Kent Hayden coached at Yucaipa High School in 1958 when there were probably a few hundred students. What Hayden saw last Saturday night was a Yucaipa High School that grew to 3,400 students and plenty of them were standing in line to enter homecoming night. Few of those students knew its eighth annual Yucaipa Athletic Hall of Fame ceremony was also being held behind the tinted windows of the school cafeteria.
It’s not easy to get in the YHS Athletic Hall of Fame and only one of those current homecoming goers will ever be inducted. On Oct. 22, five more names were officially inscribed into Yucaipa’s history books. One by one, Jon Applegate, Andy Anderson, Emily Harlan, Keith Eckerman, and Gail Diliberto accepted their ceremonial HOF plaques, bringing the total number of YHS HOF members to 51.
Eckerman traveled the farthest to the event, flying in from Soldnotna, Alaska. As a 2003 YHS graduate, Harlan was the youngest of the group. Current principal of Chapman Heights Elementary, Anderson had the shortest trip. Diliberto wins the honor of becoming the first woman coach to be inducted. After a year long manhunt to locate him, Applegate wins the prize for hardest to find.
The fact that they are all now Yucaipa High School Athletic Hall of Fame members ends most similarities. Each represents a different era. Applegate graduated in 1981 and has retired after a long career in law enforcement. Harlan (2003) is now an attorney for the County of San Diego defending the rights of abused children. Eckerman (1985) has been a respiration therapist for 22 years. Diliberto retired in 2016 after being a championship coach. Anderson (1978) remains active in the field of education.
Hall of Fame committee member Eric Memory (1989) greeted the 140 friends, family, and students in attendance.
YHS Principal Shad Kirkland told it was his job to improve programs and encourage student engagement. Kirkland introduced Yucaipa Superintendent of Schools Cali Binks and board members Charles Christie, Jane Smith, and Jim Taylor (YHS-HOF 2008).
YHS Athletic Director Mark Anderson introduced the 20 coaches in attendance and commended them for providing good guidance and a high level of instruction. Anderson acknowledged the attendance of past HOF members: Jim Taylor, Dave Kivett, Matt Carpenter, Hayden, Pat McLeod, Lou Hitter, and Bill Mierzwik.
In her invocation Pastor Jenny Griggs wished health and success in running the race of life. Griggs, the former Jenny Williams, is a 2009 alumnus who was a two-time CBL golf champion and a member of two YHS league title teams.
- Jon Applegate
As part of his induction of Applegate, Hayden provided a brief history of the early struggles of YHS being a new school 58 years ago and how it has grown from such difficult beginnings. He will never forget how YHS lost a close game for the 1965 league title against Coachella.
Hayden called Applegate a genuinely “good guy” who produced beyond the YHS basketball courts. He recalled Applegate was the only player in his 32 years who was a three-year varsity starter, who at 5’10,” led the team in scoring and rebounding. He told about the 15-year-old Applegate who calmly made two free throws with two seconds left for a 62-61 win at Cajon for the San Andreas League championship.
Applegate said he can’t forget the encouraging words of Hayden, always prompting him to a higher level and how he could still hear Hayden’s voice as he later coached his three sons. Applegate’s son Jon Paul played baseball and water polo at Cajon HS. Jimmy played baseball and football at Cajon and football at SBVC. Justin played baseball at Redlands HS. Applegate retired as a police officer after serving on the forces at Cal State San Bernardino, San Bernardino City and Riverside County.
- Andy Anderson
Bill Mierzwik presented former teammate Andrew “Andy” Anderson with his induction one year after he was enshrined himself. Mierzwik told how Anderson remains important as an educator. How he made everyone around him a better baseball and football player. As a teen, Mierzwik was not always happy with going on vacation with Anderson, including adhering to weight rooms, 5 a.m. road work, and no junk foods.
Anderson said that being voted a football team captain twice at YHS and three times at the University of Redlands was his highest honor. and how he always felt he had to work harder and train more than anyone. When compared to others, he never thought he’d be qualified for the hall of fame.
Anderson credited former YHS and U. of Redlands coach Ken Miller and how he was fortunate to play on the first team at YHS coached by Taylor. Anderson was also a member of YHS baseball coach Jeff Stout’s first team in 1978. It was Stout who encouraged him to date his wife, Lynn (Seever) who he has been married to for 30 years. Jim Taylor called Anderson one of the best administrators in the YCJUSD.
- Keith Eckerman
In presenting Eckerman, Taylor considered his slight, deceptive running back one of the first to help set the football standards, who went along with a new, rigorous football comeback drill. He said Eckerman was good a number of sports, “but first and foremost he was a football player,” who led YHS to its first CIF title game in 1984. Taylor told that the team had to win eight straight games to reach the finals, with Eckerman rushing for a remarkable 700 yards in four playoff games, including 305 yards in one game.
Taylor acknowledged that the close loss in that championship game still haunts him today. He described a deceptive two-point play against Banning that Eckerman was part of that won the Sunkist League title. Taylor praised Eckerman for being the ball carrier in the “perfect play” when he followed every key block into the end zone.
Eckerman was pursued by RCC and Montana State after high school but never played again after high school. He enlisted in the Army and became a crew chief on a Blackhawk helicopter. He then became a respiratory therapist and moved to Alaska with wife of 27 years, Michelle (Turcina) also a 1985 YHS grad.
Eckerman simply explained that Yucaipa and its coaches “are the pillars who made you who you are and that to be a coach takes a special person.” He said he felt small in contrast to the other four HOF inductees.
- Gail Diliberto
Hall of Fame inductee Gail Diliberto has one of the great stories in the history of prep sports. Before she went on to lead YHS to 14 league titles in three sports in 15 years, she was the 1973 Female Athlete of the Year at Indio H.S. and one of the top sprinters in Riverside County. Due to a late emergency her senior year, Indio H.S. needed a junior varsity softball coach. Diliberto was approved by the school district, however the decision meant she could not play varsity softball. Looking back, some of her friends remember even seeing her walking home after practice through the long paths of the Indio desert.
Diliberto was presented by her three adult daughters, Jennifer, Amy and Heather who played volleyball on scholarship at Biola University. Her daughters considered Gail not just a mother and coach but a friend who never raised her voice, “But if she did you knew you were in trouble.” They described their mother as a humble woman.
Diliberto followed by saying that by their actions tonight, you can tell what kind of respectable people her daughters are. She expected the same success from all her players. She thanked the former players who attended and was proud that some of her former players are now coaches. Diliberto said it was not always easy for her daughters to play for her.
One of her highlights was when her girls YHS volleyball team upset nationally ranked Rim-of-the-World in a tournament. She told about winning the San Andreas League championship after coming back from a 0-2 deficit.
- Emily Harlan
In inducting his HOF daughter, Don Harlan mentioned that Emily was a 2-time national champion and record breaking swimmer at UC San Diego. Don Harlan pointed out that her CIF and college records were always established while performing to help the team as one leg of a relay. At YHS, she set two CIF relay records with teammates Jessica Perazzo, Hilary Orr, and Kimmie Cook.
Don Harlan said it was actually her coaches at YHS who were just as instrumental in his daughters All-American success. Emily Harlan said it was Lou Hitter that perfected her stroke and Matt Carpenter who instilled supreme preparation and confidence. She said Matt and Erin Carpenter recognized her abilities at an early age.
No one was surprised that Emily Harlan has gone to become an attorney representing those who cannot represent themselves. Don Harlan said he was not surprised that his daughter became an attorney specializing in child abuse.
She keeps precious the memories of growing up and being part of a swim family in Yucaipa. She called her sister, Joanne her best friend. “I hope I can live up to the legacy’s you have all set.”
In closing Eric Memory said that Mark Anderson took a thought from Jim Taylor and created a vision to initiate the Yucaipa HS Athletic Hall of Fame. “If it wasn’t for Mark this event could not have happened.” Memory agreed with Taylor that the annual meeting has turned into a mini-reunion. “We just could not have done this without Mark Anderson.”