1952 – 1952 Fremont High School
The first day at Fremont was very memorable for me. It was the first time I was in a school that had about 30% black kids. I had never been in a school with so many and I was scared shitless of them. Mainly because I didn’t have one friend in school who could back me up. I was on my own, AND, since we had moved to East 88th Place I was always being chased by a car full of black teenagers a lot older than I was.
Luckily the alleys provided some safety because they weren’t paved and were full of pot holes. With that they couldn’t actually catch up with me and I became a world class runner.
On that first day of school I tried to make friends with as many kids as I could, black and white. Introducing myself and shaking hands with everyone I could. It was January of 1952 and I was only 14 ½ at the time and 5’1” tall. I couldn’t even pretend to be a bad ass. But I wasn’t a chicken shit either. All things being equal I could take care of myself and I wasn’t afraid to fight. I didn’t really want to fight, but I wasn’t going to back down either.
It may sound funny, but I never tried to make friends with any of the Mexican kids at Fremont. I just never related to them from the way I talked or the way I dressed. I was an American of Mexican descent, not a Mexican American. I didn’t realize it then, but there is a huge difference between the two mind sets.
I also had a problem because I was still selling newspapers after school on the corner of Manchester and Avalon. After school a lot of kids from Fremont would pass my corner on their way home and I would run into the small grocery store to hide when I saw a group coming. I was embarrassed that I was in high school and still selling newspapers like a little kid.
Besides being embarrassed because I was selling newspapers, I was an immediate varsity tennis player on the Fremont team. The first day I showed up for sixth period gym, (the designated sports gym period), I walked up to Mr. Mercer, who also was the basketball coach. As I looked up to him I introduced myself like, “Mr. Mercer sir, I’m Charlie Diaz.” Back then I was called Charlie.
He had been told he was getting a real tennis player and he kind of gave me a double take. All five feet one inch of me. He was so taken back he really didn’t know what to say or do. After he collected his thoughts he introduced me to the rest of the guys trying out for the team, and I sat down.
The tennis team consisted of a lot of kids who couldn’t play baseball, football, basketball or any other kind of ball, but there were about twenty of them. I think the actual team consisted of about six to eight players. With my size, Mr. Mercer was a bit confused as to what to do with me so he decided I had to start at the bottom of the roster and work my way up.
I could challenge three slots above me and I spent the first couple of weeks doing away with the 17th ranked kid, the 14th ranked kid the 11th ranked kid etc. until I got to challenge last year’s number one guy.
I can’t remember his name but he was a pretty good tennis player and it took me more than once to beat him. After all he was a senior at 18 and I was 14 and a half. Again, younger because I had skipped the A5 in grammar school.
I eventually beat him and became number one on the varsity team and that started me on a path for the first half of my tenth grade. Mainly because one of the lower division players was a guy named Marv Jacobson and he was the sports page editor for the school newspaper, “The Pathfinder.”
Marv was key to what happened to me next at Fremont. In my first interscholastic match we played, I think Southgate High the number one ranked guy was about six foot three. I took no time in eliminating him 6-0 6-0 and Marv had a field day.
For the first time in the history of the Pathfinder, a tennis player made the headline on the sports page. I’ll never forget it, “Charlie Giant Killer Diaz defeats Southgate.” That wasn’t my idea, it was Marv’s celebration of a tennis player doing something he could make a big deal out of.
My school life immediately changed for the better. All the football jocks, baseball big shots and basketball players were quick to accept me in their circle because as athletes they were impressed with a ranked tennis player. Ranked at the City Park was a big thing and I had earned their respect
At Fremont High School the center of all social contact was in the quadrangle, a large square area located behind the main building and between the two other buildings that made up most of the school rooms. In the Quad, there were a number of trees and a central fountain. Everyone who brought their lunch would hang out somewhere in the Quad. Where depended on your individual rank among your peers or group of friends.
The varsity football players had their own tree and only varsity football players could hang out by their tree. That is until I showed up. As a fourteen-and-a-half-year-old, small 5’1” tennis player who had just kicked ass in my first match they actually invited me to join them, at their tree. So began a mutual respect between myself and these huge men.
Unknown to me there were certain girls who were called “season chicks.” A season chick was typically the girl who would go after the Football Captain, the best baseball player etc. For one, Shirley X, decided to go after the Giant Killer. She was a year and a half grade above me in the A11, but that didn’t bother her. She was also about three inches taller, but she didn’t mind that either. And she had great tits.
Besides being hot, she was also popular with other girls and another first happened in that first six months at Fremont. Because of her girls were showing up for tennis practice after school. So much so that some of the football players actually came out and tried to hit the tennis ball with me on more than one occasion. I would run them all over the court and they would give up shaking their heads, ready to collapse.
While Shirley was trying to close in on me I had the hots for her a best friend, Margie Y. Margie and I started getting more friendly and Shirley eventually found out. With that, Shirley put an end to my fame. While I was the youngest tennis player to receive my varsity stripe, it was the end of my tennis at Fremont. I’ll explain more in a bit.
Receiving my stripe gave me the honor of wearing a Cardinal colored Letterman’s Sweater with one Grey stripe. The photo below shows what the sweaters looked like. It’s from a Fremont Annual.
I received my Letter at the end of my B-10 grade in June of 1952. At that time I didn’t have enough money for the sweater, but during the summer I had gotten my job in Produce. By the time I went back to school following the summer, I had my sweater.
The Varsity lettermen would wear their sweaters on Friday and what an honor to walk down the hallways in my new Varsity Letterman’s sweater. The perfect way of wearing mine was grey flannel slacks, a white T-shirt, a blue swede belt and blue swede shoes. Did I look HOT!
The rumor was that I had gotten kicked off the tennis team because I wasn’t showing up for practice after school and I was actually a bit upset with what was going on. None of the girls who were Shirley’s friends would talk to me, I was like poison.
The truth was, I had turned 15 during the summer and I was working almost every night after school. I couldn’t attend the matches between schools on a regular basis. I had to make a choice and my mother needed the money.
Work was number one on the money-making list and had top priority. For more information about my tennis career, read the Chapter, “Tennis and My Life.”
Before I talk any further, I want to mention more about what I learned about the varsity football players and varsity players of all sports. They were nothing like they are portrayed in kid’s movies today. Today the movies portray them as arrogant bullies who picked on the nerds who all end up becoming millionaires.
I never saw any of that in my entire growing years as a kid. I met plenty of jerks who tried to bully, but they were normally the ones who couldn’t do anything else, they weren’t good at anything. But even that is painting with too broad of a brush. There can be and are jerks from any group of guys, but not the way Hollywood is portraying them.
It does seem that Hollywood writers of today have an agenda to defame high school athletes and beauty queens, but I haven’t figured out why. Maybe it’s because when they were growing up they didn’t have a personality and couldn’t do anything but live inside themselves and hate. Maybe a lot of them are gay and are lashing out at society. There may be more gays in Hollywood than you know.
In fact, while I’m on the subject of Hollywood writers etc., they seem intent on portraying fathers as dumb/evil necessities and mothers as brainwashed women who haven’t found out their true calling. They should be seen as a working being who doesn’t need a man. Check out today’s commercials on TV and see how men, especially white men, are portrayed.
They portray America as an Indian killing slave masters to be looked down on after saying America is the greatest nation in the world. Maybe that’s why I quit going to movie theaters over twenty years ago.
I’m glad I got that off my chest.
My first year at Fremont I grew almost 10 inches. By the B-11, I was 5”10 ½” and still growing. During that year, as often as I could, I hung out with a running back and his lineman brother on the Fremont varsity football team. They were Arnie and Bobbie, the Setran brothers. I would go over to their house and we would box, lift weights and generally have a great time.
Bobbie’s neck was bigger than my head and Arnie was a slim tall good looking guy. We became great friends. ‘ll never forget the look on Arnie’s face when he gave me a ride home. We had just pulled up in front of the house and he started to get out of the car. I had to say something so I just told him how it was, I wasn’t allowed to bring any kids into our house. At first he thought I was kidding, but I convinced him.
Let’s not start playing any violins for poor Charlie, it was part of growing up and I accepted it.
Any way, I had no sooner convinced my mother to let me quit the newspaper job when I was surprised by my uncle Pancho (remember the tennis player). He offered me a job as an apprentice produce clerk. Uncle Pancho was the produce manager at a market in Westchester CA called the Food Palace. Westchester was about an hour bus ride due west on Manchester from where I would catch the bus in South Central L.A.
The day he told me I would be given a chance, I knew I would have to lift boxes and other heavy stuff so I ran to our garage in back of the house to work out. The heaviest thing I could find was the lawn mower so I grabbed it and started pressing the mower over my head. I did it as often as I could until I actually went to work.
Pancho was a real company man so he told me I had to work two weeks for free to show the bosses I was dedicated. So I did and two weeks later, as an apprentice, I was making somewhere around $1.80 an hour. I started work two weeks before my 15th birthday in August of 1952. That’s really why Pancho wanted me to work for free, I had to be 15 before I could legally work. Getting this job changed my life in every way you could think. And for the better in all aspects.
I was growing taller and getting muscular on the job. Like I said, in 1952 I actually grew about 10 inches and my attitude was changing too.
What a thrill it was to have a man’s job and get a paycheck each week. It was summer vacation and I was working 40 hours a week, probably grossing around $72 bucks a week before taxes. I have no idea what I cleared but it must have been over $60 a week.
I’d bring my check home and my mother would take me to the bank and cash the check. Then she would give me something like $10 or $15 so I could pay for my bus rides to work and a little extra. She kept the rest.
Next 1952 – Learning to Work