology, and if we're using a good, standard textbook, get your outlines together, then it's been okay.

I've had people in class that have gone through a lot of turmoil and things. I think everybody at one time or another has turmoil in their marriage or in their relationship. I do think students that see a teacher who has had three or four divorces would kind of wonder "How can he talking about relationships?" So, Nancy, my wife, has been very much of a positive influence for me.

Well, let me go back into my athletic background to think of some stories. I remember one time San Bernardino came here for a football game, and there was a riot after the game at Mission Viejo High School. That one particular day there was a big fight afterwards, and the police had to come. Players on their team were hitting our players with helmets and things like that. Those were the kinds of things that come to mind.

I had a student one time in one of my classes that I pink-carded, you know, let her add the class. This lady was probably in her middle/late thirties or early forties, and I said, "It's crowded now, but people will drop." But she went to the dean two meetings later complaining because she didn't have a chair in the classroom. You know, I was doing her a favor to get her into the class, and then she turned around and complained that she didn't have a chair in the class.

I think as I look around at different things that have gone on here, I think that we've always had a lot of publicity because of our Board here on campus, the school board. There's an election coming up right now as I speak. We seem to be in the newspapers a lot, but I think that all of the faculty as well as our administrators like to do what's best for students. That's where I come from. What is best for students. Every now and then, I think we get muddled by what's best for students, and it becomes a personal thing.

In the early days, I don't think there was any minimum enrollment in a class, or maximum. We didn't have large lecture classes’ way back then. Twelve comes to my mind for some reason. I think originally we had to have at least 12 students to have the class. It's up to 22 now.

One of the things that the faculty used to always grumble about was that (and I don't remember how many years it went on 'cause we had to), in the old days, the faculty was required to stand behind registration tables and hand out all the tickets for the classes. When I was in college, you'd go up and you'd go through 22 stations and get your class cards. That's the way we started here. The ticket numbers would be on computer cards. We would have to put in many hours. The students would come through, and we would hand out cards to each student. Well, if you're there and if you sense that your class doesn't have enough enrollment, you can start pressing students. We had personal contact a lot more with all the students in the first years because we weren't as large and we always had to help them at registration. That was just part of that first week of school. Well, instructors would get into a little battle with each other because they would try to get their class larger than Paul Brennan's class in political science. And Bill Holston -who everybody knows was the favorite and most sought-after teacher here on campus -well, he always won. They would just have bids and fights between who could get to 50 first and this kind of stuff. In those days everybody knew everybody. It was a lot simpler then.

Once I was in J Building right next to the athletic field, and our floors began to sink. There was no air between the wood and ground, and we had dry rot. And we did have a lot of rats and "varmints" and things like that. And we all know about the raccoons here on campus. Even today, on certain nights you can walk through campus and raccoon families would be in all the trash cans. It scares people the first time they see them. They look like nice, sweet, little, innocent things. We do have rats here; we still have coyotes. We had a mountain lion a few years ago that we used to see once in a while outside of our athletic building. We still get our rattlesnakes. Not like we used to. I remember we used to come in in the morning for football practice in the summer. We'd park the cars, and the snakes would come out of the grass and go on the asphalt cause the asphalt would stay warm. They would go there and sleep. We'd be driving in at 6:00 a.m. to get ready for a double session of football, and there might be five or six snakes sitting around on the asphalt.

I think the thing about classes is that you try to relate with students. If they like you, you can move faster. With your regular classes, once it ends, you're over and done with. I've helped a lot of athletic students go on to get scholarships, but it doesn't end there. I have a list of athletic students who call and touch base. I've got a young man in Canada that calls about three or four times a year -David Blackstone, who was an All-American here. I would say those are the big rewards. About a year ago, I had a woman come up to me in a shopping mall over here at Mission Viejo Mall. She was pushing a baby carriage, and there were two, children, maybe 4 and 2. She says, "Mr. Otta, Mr. Otta, do you remember me?" I remember faces, but you know how it is with names, you've got so many names over the years! She was laughing; she said, "I was in your marriage and family class and I remember we talked about the theory about determining the sex of your child. And so my husband and I had had a girl child first. Then I remembered that we talked about that theory in determining the sex of your child. And I went out and bought that book and here he is right here." And she had a little boy about one to two years of age. So that's a rewarding kind of a thing. It was probably eight to ten years after she was in the class.

When I had retired from coaching the first time as the tennis coach here, we had won nine state championships. So some people got together and they bought me the state championship ring. It's real nice. I get a lot of comments about it. It's a little different because my oldest son had it designed. So it's one of a kind. Really there is only one of it and it was given to me, you know, about five, six years ago.

It was an exciting time. We added some sports as we went along. We only started with about five or six sports, and now we're up to men and women somewhere around 18, 17 or 18 men's sports. We didn't have as many women's sports back then, but because of Title IX, we have lots of women's sports. We didn't start with women's tennis until about the third year. We started in 1975, and then Claire Elkins came in and was the women’s coach about two or three years after that, around 1977 or so. When I sit here and try to reminisce a little bit, there are a lot of neat things that have gone on.

I think my fondest memories are of the students, people that have come through my classes, the athletic teams. And I think we have a lot of great faculty. There's a real, real strength and camaraderie here at Saddleback.

The defining moment of my career would have to be what happened on the good side of athletics, and especially with tennis. I think, as I got older, I appreciated some of those things a lot more. One guy jumps out in my mind. A young man played for me. Carl Hinds, he played for me in 1991. He played two years 1990 and '91. He was a young man from Australia who, just by chance, called me on the phone and ended up coming here. He was probably one of the best players who ever played for me. He ended up as the National Community College Player of the Year. I've had a lot of All Americans, but this young man was picked to be best in the whole United States, the number one player when he left here.

So we, Nancy, my wife, and I took two of the boys (because they were younger then and they were still at home) and we went back to the U.S. Open. We had a big banquet, and that particular evening Stan Smith was giving Carl his national award. Stan Smith is a national tennis big name. If you're in tennis, you know the name Stan Smith. The other name that was there and who spent some time talking with me was a man by the name of Arthur Ashe. Arthur Ashe. He was big-time tennis at that time. So when you talk about defining moments and things like that, because of Carl going back to the U.S. Open in New York and staying at the Ritz Carlton (it was all paid for by the Association of Tennis, the National Association), that's one of the big ones. We've won a lot of state championships here in the state, but to go back and go through that and then to get to stay around and watch the U.S. Open for a few days! That was a neat, neat experience.

A number of years ago, they did this thing -making us draw a number, a number in case of a "reduction in force." Well, George Hartman had been number one for a long time. I was number nine, but I'm up to number one right now because everybody else has left and gone on. I think there are three last faculty members from the original group: Bob Olson and myself and Bob Parsons. The years have gone by very, very fast. As I sit here and talk today, it's man, it's, just like a blink of your eyes, and here we are 30, what, 32 years later.