From the Bleachers – With Ron Mosher: The Original Four
BURNEY, Calif., — With the opening of Burney Jr/Sr High School some 50-plus years ago (and shortly thereafter), four men came to the school and set the standard for Raider athletics. These four could be deemed the Godfather’s of Raider athletics – that coupled with their teaching skills – led many of their student/athletes to a better life having experienced these four.
Harry Santos, Gene Pisenti, Bob Osborne and Ron Conley set the stage for the Raider athletic future, and with the passing of Ron Conley this past week, saw the last of the early mentors leave this earth but having left a lifetime of memories for so many of us.
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Here’s my take on their lasting impression as I remember them.
HARRY SANTOS —
Harry moved to Burney from Fall River Jr/Sr/ High to continue coaching basketball and continue his winning ways for his teams on the court. But perhaps his greatest legacy is the creative mind he brought to the community. He spent a lot of time promoting the idea of a small school basketball tournament that would decide the true northern California small school champion through his Superior California Small School Tournament of Champions – affectionately known as the Burney TOC.
Seven northern California basketball leagues sent their champions to the 3-day tournament with host Burney added to the mix, “In order to put people in the bleachers,” was the way he always justified the move. Most years the Raider team was no match for the champion team line-up, but managed to surprise everyone one year by winning the tournament. This created a mixed bag for the Raiders and Burney high – celebrating the win on one hand, while creating a ton of calls for the tournament to be changed. Dave Andrade, Channel 7’s sports anchor in Redding led the charge saying the tournament should be moved around to other venue’s, rather than stuck in Burney. It was just a few short years later when the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) designed and began the current playoff format, making the Burney TOC a moot point and thus dooming the popular event.
Even though the popular tournament was disbanded, it had already made a name for Burney and their high school throughout the north state and the young school became known throughout the area very quickly.
Shortly after the tournament’s demise, Harry left Burney for Lompoc, where he coached for several years before moving to eastern Washington to serve out his teaching/coaching years. During his lifetime, Harry wrote several books, including, “How to coach zone defense.” Harry passed away this past April.
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GENE PISENTI —
Gene was an unknown factor when he showed up in Burney to teach and coach varsity football… positions he kept for decades, making a name for himself and his football program throughout the area.
With his booming voice he was an intimidating picture of authority on the football sidelines, but students and the community quickly learned that he was more bark than bite. He cared tremendously for the students in his classes as well as those athletes on his teams. Yes, he could be gruff with any youngster he felt wasn’t playing up to his potential, and that carried over into his academic world, encouraging his charges to work up to their ability.
He and his wife Jeannie hosted get togethers after each home game at their home atop the hill on the west end of town overlooking the area; with coaches, fellow teachers and others who were part of his football program in attendance to re-hash that night’s game and point out young athletes who excelled on the night. He was particularly animated in conversations that praised ‘his kids’ on the field.
Gene left such a big mark on the community and school, that upon his retirement, the football stadium at Burney Jr/Sr High was dedicated to him in naming it the Gene Pisenti Field.
After his retirment, Gene moved to the valley to be near his adult children and their families. However, he still kept his hand in north state athletic events, often seen helping out at various events – including the Northern Section CIF track finals. It was at this event that I had the chance to talk to Gene for the last time. He still had that deep voice that immediately put him in charge of the conversation, but that smile that would immediately put you at ease. It was a short conversation, because he was the same ol’ Gene I remembered from 25 years earlier – he cut it short to dash off to oversee another field event… yep, always the never-ending coach and student mentor.
BOB OSBORNE —
A graduate of Tulelake High School, Bob Osborne shared a connection with Harry Santos, who began his teaching/coaching career at Tulelake before moving to Burney. So the former ‘Honker’ became a ‘Raider’ where he taught and coached for the remainder of his career.
He started out coaching Raider JV teams, especially basketball. He always told me that he learned a ton of coaching skills from working with Harry for the early years of Burney Jr/Sr High. Upon Santos’ departure from Burney, Bob stepped in to coach varsity basketball.
Bob had one of those infectious laughs (or some might say, “giggle’) that would put everyone at ease. His students, though enjoying his easy manner, also knew that he meant business, and was helping them maneuver life’s hurdles. Bob went on to coach almost every sport at the high school before retiring.
Bob and his wife Susan raised three children, Leslie, Danny and Jean. His son somewhat followed in his footprints – although not an educator, Danny has returned to the football sidelines after a stellar college gridiron career to be a walk-on head coach of the Raiders (his Alma Mater) and continues his coaching career as an assistant coach for the Bulldog football program in Fall River.
The last time I talked with Bob was at a co-ed softball game at Washburn-Bue Park where he was lounging in his pickup watching his son play softball. Yep, between the two of us, we giggled and laughed about old times throughout that evening – a time I’ll never get tired of remembering.
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RON CONLEY —
If it was a sport at Burney Jr/Sr High, coach Ron Conley had his hand in it, coaching almost every sport at the school from Football to basketball, from JV to varsity teams, from boys squads to girls teams – coach Conley was there to mentor the kids. He taught in the classroom, the gym and in a car with his driver training stint. Yep, coach Conley did it all. After his retirement, he didn’t completely walk away, but spent a good amount of time as a substitute teacher. It was obviously too hard for him to just walk away from something he loved so dearly.
Something that many people don’t know about was Ron’s amazing memory. At halftime of many basketball games after his retirement, Ron would seek me out for a ‘halftime conversation.’ He’d mention something that happened in the first half of the game we were watching and it would send him back a few decades, “I remember back in 1972, so-and-so scored 32 points for us….” It always astounded me that his memory could conjure up such wonderful stories from the past, while I was having trouble remembering what had happened 20 minutes ago in the game we were both watching.
Ron and his lopsided smile was perhaps the most admired and liked of the four coaches – mainly due to the variety of sports he coached. He never forgot any student he taught or coached over his career, and was happy to see his former charges whenever they saw him.
During my stint at Mountain Echo, I would call coaches on Sunday evening, interrupting their family night to get info on the past week’s games. Some of the coaches made it seem like I was pulling teeth to extract game stats… but not Ron Conley. Ron would expound from memory about those game(s) with enough information to fill six newspaper pages. He was always proud of his athletes and could find praise no matter how badly his team had performed… the win or loss didn’t mean as much to him as finding a ‘star’ of the game.
These four men brought their lives to Burney to make the lives of our youngsters that much better. All the ‘kids’ they taught/coached are better for knowing them and being mentored by them For me, knowing them was a pleasure that has brought many more memories from times past than there is room to write. I thank all of them for being a part of my life, and for all the memories they have given me.
They may all be gone, but none of them is forgotten.
Stay tuned for next week’s scores, game highlights and updates!
BURNEY RAIDER FOOTBALL 2021
- Friday, Aug. 27: Tulelake at Burney 6pm (FINAL SCORE: 44-33 – BURNEY WIN)
- Wed., Sept. 1: Big Valley at Burney (Fair Bowl) 6pm (FINAL SCORE: 22-14 – BURNEY WIN)
- Friday, Sept. 10: Burney at Loyalton 6pm
- Friday, Sept. 17: Redding Christian at Burney 6pm
- Friday, Sept. 24: Burney at Chester 6pm
- Friday, Oct. 1: Burney at Tulelake 6pm
- Friday, Oct. 8: No scheduled game
- Friday, Oct. 15: Burney at Loyalton (Homecoming) 6pm
- Friday, Oct. 22: Burney at Redding Christian 6pm
- Friday, Oct. 29: Burney at Chester at Burney 6pm
FALL RIVER FOOTBALL 2021
JV and Varsity teams
- Wed. Sept. 1: Fall River at Modoc 5:30pm (COVID CANCELLED)
- Sat. Sept. 11: Fall River at Ferndale 12 noon
- Friday Sept. 17: Pierce at Fall River 5pm
- Friday Sept. 24: Quincy at Fall River 5pm
- Friday Oct. 1: Fall River at Maxwell 5:30pm
- Friday Oct. 8: Biggs at Fall River 5:30pm
- Friday Oct. 15: Fall River at Weed 5:30pm
- Friday Oct. 22: Fall River at Portola 5:30pm
- Friday Oct. 29: Etna at Fall River 5:30pm
- Friday Nov. 5: Fall River at Los Molinos 5pm
BIG VALLEY FOOTBALL 2021
- Wed. Sept. 1: Big Valley at Burney (Fair Bowl) 6pm (FINAL SCORE: 22-14 – BURNEY WIN)
- Friday Sept. 17: Butte Valley at Big Valley 7pm
- Friday Sept. 24: Greenville at Big Valley 7pm
- Friday Oct. 1: Big Valley at Princeton 7pm
- Friday Oct. 8: Hayfork at Big Valley 7pm
- Friday Oct. 15: Big Valley at Dunsmuir 7pm
- Friday Oct. 22: Westwood at Big Valley 7pm
- Friday Oct. 29: Big Valley at Happy Camp 7pm
About Ron, from the man himself:
I began doing sports coverage since the days of Dennis Smith at the Intermountain News in Burney in the mid 1960s through the mid 1970s. I took a long break after moving to the Bay Area, where I had an eight year stint with the San Francisco Giants front office as accounting and data processing manager – so my life has pretty much revolved around balls – footballs, basketballs, soccer balls, volleyballs, softballs, baseballs and the kids who toss ’em, catch ’em and excel in sports.
I returned to the Intermountain area in the 1990s and restarted my sports life in the area by working for Donna and Walt Caldwell and their Mountain Echo newspaper, retiring a few years ago after 20-plus years chasing kids all over northern California covering their antics in playing games.
I have a love for all three of the Intermountain area schools, having attended Big Valley elementary through fourth grade, graduating from Burney elementary and then becoming a 4-year Fall River Bulldog, graduating in 1961… yep, I’m an old guy.
But, I’m an old guy who’s glad to be returning to the keyboard in following Intermountain Area sports and the kids who play ’em… remember: Find something round… you’ll have a ball!
Contact the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org
Trevor Montgomery, 50, moved in 2017 to the Intermountain area of Shasta County from Riverside County and runs Riverside County News Source (RCNS) and Shasta County News Source (SCNS).
Additionally, he writes or has written for several other news organizations; including Riverside County-based newspapers Valley News, Valley Chronicle, Anza Valley Outlook, and Hemet & San Jacinto Chronicle; the Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County; and Mountain Echo in Shasta County. He is also a regular contributor to Thin Blue Line TV and Law Enforcement News Network and has had his stories featured on news stations throughout the Southern California and North State regions.
Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg, breaking his back, and suffering both spinal cord and brain injuries in an off-duty accident. (Click here to see segment of Discovery Channel documentary of Trevor’s accident.)
During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations; including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center, and Lake Elsinore Station; along with other locations.
Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team, and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.
Trevor has been married for more than 30 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and his “fluid family” includes 13 children and 18 grandchildren.