“We never had speed down here,” Verne Dodds remarked. I nodded, agreeing with my former JV basketball coach, going back 40 years and more to our shared town of Imperial Beach. Mostly sons of Navy enlistees or construction workers, our local athletes were also mostly white, strong, deft, gritty, but cursed with those awful slow-twitch fibers and the wrong calf-to-thigh ratio for sprinting. Yes, we had guys who could throw and catch, dribble and shoot, pitch and hit with consummate ease, but rare was the kid who could spring out of the starting blocks and accelerate through all four gears to the tape in a time that would rank high in the county.
So when Ed Teagle arrived in 1957 as the new head track and field coach of Mar Vista High School, he wouldn’t find a stable of thoroughbreds. In fact, it was quite the same piebald mix of mustangs and plow horses that he had trained for the past four years at San Dieguito High School. Still, at age 26, the coach had produced a league champion in his first year at the Encinitas school and amassed an impressive 50–19 dual-meet record over four years. “As a track coach, he had no peer,” says Al Southworth, veteran track coach and Teagle’s assistant at San Dieguito High from 1955 to 1957.
Teagle’s career win-lose-tie record of 193–42–2 was indeed remarkable. Those numbers, and the 14 league championships he mustered over 24 seasons, caught the eye of Bobby Kennedy, another legendary baseball coach from Chula Vista High, who nominated his colleague for the San Diego High School County Coaching Legends. On November 14, 2007, Teagle joined about 120 other recipients, whose careers date from the turn of the century, in that exclusive club sponsored by the San Diego Hall of Champions.
Al Southworth adds, “More important, he was a great human being.”
My first encounter with Ed Teagle came through happenstance: the 1962 National City Jaycee Relays. I loved watching track meets, and on that crisp Saturday morning I was one of some 50 people in the gray wooden bleachers of Sweetwater High. A ninth-grader, I had hitched a ride with a friend old enough to drive. Teagle and his assistant happened to ensconce themselves right behind me. I held in awe all of Mar Vista’s coaches, but Teagle had a special place among them. He was the athletic director and had winning teams, and for an adolescent like me he had charisma. A certain alacrity, an openness. And now here he was, so close I could hear him talk. I recall how animated he was. Studying the whirling hand of his stopwatch, he spewed predictions, fears, and chortles of amusement. As if he were a field general, his athletes always knew his whereabouts, jerking their heads in his direction whenever his shrill whistle split the air like a javelin. This was Teagle’s unique signal to attention, emitted from his own stretched lips and gushing lungs, a clarion call followed by a yell of encouragement to one of his athletes, who might be nervously anticipating the starting gun seconds away, or exhausted and facing his last excruciating lap.
Two years later, only weeks into the season, I was high-jumping on Mar Vista’s track team when I landed badly and broke my wrist. I decided to concentrate on my major high school sport, basketball, which led me to volleyball and a playing career that took me to Europe for several years. More years passed, until one day in the mid-’80s I was invited down to La Jolla Shores for a local volleyball event. It was there that I happened upon my old track coach, browned, bearded, his hair grown out from that familiar flattop. The tenor of our conversation changed, as two decades of time had now made us peers. He knew of my career; in turn, I was surprised to learn that he also had been a volleyball player in his youth. Later, I learned that he was considered the first great beach volleyball player of San Diego. He spoke of his early retirement from teaching at age 55 and of his current idyllic life split between Mazatlán and the Shores.
There was a good reason for the early retirement. A year or two after that sun-drenched reunion, Ed died of cancer at age 59.
* * *
Teagle’s father Leslie married Helen Glabb in 1926, and a son was born in Seattle in January 1927. In less than a year, the couple divorced. Intent on a new start, Helen took her young son to San Diego, where she paid the rent by cleaning homes. Eventually they settled in a smallish beach dwelling on Salem Court in Mission Beach. More shack than house, Helen provided for Ed as best she could, and at the end of a long day of scrubbing and mopping, couldn’t be blamed for ambling over to a nearby tavern. She found a man named Jake with whom she enjoyed sharing draft beer and, in time, her home. Although Leslie Teagle would go on to establish a successful restaurant in Seattle, remarry, and have a daughter, he didn’t contact his son Ed for several years.
Freckled and fair-haired, Ed Teagle soon learned that outside his mother’s cheerless abode waited a paradise. In those prewar days, the part of the beach with the most action was at the end of Redondo Court in Old Mission Beach. Teagle haunted it daily. There, Phil Prather, a kid arrived from Kansas in 1941, dove into the ocean for the first time and surfaced to find his homesickness for the Great Plains gone. “In those days,” Prather remembers, “you lived in a bathing suit. We never wore shoes until school started.” At low tide, the rocks north of Bird Rock were full of lobster waiting to be plucked, and the limit of five abalone was so easily achieved that Prather recalls his mother’s complaint, “Oh no, not more abalone!” In the bay, a few hundred yards away, flounders covered the bottom, and clams and scallops abounded just under the sand. Today when the 81-year-old Phil reminisces about that era, his face shines: “Man, what a time.”