Dec. 11, 2012
Tiobe Barron, OVN corrrespondent
Much may have changed in the world since Gordon Byrne played football for Nordhoff High School in the mid 1950s, but one thing that has not changed is his affection for the sport. Byrne, who now lives in Thousand Oaks, has been watching Nordhoff football games since his time as a student and a player from 1953 to 1955.
So when he learned that his alma mater had finally won the CIF-SS Northwest Division championship Dec. 1, he decided he wanted to do something for the players.
“I have been to a lot of games! To see them win CIF is absolutely amazing,” says Byrne. “I have been waiting for this since 1955. It is very emotional for me.”
When Byrne went to Nordhoff, it was a much smaller school, he remembers, with little support for its football team. “There were maybe 50 to 60 kids in the senior class, he remembers. “The athletics were behind the times. (The principal) hated football players.”
Byrne wore a hand-me-down Notre Dame helmet the first year he played football, because it was the only only one the school had that fit him properly. He also remembered the uniforms were uncomfortable and “yucky.”
Byrne, who describes himself as being a “pretty good player” during his time in school, would attend football practice after school each day until about 5 p.m., then headed over to a market across from Carrow’s where he would work until 9 p.m. When Byrne was offered a scholarship to the University of Southern California because his football skills, his father offered to double his salary to $1.25 per hour if Byrne would not go. The new wage allowed Byrne to purchase a car with a radio and a heater, luxuries his friends — and perhaps the ladies — thought were the toast of the town as they hung out in what is now the Fitzgerald Plaza.
Many seasons have passed between then and now, and all the while Byrne was following his alma mater.
The values learned through football, Byrne asserts, “are something that stays with you the rest of your life, though you don’t necessarily know it when you’re 16. Football is all in the coaching, and the Nordhoff staff has done an awesome, awesome job. And it’s going to be even better next year.”
In the process of looking for something to do to help the Ranger players, Byrne was inspired to start raising funds to purchase championship rings for the 2012 players who might not be able to afford to pay the $175 for their piece of history. Though unsure of the cost and footwork that would be required initially, Byrne is now armed with a list of 1,300 alumni, and will meet with members of the Ranger Gridiron Club this week to discuss possibilities. Though the plan is still in its earliest stage, Byrne is both determined and hopeful, as is the Gridiron Club.
“I would like to find out what it takes, to figure out a way to raise money for this … I’ll even donate some money to start, if others are interested (in helping purchase the rings),” says Byrne.
“We are here to make sure the football program stays strong financially, so the kids and the coaching staff have the best chance to succeed,” explains Gridiron vice president Mike Dawkins, whose son, Chad, was on the team this year. “Mr. Byrne contacted us and left a message that he wanted to make sure no player goes without a ring … it’s such a great thing to have an alumni that has come forward to make sure that kids he doesn’t even know will all get a ring. Our hope is that others will be inspired to make a donation, too.”
A parade will be held Dec. 16 at 2 p.m. to celebrate Nordhoff’s first-ever CIF win. It will travel on Ojai Avenue from Ventura Street to Montgomery Street.
To help with the fundraising effort, The Ojai Valley News will donate several hundred of its Ranger Football commemorative editions that the Gridiron Club will sell along the parade route. The money they raise will go the championship ring fund.
“I think one of the reasons winning the CIF Northwest Conference Championship is so important to the community is the fact that it has never been done in the school’s 103-year history,” Dawkins points out. “But it goes further than that. It shows the community that with hard work, dedication and a lot of heart, that anything can be accomplished. The NHS football team is undersized, and the school only has about 900 total enrollment, but that did not stop these kids from going out there and defeating a 2,100-person school from the L.A. area. Anything is possible when you believe in yourself and have people behind you pulling for you!”
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call Dawkins at 340-1057 to donate or for more information.