Red Simmons officiated several basketball games involving John Wooden.
He played shortstop for two seasons with the famous King and His Court softball team (more on that later).
And at an age, 84, when most men are resigned to Bingo or watching TV, he still plays slow-pitch softball.
That Simmons is amazing is a given. The Banning man says he is the only person from Yucaipa in the Redlands High Hall of Fame. Yucaipa High had not opened when he graduated from high school in 1956.
The reasons for his induction are many. To wit:
-- He was a two-year starter at Redlands High in baseball and basketball and made All-Citrus Belt League in baseball.
-- Started in centerfield on the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo baseball team.
-- Refereed basketball for 40 years, including working eight section finals.
-- Umpired baseball for 35 years, including two section finals.
-- Officiated football for 29 years and softball for five.
-- Has been a national and international softball champ. Etc.
“It was so much fun,” the ruddy-faced Simmons says of his officiating days. “There were a lot of tough coaches, and we’d battle during the game, and then we’d have a beer after.”
Banning is named after Phineas Banning. He was known as the Father of the Port of Los Angeles and was a stage-coach line owner in the San Gorgonio Pass.
It is a city of 29,505 and one of its features is the Banning Bench. That is a long, narrow bedrock platform bounded by steep slopes above and below. Simmons and his wife Donna live on the Bench in a well-appointed, three-bedroom house on four acres.
Peering from the backyard under a pale blue sky with billowy clouds, there are sweeping views of the Mt. San Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonio mountains.
“I’m a country boy,” said Simmons, ex-plaining why he left Yucaipa after almost 30 years.
Simmons is a hyperactive man in his ninth decade. Holding court in his jam-packed office, he points out awards and photos, and remembrances of his many years in sports.
“I have 318 trophies,” Simmons said. “My wife’s granddaughter counted them.”
As for his time with the King and His Court, Simmons smiles at the memory.
It was a barnstorming team for much of the 20th century. The squad starred pitcher Eddie Feigner and three players who took on all comers.
Feigner fired a 100 mile-per-hour fastball from behind his back, through his legs, and sometimes while blindfolded. He once struck out Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Brooks Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, and Roberto Clemente consecutively.
“He had all the trick pitches,” Simmons said. “And he knew every town only had two or three real athletes. So he’d bear down on them and toy with the rest.”
Simmons grew up on a chicken ranch at 14th Avenue and Avenue E in Yucaipa. He remembers when Yucaipa was 3,000 residents and you could travel the length of Yucaipa Boulevard and see only three cars.
“You could buy a rabbit or a chicken or some eggs on every corner,” Simmons says. “It was rural.”
As Simmons speaks, he shows off his own sprawling ranch. The barn he built. The fences. The alpacas he raises. And the baby pygmy goats.
“My granddaughter wanted to be a vet, so I built a barn and got a bunch of animals. I had bighorn sheep too, but they beat up my fences.”
An hour has passed. We have our notes and photos. It is time to say good-bye.
“If you ever need anything on the history of Yucaipa, give me a call,” Simmons said.
We nod, and Simmons opens the gate. Then he sets out to complete yet another chore.