The way his first eight years went at the Napa Valley Register, it’s no wonder Marty James stayed for 32 more.
Fresh out of Sacramento State University, he moved to Napa, settled down with wife Karen – a teacher at the time, and now a retired educator – and was soon writing one major sports story after another about Vintage High School.
Most notable were the Crusher golf team’s first-ever Northern California title in 1979 and state crown in 1980, and the Vintage football program’s first CIF Sac-Joaquin Section championships in 1980 and 1986.
“I was very fortunate to land a job – in a world-class community and on a great newspaper, with a staff and newsroom full of so many talented and experienced editors, writers and photographers – right out of college in 1979,” he said. “I fell in love with the town, the Napa Valley and the job immediately, as I strived so hard to challenge myself to stay on top of my game and help give the readers the most complete and comprehensive sports section each and every day.”
James, a San Ramon Valley High alumnus who retired on June 4 after 40 years with the Napa Valley Register, will be a special category inductee into the Vintage High School Athletic Hall of Fame on Saturday at the Elks Lodge of Napa, during a dinner and enshrinement ceremony starting at 7 p.m.
Liza Saunders, a Siena High graduate who recently retired after 41 years as Vintage’s head swimming and diving coach, will also be inducted along with six Vintage alumni – Steve Wallace (Class of 1977), Jerry Smith and Mike Jarecki (Class of 1979), Adam Housley (1989), Ryan Steen (1993) and Anna Cmaylo (Class of 2004).
The class will be introduced Friday night at halftime of Vintage’s 7 p.m. Hall of Fame Game against Acalanes-Lafayette at Memorial Stadium. Visit vintageboosters.com for tickets or more information.
The mission of the Vintage Athletic Hall of Fame Foundation, which is now in its seventh year, is to recognize and honor the outstanding achievements of individual athletes, coaches and/or special individuals who have contributed to the development, success, tradition and integrity of VHS athletics. Individuals may be nominated in one of the three following categories: athlete, coach, or special/other. The selection committee reviews the submitted nominations and makes its recommendations to the board of directors. The board approves the recommendation.
James covered Vintage for 40 of its 47 years of existence.
“Marty’s selection was somewhat of a whole board decision,” said the president of the hall of fame board, Vintage Athletic Director Cam Neal. “While our hall of fame honors great athletes and coaches that accomplished tremendous feats while at Vintage High, the special category identifies individuals that contributed to our school outside the lines.”
Dave Shipp was Vintage’s head football coach from 1989 to 1993 and again from 2011 to 2013. He was the athletic director from 1996 to 2000 and from 2007 to 2011, preceding Neal.
He met James in 1979 when he was a Vintage assistant coach. One season during his 1981-86 tenure as head coach at Justin-Siena, he obliged when James asked if he could tag along on a scouting trip.
“He got to see all the things that go on as you sit up in the stands with other coaches, and you’re trying not to show your hand,” Shipp recalled. “I showed Marty some of the diagrams we were making at the time, the things we were looking for, and then maybe the things that we already knew were going to happen anyway. So we didn’t have to dwell into that too much because they’re guys you’ve coached against for years so you know what they’re going to do. You just looking for little things that, you know, that can help you out.
“When he did the story about scouting, he had to dance around the stuff that was for print and not print. I didn’t worry too much about it, because it was an out-of-town team and it was long before the internet. But it was his idea to really go in depth for that story, and Marty’s reporting was spot-on. He described things to a tee. “And If you if you asked him to go off the record, boy, it was never mentioned.”
He said James covered the Braves’ 1983 NCS Class A section championship run “very, very close” and brought Mark Tennis – whose new Cal-Hi Sports magazine published state rankings – to the title game.
“That was kind of neat,” Shipp said. “When we beat Ripon in the championship game, one of my assistant coaches, John Connor, said ‘Not even God can deprive us of being the No. 1 team in the in the state,’ and I said, ‘Maybe God can’t, but Mark Tennis sure can.’”
Shipp is now in his third year of coaching linebackers for the Justin-Siena JV squad, his 33rd year of coaching overall, while working one or two mornings a week as a player assistant at Silverado Resort and Spa.
He still marvels that James was able to write sports for the Register for so long.
“To stay in a job, especially as hard as it is for (newspapers), I mean, you cannot write the perfect article,” he said. “Somebody is always gonna have a complaint about it.”
But James enjoyed writing everything from historic success stories to eulogies – and, of course, his Chalk Talk and Notes and Quotes columns, hodgepodges of snippets on minor news items, rankings, and local alumni playing college sports.
“There is nothing like the rhythm and pace of a daily newspaper – a day that culminates by meeting the nightly deadline and getting the paper out the door,” he said. “I discovered very quickly that this is a sports-minded town, a community that actively and passionately supports its youth and athletics in a big-time way, by rallying around athletic booster clubs at crab feeds and golf tournaments and packing a beautiful place like Napa Memorial Stadium for Big Game.
“I had the perfect spot to cover football – from my very own designated media room in the press box, high above Memorial Stadium, accessible by elevator. I could multi-task at once – cover the game, input words into a document that is a game story, update scores and game details in Twitter, take photos. I loved covering football from the sideline as well for so many years.”
Each new year, each new season, was a new adventure for James. Before he knew it, he was covering children of people he had covered.
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“Covering generations of athletes has allowed me to get to know the families,” he said. “I loved the variety of sports – covering season after season after season, depending upon the time of year. Basketball season was always something that I welcomed – a chance to finally sit down in the bleachers, in a warm and comfortable spot in the gym, with the game being played right in front of you. I have always loved the springtime – baseball, softball, golf, track and field and so much more on a sunny afternoon.
“As a writer, I wanted to know the coaches, staff and athletes as much as I could, sitting down and asking questions to construct the best possible stories. I worked hard to develop trust and dialogue with coaches, asking for their help, support and cooperation on stories.”
One reason he may have lasted as long as he did at the Register was his constant communication with sports editors or managing editors, especially with sensitive stories.
“I learned from the best over the years – Rich Heintz, Nick Nasch, Stan Vaughn, Randy Johnson, Marilee Talley, Doug Ernst, Bill Kisliuk, Sean Scully,” he said.
James wrote about Scott Wright helping the Vintage baseball team reach the 1980 Sac-Joaquin Section championship game, becoming a first-team NCAA All-American as a star reliever for 1984 College World Series champion Cal State Fullerton, and coaching at Justin-Siena for nine years, five as head coach.
“There was a baseball playoff game in Lodi one night in the early ’80s that went extra innings, deep into the night, and Vintage beat Vacaville,” he recalled. “I got home at 3 a.m. and had to be at work by 6 a.m. Nick Nasch, my editor, was there with me, as we co-covered the game. He was able to weave the Creedence Clearwater Revival song ‘Lodi’ into his story.”
Perhaps his favorite sport to cover was golf.
“One of the first stories I put together was a staff report in early June of 1979 on the Vintage High boys golf team winning the Northern California Championships at Harding Park in San Francisco,” he recalled. “A year later, I traveled to the Monterey Peninsula to cover Vintage against Mt. Carmel-Poway in the CIF state finals at Pebble Beach Golf Links. It’s a team I will always remember – Roger Gunn, Bert Buehler, Carl Wagner, Vince Scott, Mike Connerley, Charles Purdey, Wade Woodward and coach Dan Pinarretta. Vintage won the title that day in June of 1980.
“Golf has been big – much like football, baseball, softball, volleyball, swimming, water polo, wrestling and other sports – for so many years. I have covered Scott McCarron’s career in golf – all the way to the PGA Tour and now on the PGA Tour Champions. Scott is one of classiest, most gracious and genuine people I have ever covered.”
But he’ll never forget Vintage’s two section-championship football teams in the 1980s.
“There were so many storylines, so many great players and coaches,” he said. “The ’80 team, led by Russ Orrick and Pat Hodge, played in one of the greatest games in Memorial Stadium history, beating Tracy High in triple overtime, 41-40. What came out of that game was a great friendship with Dave Rothwell, who is as competitive now in golf like he was when playing in the secondary for the Crushers.
“The ’86 team was loaded with superstar talent, players like Steve Buccellato, Sean LaChapelle, David Ilsley, Fred Schmidt, Steve Porter, Anthony Anderson, Mark Massari, Kevin Montoya, Marc Vandershoot, Charles Hammond, Warren Bowers and Larry DeZorzi. There was also great leadership at the top, with head coaches Burl Autry and Mike Koontz.”
He remembered stopping at Butter Cream Bakery for breakfast in the 1990s and running into then-boys basketball head coach Russ Critchfield, whose 1997-98 team is still the most recent Vintage squad to win a playoff game.
“One of the all-time coaching legends, he was there to get a box of donuts on a Saturday morning to take to practice for his players,” James recalled.
He was also thrilled to see current Cal pitcher Jared Horn dazzle in his last Big Game.
“I’ve never seen so many fans at Cleve Borman Field at the Veterans Home of California in Yountville for a baseball game as there were in May of 2016,” he recalled. “It was Jared Horn’s final home game for Vintage and he did it all, pitching a no-hitter and also hitting a two-run home run, leading the Crushers past Napa, 7-0. There were scouts from 20 different major league teams in attendance to see him.”
James even covered Horn’s current boss, Mike Neu, a Vintage graduate who helped Miami win the College World Series in 1999 and pitched for the Oakland Athletics and Florida Marlins.
“It has been a pleasure covering Mike Neu’s career in baseball,” he said, “from Vintage High through college, minor leagues, and into the major leagues and now as the head coach at UC Berkeley.”
James said he also enjoyed covering the 2013 Vintage softball team, which won 27 straight games to begin the season and claimed the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title, going 34-1 with state and national rankings.
“Led by coach Rick Robben, it was a collection of all-stars, with players like Kacie Burnett, Sarah Hayes, Emily Oestreich, Baylee Robben, Sydni Scott, Jordan Hernandez, Courtney Kelley, Haley Forbes, and Nicki Burnett,” James said.
He continued to write about several of them when they played college softball, after letter of intent signing ceremonies organized and emceed by Neal.
“Marty’s commitment to covering local sports in the Napa Valley over the last 40 years has allowed all of us to celebrate incredible achievements by the various people headlining the story,” Neal added. “Marty didn’t just cover games, scores and outcomes. He covered people and let us know the story behind the story. Some of my favorite articles from Marty are the special interest stories where he makes sure to illustrate the character of many of our community members.
“Now, it’s time to honor the man that gave us that opportunity; the man behind the pen that painted the pictures so vividly for so many years.”