George Hartman


George Hartman

George Hartman and two football playersIn February 1968 I was hired to come in and be the Division Chairman of Health, Physical Education and to be Athletic Director. At that time the district offices were right across the street from the Mission Viejo High School in model homes. So that's the way it started.

They took over another model home and set up offices there. So during that spring semester all the division chairmen were hired, and we were working out of division offices in the homes. Obviously we had lots of work to do. The first thing we had to do was that we knew we were going to have four major sports. They were going to be football, basketball, baseball, and track. So obviously we had to go through the process of getting the coaches hired, get all the equipment ordered. We also had to find places to practice, because there was not going to be any place to practice on campus. So for football we practiced at the old Capistrano Unified High School in San Juan Capistrano. We used to dress on campus, drive down to Capistrano Unified High, the old San Juan Capistrano High School, drive down there and practice there, and come back up here to shower. The kids had to drive their own cars back and forth. Our basketball team did the same thing. They had to use the old San Juan Capistrano gymnasium. Our track team had to go to Marco Forster Junior High in San Juan to practice track.

The only team that got lucky was our baseball team. So the first year we were sort of moving around. You'd always keep your fingers crossed that something's not going to happen before it's over with. The first year, they decided so late to have the athletic program that we were actually playing a freelance schedule. I wasn't actually the head football coach; I was just in charge of football. We had to go out and find teams to play. So we ended up playing about half our schedule with junior colleges and the other half with four-year colleges, their JV teams. It was a tough year, but the kids worked very hard.

We had come up with four or five different school colors and four or five different nicknames. We went to each high school in the district. (We only had five high schools in the district.) We went to each one of those schools, to the senior student body and gave them a ballot, and they would turn around, and they voted. We very definitely wanted Gauchos because it sort of went along with the land. But also I wanted to make sure we'd be able to put the Gauchos' G on the helmet because I was a big fan of the Green Bay Packers.

I was completely in charge of developing the program for Physical Education and Health. All the classes had to be scheduled; the whole curriculum had to be developed. Besides organizing the whole athletic program, I had to organize the whole Physical Education and Health Department. Plus I was also out recruiting football players.

As soon as I got the job, I knew that, for us to have a first-class athletic program, we were going to have to have outside help from boosters. So we organized what we called the Saddleback Men's Club. It was for all sports, and it included parents, interested people, and businessmen, everything. The Mission Viejo Company was very gracious to us in those days. We ran a golf tournament for the Saddleback College Athletic Department even before we ever had a school, and Mission Viejo gave us the golf course so that all proceeds from the golf tournament came back into the Saddleback Men's Club. The only thing we had to pay for was the food. So we made pretty good money on that. Then with that money we went out and bought gold blazers with the Gauchos' horse on it so that when all the sports traveled, they would wear neckties and gold blazers. We felt like not only were we representing Saddleback College, but we were also representing the community. We always wanted to make sure we did the right job out there. It was public relations for us. The Men's Club raised a majority of the money for us. It was a big job. The kids worked very hard.

Also, we had lots of rumors going around that we’re going to school in tents and all kinds of things. Lots of people up in Tustin were very upset because they thought their students were going to go to Santa Ana College. So it was up to me to straighten all that out. I visited with the parents and showed them what type of program we were trying to build.

Before we started classes, we had to have somewhere to go to practice football. So the first two weeks we were able to go to EI Toro Marine Base, you know, to get the unity and pride going. We actually went to the EI Toro Marine Base. We were able to go there and put them up in the barracks, and we stayed there for two weeks. Obviously we were able to concentrate on lots of football.

Our philosophy was to try to have unity and pride and do our best at all times. My philosophy was that whether you ' re in the classroom or you're out in town, out in public, you're always representing Saddleback College. We tried to push it very hard. If you're gonna play on the athletic teams, you're representing the college 24 hours a day. We also pushed the classroom as just as important as sports, so we very definitely made sure they went to classes. We ran grade checks on athletes, and if they were not going to class, they would get in trouble.

Besides hiring the coaches, I also had to hire a football scout. Jay Roelen was my assistant at San Clemente High School. So the first year, he came in as football assistant coach and also head track coach. He was an outstanding physical education teacher. Then we brought Bill Otta in. I thought it was very important, and I sacrificed a coaching job on it because I felt like the health and the condition of the athletes was very important. Bill Otta taught; he was a full-time teacher and also athletic trainer. He came in and took care of all our injuries and kept us well.

The big challenge really was to keep the morale up, knowing it's gonna get better. What happened was, we were looking forward to the following year to have our own athletic fields. They planted grass, but they wouldn't let us use the grass. The head custodian in charge of grass wouldn't let us go out there and practice on the grass, because it wasn't ready. So that's one reason we were traveling all over the place. So by the time baseball season came, they claimed it was ready. Then, because we moved the next year, we never even touched it. We were never able to even get on the grass and practice, you know. The second year, we started practice in September, well actually the middle of August. And we had to go again to find another place to practice. Well, this time we were able to obtain UCI. At that time the San Diego Chargers used to work out at UCI for pre­training. I knew the athletic director, so we made a request and were able to go to UCI for the first month and a half of the second year and use their locker rooms and practice fields. That was first class!

Obviously, we won the first four ball games. The kids were driving back and forth to UCI. It was a great situation. We really worried about when we came back into our own facility; we still had dirt around us. The first year we were in the conference we won a conference championship and we went all the way to the state finals. So we were the youngest junior college ever to go to the state finals in the history of California.

We had a lot of students in the Football Hall of Fame. Toby Whipple was one of our All American running backs who played in 1969-70. Rob Graves was a quarterback on the 1968-69 team who broke all the passing records in the slate of California. Right now it's been 32 years, and out of all the records set in football, here at the college our players between '68 and '75 still hold 23 records. Then, we had a young man named Rocky Fletcher who played fullback and linebacker and he was so good and tough he actually played both ways. What really threw me the first few years, when we were building the program, was that we only had 35 players, but half of the kids were playing both ways. You know nowadays that's unheard of.

I liked it when we were a small school, because we were more close-knit. We knew everybody. Our first two years, the whole faculty after every football game would have a party and get together at somebody's house. The whole faculty would come besides the coaches. But then you get so big you lose contact with people, you know. You never see anybody you work with. It's sort of like, you go to work and come home, and you really lose contact.

I think the most special thing is that we have some outstanding, just real good people and students who have come through here. We had great backing from parents. They would give you anything you ask for, give 110 percent, not 100 percent, 110 percent!

To future faculty I would say, go in and make sure you're well-prepared, and appreciate it, and make sure you make your classroom very enjoyable.