By Maria E. Garcia
Coach Pinkerton came to Neighborhood House in 1943. News articles described him as the person hired to find a cure for crime and juvenile delinquency that was occurring as a result of family upheaval during the Depression and World War II. The “cure” was popular and successful athletic programs in which 125- 135 boys, from age 8 to 18, used the Neighborhood House facilities every day.
The Logan Heights Old Timers Club which meets once a month at the National City IHOP provided me with the opportunity to talk to men ranging in age from their 60s to their 90s who participated in those athletic programs. I also spoke with women who attended Neighborhood House during those years. In Part I, Merlin Pinkerton, Mentor and Coach, these men and women describe the qualities that made Pinkerton a father figure, confident and role model.
Coach Pinkerton shaped the regular team sports that were part of the Neighborhood House experience. He also introduced new sports and encouraged mastery of chess and checkers. George Vasquez said that he learned to play chess rather well and won a lot of the games. Chayo Colmenero remembers a summer when all seven of his brothers and sister attended Neighborhood House. They learned to play chess and checkers. And he remembers that Coach Pinkerton laughed a lot.
The baseball teams at Neighborhood House became recognized throughout the city. At least two professional baseball players got their start there. Manuel “Nay” Hernandez and Floyd Robinson both played baseball at Neighborhood House and then moved on to play at San Diego High School. Mr. Hernandez was killed in World War II. Mr. Robinson played professional baseball for the Chicago White Sox.
During WWII, when Nando Ojedas’ Uncle Joe was overseas, he sent his uncle a picture of the boys who had won the 115 pound City Basketball Championship that year. Nando included the following message on the back of the picture to Uncle Joe: “I forgot to tell you that (the) Mayor is hanging big pictures like that in his office.” Imagine the pride these boys felt knowing their picture would hang in the mayor’s office.
In the early 1950s some of the fathers from the community started coaching the boys teams with Coach Pinkerton overseeing the fathers. This was the case with Roger Talamantez’ father who coached his son’s baseball team. Sue A. Talamantez, Roger and Josie’s mother, took the responsibility for washing the uniforms. After the game there would be a little celebration at Neighborhood House. Finances or rather the lack of finances were a problem thus cookies and cokes were served to celebrate their wins.
Boys started playing basketball at an early age to qualify for Class G status. The requirements were boys ages seven to eleven, between four and five feet tall and weighing between 55-80 pounds. Because of the small size of the boys a kickball was used to play basketball. Games were played at the Memorial Park and Recreation Center. In a San Diego Union article Coach Pinkerton is quoted as saying he was having fun coaching. Maybe that was the secret to his success– enjoying what he was doing.
In addition to the usual sports Coach Pinkerton brought two very new and significant sports to Neighborhood House. One was tennis, the other golf. All the Carriedo boys, Carlos, Marcos, and Ruben, credit him with starting them in their successful tennis career. Coach Pinkerton brought a tennis clinic presentation to Neighborhood House. This piqued the boys’ interest in tennis and led to them playing tennis at a very early age.
In a previous interview, Mrs. Carriedo says Carlos had a tennis racquet in his hands by the age of six. Carlos himself remembers he was too young to play tennis when Coach Pinkerton brought the presentation about a tennis clinic to be held at Morley Field. The Carriedo brothers, Ruben and Marcos said Coach Pinkerton entered them in their first tournament. Later the Carriedos began playing tennis at Morley Field. All three remembered Coach Pinkerton with a special fondness. After about a year and a half of watching his bothers participate in tennis lessons at Morley Field, Carlos was allowed to begin the tennis clinic.
Oscar Torres says “Of all the coaches he was the greatest. No one played tennis until he got there.” According to Oscar some of the boys called it a “sissy” game and made fun of the idea of playing tennis until the day they tried to play tennis and they realized what a difficult game it was. Marcos Carriedo remembers Coach Pinkerton setting up the net on the basketball court.
Tati Piña remembered that on one occasion Coach Pinkerton sent him out to play tennis against a boy from another part of town. That boy served the ball and Tati watched it go right past him. He believes that Coach Pinkerton wanted him to learn that no matter what the challenge was, you at least needed to try. A story told over and over again is how they boys from Neighborhood House went to La Jolla and beat the players from the La Jolla Tennis Club.
Everyone talks about how the boy had holes in their shoes and did not have the correct tennis clothes. George Vasquez refers to the boys’ shoes as Gallenkamps. Gallenkamp was a rather inexpensive shoe store found in San Diego at the time.Today these men joke about their clothes not being equal to the boys from La Jolla. However the fact is that they still talk about how they felt even in a flippant manner tells you volumes about their feelings.
Mac Colmenero says there was even a question about the age of the boys. The boys from Neighborhood House were smaller in stature than the boys from La Jolla causing them to question if they were playing in the correct age bracket. Several of those interviewed remembered having to produce birth certificates in order to prove they were playing in the right division.
The stories about learning to play golf through Neighborhood House have been more difficult to confirm. Newspaper articles describe Neighborhood House kids learning to play golf and allude to the idea that Al Abrego was the instructor. There is a tie to Neighborhood House and Mr. Abrego. Mr. Abrego, whose ancestors can be traced back to the Carrillo family of Old Town, was the manager of Presidio Golf Course. George Marston was one of the owners of the golf club.
I located one statement that says that in 1946 Al Abrego agreed to teach the kids from Neighborhood House golf. To date I have been unable to locate any of the boys that learned to play golf through Neighborhood House. If you learned to play golf through Neighborhood House please contact me. It is possible that lessons were taught in Point Loma and not at the Presidio.
In 1978 a group of men, “Coach Pinkerton’s boys,” decided to honor him with a banquet at the Grant Hotel. The banquet took place on June 16, 1978, and Coach Pinkerton was presented with a plaque honoring him for the many things he did to support his boys. After all the banquets Coach Pinkerton had planned for his boys it was fitting that he would be honored with one.
The MC for that event was Dr. Armando Rodriquez, who had coached at Neighborhood House. In the middle of the dinner the police came running through the room chasing a robbery suspect. The banquet may have been at a fancy location but there was still the element of the unknown. When it was time for Coach Pinkerton to say a few words one of his first words were “knowing my boys I thought it was a put on.”
In his later years Coach Pinkerton lived in the Rolando Park area of the city. Fred “Adamo” Ayap remembered visiting him when Mrs. Pinkerton was very ill and needed a care giver. This was a ritual he performed about every four months. During football season Coach Pinkerton would come to Adamo’s home to watch the football games with him. Coach Pinkerton touched the lives of these boys and many continued to maintain their relationships and friendship long after he had left Neighborhood House.
Dr. Armando Rodriquez summed up Coach Pinkerton in this way “He was a true gentlemen, nice, and aggressive when it came to Neighborhood House. He was devoted to Neighborhood House. He wanted to make sure that everyone had a good time. He was my friend and I appreciated him very much.” That was Coach Pinkerton.
The complete History of Neighborhood House in Logan Heights series is available here.