The tough, the strong

gunn dunk

Gunn’s hoops fate might hang on the severity of the ankle sprain suffered by previously gravity-defying, if Icarus-recalling, Jeffrey Lee-Heidenreich (Photo by Butch Garcia, I believe, and hence it becomes true)

For certain members of the Gunn student body and community, the pulse must quicken with anticipation this week and perhaps for the next 12 days, a rarified situation created by Gunn’s selection to the Central Coast Section basketball tournament. The Titan hoopsters earned the second seed of Division II on the strength of a 17-2 campaign and an elusive Santa Clara Valley De Anza title, only the fourth in school history, and first since 2009.

Gunn plays Saturday (Feb. 27) at a neutral site with one eye on St. Ignatius (14-10) in the other side of the draw, for section-division laurels. See here for the complete bracket and keep reading for additional Plastic Alto commentary (basically, I lament in nostalgia for the days of a unified CCS rather than a watered-down six-layered tiramisu, and other semi-connected ramblings, hanging together if by the most frayed of nets). Not to overlook the first two games of the playoff action, but the real drama would come if Gunn advances to the finals against Catholic league stalwart St. Ignatius of San Francisco (which plays in the Central Coast Section and not in the City per se due to the oddity of their league, which roughly follows the path of the missionaries, established nearly 250 years ago). When Gunn upset St. Ignatius in the 1980 tournament, Chuck Hildebrand of the Times Tribune noted that kids were chanting “Saint Gunn! Saint Gunn!” as if we had beatified Henry M. Gunn, or that was the spoils of our success, sainthood. Not sure how many people will note that since SI beat Gunn in the 1981 finals, a Titan victory of that stripe would settle that ancient score, near enough. (Jerry Chang has posted the tape of that classic tilt, here).


Kent Lockhart and Danny Brown of Gunn take it to SI, in a packed Maples, before time ran out on the hometown boys

If you are jonesing for high school hoops your best bet might be Santa Clara High School gym (where I had my career best, in 1981) to see Half Moon Bay, Palma, Bellarmine and Serra square off in first round Friday of the open division, teams perhaps fated to face St. Francis of Mountain View, who went undefeated in the tough Catholic League. If you are a roundball nut job, go to Inglewood Tuesday to see Chino Hills, of the famous Ball brothers (literally), recent topic in the New York Times. (and the story rang a bell not a ball for me in that I saw, on tv, Chino nipped by San Ramon Valley in the state championships last year). On one hand basketball is purely a set of actions and feats confined to a 32-minute interval yet it’s also true enough that today’s players are actors in a broader movement that encompasses the past, and their forebearers; they are fulfilling the archtypes (in a Joseph Campbell sense) that were also embodied by their brethren and fathers from prior years and connecting them to the past. (Matt Passell, for one, was captain for the 1980 champions and is now father to a current champion, sophomore varsity player Josh, of Gunn)

How I got here — 17 steps or 2,607 words

  1. John Reid and the staff of the Daily news (people who bought out the people who bought out San Jose Mercury) rank the top eight prep basketball teams, on the eve of the section tournament selections, and Gunn appears at #4. The group can be split into two camps, private schools (St. Francis, Serra, Sacred Heart, Pinewood, Kings Academy) and public (Menlo-Atherton, Gunn, Palo Alto). In 2009, when Gunn won league for the first time in 28 years, Gunn and Paly were the only two public schools in the top ten. Beyond sports rankings, there is a more general “privatization” of schools here, playing out over four or five decades, as even George Packer (Gunn ’73) has noted. I’m not a gambler, but I pay taxes (and rent).
  2. weissphotogunn2015

    I caught several games of the 20-4 team but have stayed away this year, so far

  3. I text-messaged a bunch of people Friday that at 16-2 this year, coupled with an impressive 20-4 the previous year (albeit in the lower El Camino Division) Gunn 2014-2016 eclipses by a mere percentage point the 47-8 mark during the Hans Delannoy / Kent Lockhart era, 1980 and 1981 SCVAL champs. This year’s guys will have to win out to finish ahead of the 85.5 clip.
  4. In John Reid’s article on Gunn clinching league on a home Wednesday against Los Altos three ideas stuck with me. First, that coach Brandynn Williams, himself a 1999 Paly grad and Diepenbrock acolyte said it was the first championship since 1981, somehow forgetting that skein was broken by Chris Redfield’s lads. Two, that Gunn star Alex Gil-Fernandez (who a year ago I had dubbed “Al Palo Alto” like “El Palo Alto”, the tree) said he wanted to go up against St. Francis and Serra in the “Open Division” top 8, that he showed no fear. And three it was noted that Gunn clinched in a nearly empty gym. This post was precipitated as both a discussion of the game and the coverage of the game, the meta-issue. meaning that if it wins out it is arguably only number #25 after the 8 teams in Open and 12 teams, including Paly and Wilcox, in Division I. Gunn plays next Saturday against likely either Westmont or Leigh.brandynnwilliamsgunnhoopscoach2015
  5. Mitch Stephens in the Chron, on 2/23, points out that 81 boys teams made CCS; I counted 84, and there are 110 total teams, according to MaxPreps rankings. Willow Glen at 6-18 made CCS on the strength of going 5-5 in non-league play, if strength is the word for that.
  6. The Gunn Oracle, student newspaper and wordpress blog has scant coverage of the team, continuing a pattern of cluelessness I had seen in a few previous checks. (They had an article about the best guacamole to serve at a Super Bowl party but no coverage of Varsity football; previously the only coveage was about Sarah Zhang crashing the boys club as a 135-lb placekicker; Gunn finished 0-10 and ranked in the bottom five in the entire U.S. according to MaxPreps, #14558 of 14,563 or so — a story in itself) I noticed in a winter sports round up two fairly weak stories, with parallel construction. First, Tim Sun (himself, incidentally, a member of the basketball team) said that the 1-10 soccer team was having a “tough” season. Then, TK, writing about the hoops standouts, said that they were having a “strong” season. A more clever and more literate headliner might have ran the whole thing with a Hemingwayesque reference: The Quick and The Dead*.
  7. My understanding is that Gunn has a bye until Saturday, Feb. 27 where they will play, as a #2 seed in the Divison I playoff, the winner of the Tk-TK game. (TK is the top seed in that round — i.e. they were rated roughly #10 in the CCS or with a CCS win would finish roughly ninth; for comparison sake, the 25-3 Titans of 1980-1981, i.e. my team, were ranked #1 in a unified CCS for much of the season, and #2 in the state divison II, but lost by two to St. Ignatius in the CCS final; years later, the Perricone/Brennan guys lost to Mitty in the Division I final — Gunn has never won a CCS hoops title, not even since the watered down six-layered format. I would say they have a fighting chance, if they are “the tough (and), the strong”.
  8. For various reasons, beyond “the Quick and the Dead” I am wanting to re-read “The Old Man and The Sea” for the central image of trying to hang on to something  and not let the sharks chomp away at you.
  9. * I’m leaving my mistake. It’s a biblical reference and then a pop-pseudo-literary, the latter of which is what I was reaching for. “Quick” in this archaic use means living rather than fast, and dead is dead. It original in First Peter (?) meant that God or Jesus will judge everyone on their deeds, the living and the dead. No Hemingway, but books by Louis L’Amour and Ellery Queen. The wiki article notes it comes up in stories about gunfighters (there’s also something about Grand Prix racers) Also, Stacy Keach narrated a film called “The Quick and The Dead” and played Hemingway in a mini-series if that explains my conflation of those concepts. (A previous version of this was headlined “The strong, the tough (the pseudo erudite)” — too much humblebrag)

For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you: Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead.
1 Peter 4:3–5

My personal opinion is to worry about the idolatries….
8. Alex Dersh of Gunn High The Oracle:
The boys are off to a strong season, winning their first two tournaments and proving its mettle with a victory over rival Palo Alto.
Tim Sun, same source:
After losing their six top goal scorers, boys’ soccer struggled through a tough season. Many athletes went down with injuries as the season progressed and at one point the boys played without their entire starting defensive back line. (According to the MaxPreps site, Gunn finished 1-13-2 and 1-5-2 in league; the previous year, with Guy Kasznik and others, it went to CCS playoffs)
9. Alex Maltz, son of my classmates Matt Maltz and Jamie Sparaco, won league wrestling title at 285 pounds. Kudos! He was named Palo Alto Weekly athlete of the week.
10. As in the nature of the internet (and nothing to do with me), I fell down a rabbit hole and found myself reading a gratuitous set of confessions and plaintiff wails, and then had to stop myself from inspecting a recent grad’s social media posts. I worry that beyond there being no interest in sports writing per se that the advisor of the Oracle is afraid to critique the student work at all. Strikes me as lazy and indulgent rather than contemporary and multi-genre. The Palo Alto High journalism department seems to have maintained its historic high standards. (And they were the ones who launched the David Star Jordan discussion, or their Michael Wang did, in 2013).
11. I cannot recall if I got this from a comedian or a news source, but people are saying that now the word “literally” means both “literally” in the form of a strict use and its opposite “figuratively”, and there is no synonym for the first and historical use, and some believe this is the beginning of the end for sentient apes and its our symbols.
12. Although I was taught, at Dartmouth in the 1980s, that language is evolving and the best dictionaries are descriptive and not prescriptive, they catch what is and not what should be or was, I am sticking with my Webster’s Ninth and claiming that man’s use of the tongue peaked in 1985 and is now in a stage of de-evolution (devo). Also, I cannot recall the exact details but somewhere shortly after Webster’s Tenth came out I wrote the dictionary’s editors having found an error or incompleteness, something that was missing in terms of a cross-reference, having to do with Pinyin versus the other format of how Westerners hear Chinese (“Beijing” versus “Peking”) and they wrote me back to say that I was the first person to notice the mistake, but it had already been corrected for the new edition).
13. I ran into Tommy Jordan today and recommended to him David Shields “Reality Hunger” which came up because I want to read Tom’s music community memoir, and Tom admitted he’d have a hard time sticking to the truth. Shields talks of truth in every good fiction and the inevitable lie or at least composition in the act straight telling and retrieving memories.
14. I read Don Delillo “White Noise” which I keep thinking of as “airborne toxic event”; I had to fight to finish it, staying strong and tough. Makes me want to read William Shirer, the nightmare years. Or as Jayne Ann Phillips of the Times said, or either the book or basketball: The he-man against the elements, the outlaw, the superhero exist only as myths in the modern world; we are nature’s elements, a technologically oriented people nonetheless caught in the sieve of history. And please do not confuse or conflate “White Noise” with “The White Shadow”.
15. Thinking about but not writing about Harry Hillman who boycotted the 1936 Olympics and turned down the chance to be assistant coach to Lawson Robertson, and Cromwell of USC took the job instead, and shafted Marty Glickman and Stoller, so Jessie Owens got 4 not 3 medals, and there is a new movie “Race” about such, or a version of such. There’s a guy at Berkeley who wrote a book on this general topic, was referenced in a documentary that was broadcast in the wake of the Hollywood pic, “The Nazi Games” David Lodge Cary or something.(David Clay Large)
16. I guess this is a safe place to literally bury Victor Frost but I made myself more than chuckle trying to write a joke about how at his bedside were found two books, one by Schrodinger and one by not Thoreau and a note that was addressed to the Palo Alto City attorney suggesting that if she is reading this, he likely one last time violated the “sit-lie” ban.
17. According to Brian Swimme, the universe is a story more than or as much as a place, and according to Doppler, it is expanding and ever-changing. Mix that with Heisenberg Uncertainty principle and Sapir-Whorf and saying something is true is close enough to being true.


He had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. In the first forty days a boy had been with him. But after forty days without a fish the boy’s parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky.. 

17.5 if a general theme here, besides being a hot rambling mess, is change then I will briefly update to reference a series of thoughts I wrote and or had deleted from other sites about money from Abu Dhabi pouring in to Silicon Valley real estate, specifically at a large apartment complex near the Palo Alto – East Palo Alto and how in the future that compound, the former Whiskey Gulch now Four Seasons and office park, Downtown and maybe Sand Hill Road could declare their independence and then unification for something called Middle East Palo Alto. Or Middle Earth Palo Alto. Abu Dhabi is the second city, after Dubai, in United Arab Emirates. Its sovereign fund meaninng royal family is said to be investing here, and have to file, it seems, some type of SEC filings, once can suss out.  I gather they are investing in soccer more than hoops.
18. Oh Lord, my God, I pray that these things never end, nonetheless. I distinctly remember Hal Riney the ad guru stating at a forum that pretty soon nostalgia is going to bite us on the butt. Which is something like Wallace Stegner line that writers of short stories are spending their principle and not their dividends. Principled stance, that.


this took my entire morning,  minus a few minutes catching up with Tom Jordan, who snuck a shot (camera, err, phone) of yours truly:


Mark Weiss by Tom Jordan, winter, 2016

and1: John McPhee on Bill Bradley:

When you have played basketball for a while, you don’t need to look at the basket when you are in close like this,” he said, throwing it over his shoulder again and right through the hoop. “You develop a sense of where you are.” Go, Titans!

andand: John Reid of the Merc, a former Awalt player and coach, has a nice feature on Gunn’s Alex Gil-Fernandez, as a preview to Saturday’s game, against Leigh. Coach Brandynn unconsciously (we presume) picks up on my theme: What separates the guys who are really great is heart and toughness. Alex is one of the toughest guys with a huge heart. Then, when you add his skill set and athleticism, that makes him special. Curiously, Reid’s lead mentions that a favorite book of Gil is “A Rainbow of Gangs,” by UC Irvine social ecologist James Diego Vigil. I would have liked to see how this claim connects to the other claims in the story, or is it just a coded way to emphasize the Gils’ ethnicity? The headline says that Alex is “among the best ever at Gunn” but the article does not compare him or mention Kent Lockhart or Peter Jordan. It also misses my point here, the potential for a SI rematch; Reid mentions the 1981 defeat but does not notice that SI is in the same draw, as the top seed to Gunn’s second. “The Second Seed is the Word of God”.Quiza, quiza, quiza.

About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player, and blogger; he also sang in local choir, fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32 Reads 'Howl' and owns a couple musical instruments he cannot play
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