Walter Raymond was a central figure during a historic time of St. Helena High football that would be hard-pressed to be matched or surpassed.
The Saints had a 46-game winning streak in football, and 53 without a loss from 1960-1965.
The 1961 St. Helena High graduate set many school passing records that Adam Beattie broke in 1998 and subsequently Richard Hoppe in 2012. Raymond passed for 2,775 yards and 34 touchdowns in his career. He also compiled 4,158 yards of total offense and 4,338 all-purpose yards.
In basketball, he averaged 11.0 points per contest. In baseball, he still ranks in the top five in school history in hits, doubles, triples, multiple hit games, RBIs and runs scored. As a pitcher, he had a career 1.45 ERA.
Raymond will be one of eight inductees enshrined as a member of the newly formed St. Helena High Athletic Hall of Fame on Oct. 26. One of the inductees is classmate Tom Blanchfield. Raymond, like Blanchfield, gave an assist to former teammate Jim Hunt, who is the SHHS Athletic Hall of Fame chairman. Hunt graduated in 1962 and later became Calistoga’s head football coach from 1978-1985. In his retirement years, Hunt has spent time becoming an Upvalley sports historian, compiling record books.
“I knew they were talking about establishing one, but I didn’t know what was going to come of it,” Raymond said. “It is great to be inducted, especially in the first class, but it would have been great to be inducted in any of the classes.”
Raymond is retired and lives in Scottsdale, Ariz. He spends time playing golf and traveling with his wife. Raymond’s family owned and operated Raymond Vineyards, but sold it. Raymond’s family roots in the Napa Valley trace back to the 1870s.
Many St. Helenans still speak with reverence of the aforementioned winning streak, which began in 1960 when the Saints opened the season with an 18-14 win over Dixon. The Saints did not lose another game until the season finale in 1965, 12-7 to Cloverdale. Earlier that season, St. Helena played Vanden to a scoreless tie. What Raymond also remembers was the fan support the Saints had even at road games.
“Small towns and small schools go in cycles,” Raymond said. “It just so happened that when we were in school we had a lot of really good athletes. We played all of the sports. We were very competitive all the way along through grammar school and high school.”
St. Helena’s streak also came in the pre-section playoff era. While the question was posed to Raymond whether it would have been compelling to have section playoffs at that time, he answered, “We never even thought about it.”
Raymond, however, recalled then-Saints head coach George Davis taking the team to Napa High, which was (and still is) a much larger school than St. Helena, for a scrimmage.
“At that time, there was no Vintage High School or Justin-Siena,” Raymond said. “George Davis took us down there, and we scrimmaged them for a day. That was very good. That was helpful because we went from a single wing to the Wing T (offense).”
When Raymond grew up as a three-sport student-athlete in St. Helena, the landscape and vibe of the community were much different from today. Walnuts and prunes were more profitable than wine. Main Street traffic was not bumper-to-bumper with tourists and luxury transportation.
On the sports and societal fronts, the Internet (let alone social media) was not even remotely on the radar.
“We all grew up playing with older kids,” Raymond recalled. “In grammar school, my brother was six years older than me. I always went down and played him and they always found a spot for you. Playing against older kids wound up helping you. We worked on a lot of skills in those days. We didn’t play so many games. We just worked on a lot of skills that proved valuable.”
In today’s era of high school athletics, some coaches want a kid to be laser-focused on one sport by playing year-round to become a college scholarship athlete.
“Nowadays it can be so specialized that if you play football, you basically are in weight programs,” Raymond said. “We didn’t lift any weights and never paid attention to what we were doing as far as statistics. We just went from one sport to the next. I’m sure they have a good time, but not as many get the opportunity. In high school we went from football to basketball to baseball. We even threw track in there. They used to take me out to fill some holes to throw the shot put or discus. I wasn’t any good, but once in a while I’d get a point.”
In that era, youngsters did not have the distractions of today such as cable TV, Internet and video games. The athletic field was their sanctuary.
Raymond went to UC Berkeley on a football scholarship before transferring to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he played one year of football and later graduated.
“I had a lot of people that I consider influences,” Raymond said. “My parents were very influential. My brother was, as well as Al Carpy. When we went to high school, there was no JV football. We didn’t get the chance until our sophomore year. George Davis was an exceptional coach. I’m sure George will be in the Hall of Fame.”
Carpy is one of the eight inductees. He will go into the distinguished service category.
Regardless of class, Raymond is in elite company. Besides Carpy and Raymond, the inductees include Tom Blanchfield, Tosha Comendant, Krissy Harris, Donna McCornack, Raul Murillo and Allen Nichelini.
(Editor’s note: This is part of a series of articles profiling the eight athletes inducted into the St. Helena High Athletic Hall of Fame.)