The early 1970s produced some of the best distance runners to ever graduate from Antioch. Among the best of the best is Mike Kelly, whose cross-country 3-mile time of 14:46, remains the fastest ever run at a North Coast Section meet by any Antioch High junior. His 14:34 performance for a three-mile cross-country course is the third fastest time ever achieved in Panther history as of 2010. The First Team All-Diablo Valley Athletic League track star had career performances of 4:19.74 in the 1600 meters and 9:34.84 in the 3200 meters, as well as being the league two-mile champion running a 9.39 during 1972-73. The AHS Track and Field MVP also earned the Outstanding Student Athlete Chuck Stapleton Scholarship. In cross-country, Mike was also First Team All-DVAL and AHS MVP as a junior and Second Team All-East Bay as a senior during his high school career between 1970-1973, as well as “Sportsman of the Week” as selected by East Bay Prep Writers Association. In 1970-71, he was ranked as the fastest sophomore cross-country runner in Northern California. Mike earned six varsity letters in track and cross-country, and a seventh for wrestling for the Panthers. The speedy athlete was offered running scholarships from four colleges and accepted a full-ride to run for Utah State University, which he attended between 1977-1980, after serving in the Marine Corps. While in the service, Mike ran for the All-Marine Corps Cross-Country and Track team and competed in the Amateur Athletic Union National Cross-Country Championships. The military veteran successfully transitioned into a student athlete, where he was the Aggie cross-country team’s Outstanding Freshman in 1977 and was MVP in 1978. His top college honors include being a qualifier in the NCAA Division I track championships and being the 3000-meter steeplechase champion of the Pacific Coast Athletic Association Conference. Mike’s time of 8:50.2 in the 3000-meter steeplechase, set in 1979, stood for 30 years until 2009 as the record at Utah State. By 1980, Mike had run the team-best times in both the 5000-meter (15:38.09) and Steeplechase (9:19.31).
Antioune “Tony” Lang was only a sophomore, but his 94-yard kick-off return for a touchdown late in the 1976-1977 season proved that the Antioch High varsity football squad had itself a prodigy. In his first varsity start at halfback in the very next game, Tony again exploded across the gridiron with a headline-grabbing 240 yards on 18 carries, including two touchdown runs of 16 and 63 yards respectively. In the 1976 season finale, Tony proved his earlier performances were no flukes, rushing for 154 yards on 16 carries, which included a 58-yard touchdown run. Those two final back-to-back performances totaled 394 yards and three touchdowns, clearly putting Tony on the path towards being one of AHS’s top running backs. This was not the first time Tony had spectacular single-game performances. During his freshman year, while attending Antioch Junior High, Tony rushed for 295 yards against College Park High, and ended the 1975-76 season with a total of 1,377 rushing yards. He was voted the Most Valuable Senior Athlete at AHS due to his performances in both football and track, and was awarded the Flecto Sports award as the outstanding prep athlete of the week in Contra Costa County on two separate occasions. The fleet-footed 5’9’’ 175-pound half back was voted First Team All-DVAL in 1977-78 for his 594-yard rushing performance during the season, which included 106 yards and four TDs against Mission San Jose in the North Coast Section Championship game. During his senior year in 1978-79, Tony rushed for 570 yards – part of the 1,596 he amassed over a three-year AHS varsity career – even though being sidelined for four games due to a fractured vertebrae in his lower back. His contributions still made the difference to catapult the Panthers to the DVAL Championship title. Panther fans were ecstatic to have Tony on their side for the annual Big-Little Game match-up in 1978. Tony rushed for 177 yards (151 of them in the first half) on 18 carries, including touchdown runs of 29 and 77 yards respectively, to beat long-time rival Pittsburg High 18-16. Daily Ledger sports writer Debbie Carvalho reported that it was a memorable night for more than 6,000 fans who watched Tony “cut to the right from the left sidelines that left the three Pirate defenders out in the cold,” during his 77-yard TD run. Tony’s speed was also an asset to the track team. He set an AHS record in the 220-yard dash on a curved course during the CIF meet in Los Angeles as a sophomore, running a hand-timed 21.70, making him the fourth best performer in the event for the Panthers and setting a personal best. Track coach Mike Hurd said Lang was thought to be the only sophomore to make it to the state level in track and field in Antioch history. As a senior Tony ran the 440-yard relay with teammates Tim Crumpler, Glen Davis and Alan Sowell and the individual 440-yard race at the state level. “His biggest strength is his willingness to work hard. You find a lot of talented kids who aren’t willing to do that,” said Coach Hurd. Tony is one of six Antioch High athletes to have run a 9.9 second 100-yard dash. Tony, a scholar and leader as senior class president, got the attention of the University of the Pacific, which offered him a football scholarship. In one notable performance against Boise State, Tony rushed for 61 yards and had a nine-yard TD run. For his superior game against U.C. Davis on Sept. 11, 1982, the UOP Quarterback Club named Tony its Player of the Week. After football, Lang briefly served in the U.S. Army and returned home to eventually work for Dow Chemical.
Local sportswriters bestowed several nicknames on Steve, such as “Fearless” or “The Executioner” due to his consistently fantastic performances spanning nearly a decade in Antioch baseball leagues. Success on the diamond began in Little League. In 1959, Steve socked two grand slams for the Campbell Comets to beat the Mt. View Rockets in a 17-4 blowout. Steve’s prowess with a baseball bat continued as he matured into a teen hitting prodigy. His .547 batting average – with 35 hits for the Reghitto Motors team – led the Delta Division of the Babe Ruth League in 1961. By 1963, Steve was the batting champ of the American Legion Merchants team in Antioch with a .367 average. Antioch High was the next beneficiary of his skills between 1963-65. As a starting varsity outfielder his sophomore year, Steve hit .296 and helped lead the Panthers to a 10-4 record. He improved his overall batting average to .393 as a junior, again putting the Panthers at the top of the Contra Costa Athletic League, with an 11-3 record, sharing the title with Mt. Diablo High. He was named First Team All-Contra Costa Division/Diablo Valley Athletic League outfielder. Steve’s bat came roaring back even stronger his senior season. In the opener against Liberty, the centerfielder went 4 for 5, with two homers, including one major-league size whopper that soared more than 400 feet. He ended the season as co-league batting champion hitting .432. Steve was AHS’ MVP and was the only Antioch player named to the First-Team All-DVAL squad. The Panthers became co-winners of the CCD of the DVAL in 1965, and held almost every team statistical record: hits in a single game (15) and highest number of team members batting over .300, with six. A punishing 13-5 win over Ygnacio Valley earned Steve his “Executioner” nickname, bestowed by his teammates for almost taking the head off an opposing pitcher with a line-drive. At the Tri-Club Athletic Awards in May 1965, an event co-sponsored by the Pittsburg, Antioch and Pacifica athletic booster groups, Steve was honored as one of the three most outstanding baseball players in the DVAL. Baseball wasn’t the only sport in which Steve excelled. He captained the AHS varsity basketball team as a junior and was a two-year. Steve played American Legion baseball in the summer following his senior season. When not swinging a bat, he was swinging a golf club, and scored a hole-in-one in July of 1965 on the Antioch Municipal Golf Course, six weeks after graduating from AHS, the first of his six lifetime holes-in-one. He spent his first two post-prep years playing centerfield at Diablo Valley College, earning a First Team All-Golden Gate Conference berth in 1967 while posting a .393 season average. He captained the Viking team and led his teammates with 22 hits. He played his senior year at San Jose State University, but a back injury ended his baseball career in 1969.
In 1988, the Panthers were the California state champion team, a first for Antioch High. The team’s shining star was Jason Verduzco, only the second wrestler in Antioch High history to be an individual California state champion, grappling in the 165-pound class in his senior year. The ASICS America Corp. named Jason to its ASICS Tiger All-America first team roster in 1988, effectively crowning him the best high school wrestler in the United States for his weight class; the only wrestler on the team from the entire West Coast. Amateur Wrestling News magazine also placed him on its High School All-America Dream Team. Jason’s 41-1 record put him in a class by himself. His only loss occurred during a dual meet in which he was disqualified for a slam. His career record over four years of varsity prep wrestling competition was 160-12. Jason was crowned the Antioch High Male Athlete of the Year, Diablo Valley Athletic League champion, Outstanding DVAL Wrestler, North Coast Section champion, and Oakland Tribune Athlete of the Year in 1988. Jason began Amateur Athletic Union wrestling competitions at age seven and continued for more than a decade. As a sophomore and junior at Antioch High School, he won the DVAL and North Coast titles, then placed second both years at the California Interscholastic Federation State Championships; wrestling at 145 pounds in 1986 and at 154 pounds in 1987. He was first place winner of the 132-pound class as a freshman in 1985 at De La Salle High, which he attended for one year. His aggressive style was obvious in his first year in high school. He told a local sportswriter, “I take ‘em down, let ‘em up… and take down. I’ll keep it up …it gets tiring for me, but it pays off.” Jason is one of the select few athletes with the skills to achieve nationwide recognition in two different sports. When not grappling, Jason was tossing footballs as the Panther quarterback, throwing for a three-year varsity record of 4,107 yards on 300 completions and 29 touchdowns. He starred for the University of Illinois playing on a football scholarship. The three-year starter was named by the school as one of the Top 10 signal-callers in the college’s history. He ranks third on the all-time Fighting Illini list for passing yardage with 7,532 yards and 42 touchdowns and was chosen as an Honorable Mention 1992 All-America quarterback. He led the Illini into three bowl appearances and was two-time team MVP. Jason went on to play one season with the British Columbia Lions in the Canadian Football League and spent six years combined as an assistant coach with the Washington Redskins and with the Kansas City Chiefs under Head Coach Dick Vermeil.
May 26, 1984 was an historic day in the annals of Antioch prep sports when the lady Panthers brought home the very first North Coast Section Championship in softball for Antioch High School. AHS also captured the boys’ NCS title a few hours earlier, making Antioch High the first school in NCS history to have both its boys and girls teams emerge as champions on the same day.
The girls capped a spectacular 28-1 record of victories – including six shutouts – with the defeat of Montgomery High of Santa Rosa 1-0 for the North Coast crown. Pitcher Dawn Hilgenberg was named the North Coast Tournament’s MVP and two additional AHS starters were chosen for the All-North Coast Tournament Team – Tabitha Roth and Karen Christianson.
In the final game lead-up to NCS, played against San Ramon High, Karen Christianson’s clutch 2-out, 2-run single in the sixth inning to right center brought in Andy Telford and Tabitha Roth, giving the Panthers a 2-0 victory over San Ramon that sent the team to the NCS championship against Montgomery. The Panthers found a formidable opponent in the Santa Rosa team, which came into the NCS play-offs with a 23-3 record. Sophomore pinch-runner Kendra Mattson scored the winning run to clinch the championship. Pitcher Dawn Hilgenberg allowed only two runs in the four-game NCS series.
Mt. Diablo High was responsible for the lady Panthers’ only Diablo Valley Athletic League loss, after a 21-game winning streak, even though the game was a no-hitter for pitcher Hilgenberg. The only run was unearned and occurred in the bottom of the seventh inning. The season did have some sweet revenge, when the Panthers’ second match-up against the Red Devils resulted in a one-hit, 5-0 shutout by Hilgenberg that clinched the league championship.
The team, co-captained by Joann Mills and Karen Christianson, racked up 123 runs throughout the season, holding their opponents to a total of 34. The Panther girls led the league in stolen bases and having the fewest errors.
Hilgenberg, the flame-throwing right hand senior, had an astounding .94 ERA in 126 innings in an overall 18-1 season and 11-1 DVAL record. She was also named Player of the Year for both the DVAL and East Bay, chosen by the East Bay Prep Writers Association, as well as being honored by the Big “C” Athletic Club as its Female Athlete of the Year.
Junior outfielder Tabitha Roth (.306 batting average) and senior outfielder Sharon Christianson (.400 batting average) both were selected for the First Team All-DVAL. Roth was also a unanimous choice for the All-East Bay First Team and Catcher Karen Christianson was Second Team All-DVAL with a .300 batting average.
At the season’s conclusion, coaching staff selected the team award-winners; MVP was Dawn Hilgenberg, outfielder Tracy McCuish was most improved, best defensive player was shortstop Joann Mills and Karen Christianson received the coach’s award.
In a Daily Ledger pre-season article, coach Andria Edwards expressed some worry about having an inexperienced squad, made of mostly sophomores and juniors, and anticipated having “to definitely work on our hitting.” The team’s success went beyond what many would have predicted. The girls put away their first 11 opponents, holding most teams to one or two runs a game. Coach Edwards was honored as the DVAL Coach of the Year.
The extraordinary teamwork and camaraderie developed among the veteran and rookie players propelled the girls to the best record in the history of Antioch High. Helping cement their close relationship were several shared rituals. The girls fondly recall singing along with a mix-tape of songs featuring pop hits “Footloose” and “Eye of the Tiger” played at full volume on the bus rides to every away game. Andy Telford recalls that she used to kiss the ball for good luck prior to handing it over to pitcher Hilgenberg. The girls’ quirks included on-field superstitions. “We did not want to step on the base lines. We always stepped over them when running out on the field,” Mills said.