There are any number of names which have had a huge impact on Nevada County’s sports history. But perhaps none have had more than Art Hooper and J. David Ramsey.
Here’s a glimpse at the men behind the names that grace the home turf of the Bear River Bruins and Nevada Union Miners:
Bill Hooper holds a snapshot of his father Art, taken at what turned out to be his final fishing trip.
The elder Hooper, a former area standout prep athlete and longtime high school coach and administrator, was in the final stages of a fatal cancer, yet had a grin from ear to ear.
“There he was, with six months to live, down to 98 pounds, and there he was out fishing,” Bill Hooper said. “Nobody told him to smile. That’s the kind of man he was.”
Art Hooper died Jan. 11, 1984 at the age of 69, but the legacy he built – first as a three-sport star at Grass Valley High in the late 1920s and early 1930s then as a coach for both his alma mater and Nevada Union High – as an ultimate competitor and devoted educator lives on.
Each year thousands of Miner athletes and fans alike pay tribute to his spirit every time they step foot onto his namesake – Hooper Memorial Stadium.
Dr. Jerry Angove, who played halfback for Hooper – a former University of California-Berkeley baseball player – at Grass Valley High in the early 1950s, wasn’t shy about praise for who not only was his mentor but also his friend.
“He was one of the most influential people in my life,” said Angove, who gave the eulogy at Hooper’s funeral. “It was (partly) because of him that I went to college.”
Dr. Angove, a talented prep athlete, wasn’t sure about his future after high school.
“In the 1950s, Grass Valley was not the place to be economically. A lot of people left after the war and never came back,” he said. “I thought I’d either (get a job in town) or maybe try community college, but Art said ‘No.'”
Hooper and the high school’s principal at the time, Bill George, convinced Angove to expand his horizons.
“Even though they were both Cal boosters, they (got me to consider) Stanford University,” Angove said. “(And going there) was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.”
After college, during which Angove lettered for Stanford in 1955 and ’56, he went on become an administrator at the College of the Sequoia’s, Modesto Junior College and finally president of Sierra College.
Angove’s life is just one of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of lives Hooper touched.
“He was an upbeat man, but firm. He had strong values,” Angove said. “All he asked of you was to be honest, work hard (in practice) and give it everything you’ve got.”
Hooper graduated from Grass Valley High in 1931.
While he had planned to attend college, he knew his parents didn’t have the money to send him.
So in the year after high school graduation, he worked in the mines to save money for the day he would be able to reach that goal.
“My dad thought it would take two or three years to save up enough money, but after a year, my grandparents asked him if he still planned to go to school,” Bill Hooper said. “He said he did, but he didn’t have enough money saved up.
“So that’s when they told him they’d put all of the all of the money he’d paid them in rent over the last year into a savings account.”
Money in hand, Hooper headed west for Berkeley.
“From Day 1, he’d always wanted to come back Grass Valley and teach,” Bill Hooper said.
That’s just what he did.
Hooper returned home in 1937. He taught science at Grass Valley and coached football, basketball, baseball and track and field.
Along the way, his teams brought home multiple Sierra Foothill League titles.
But his influence goes far beyond banners hanging on a wall.
Just ask anyone who knew him.
The lines in J. David Ramsey’s hands read like a book on the area’s recent athletic history.
The same hands which lugged a machine gun around northern Europe during World War II, for the past quarter century have helped shape many of the athletic facilities local students have called home.
All at no charge.
Starting in the late 1970s at Placer High in Auburn, the retired civil engineer’s special brand of volunteerism has earned him a place in the heart of too many to count.
Colfax High – which named an annual track and field meet in his honor in thanks for his efforts to bring its facility up to snuff – and Penn Valley’s Ready Springs Elementary are just two of the schools which have been lucky enough to run across Ramsey.
But arguably no school has benefited more from its relationship with the Philadelphia-area native than Bear River High School.
To prove that, Ramsey was given perhaps the highest honor any institution can hand out when the school named its stadium – which is one of the three biggest sports venues in the county – after him in December of 1991.
” His contributions to the school over the years are innumerable. That’s the whole reason we decided to name the stadium in his behalf,” Bear River athletic director Jack McCrory said. “He just wants to help the kids, that’s all he wants to do.”
For Ramsey, 79, it all comes down to getting involved.
” When I was a little younger, my main efforts were at the schools. It’s partly because I don’t have a family of my own,” said Ramsey, who never married. ” (This experience) has kept me young.”
Ramsey, who had earned a reputation as a highly motivated, selfless benefactor of youth sports long before Bear River opened its doors in 1986, has been in on the improvement of the south county school since Day 1.
— The stadium’s water drainage system was a failure from the get-go. He used the engineering skills he honed in the U.S. Forest Service to pinpoint the problem, then fix it.
— The track’s dimensions were off. He surveyed it, laid out the proper dimensions, then oversaw its reconstruction, along with that of both the long jump and pole vault pits.
— The basketball hoops in the gymnasium were a little off. He figured out why, then instructed the contractors who’d installed them in the first place how to remedy the problem.
“We were really lucky when we got him. Being a civil engineer, he saw a lot of the things we never would have,” McCrory said. “He once dug a 40-foot drainage ditch by hand. It was so deep you couldn’t see him, and he was in his 60s. Just incredible.”
Ramsey also helped out by keeping score at various Bruin events, by timing both track and field and cross country meets as well as completing any number of the thankless, yet necessary duties most fans and players take for granted.
“Normally they name a stadium or gym after someone who’s dead. It was a complete surprise. We gathered at the gymnasium for what I thought was a regular school assembly,” he said. “It was an honor.”
World War II raged on as the year 1943 came to a close.
The United States and its allies were still seven months away from the decisive D-Day landing at Normandy when Uncle Sam called Ramsey’s number.
The 18-year-old, who had graduated from high school the previous summer, avoided the fast track to the front lines thanks to high scores on a Bureau of Pubic Roads-sponsored aptitude test.
The scores were high enough to earn him a place alongside some of nation’s brightest young minds at federally-funded engineering program at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.
There he played the role of student.
But not for long.
In September of 1944, Ramsey received new orders.
“It was year and a half before the war ended, and they knew they were winning, so they took us all out of college and put us in the infantry,” he said. “It was quite a shock.”
As a part of the 102nd Ozark Division, Ramsey was shipped out to the frozen quagmire that was northern France.
There he saw his more than his share of action.
“I was on the front lines for seven months. I didn’t get into the Bulge, but our artillery was able to fire into it, so we were that close,’ he said. “(After that), we drove across Germany to the Elbe River and waited for the Russians to show up.”
Ramsey had been wounded in action several times, but declined the Purple Heart – the U.S. Military’s decoration awarded to soldiers who’ve been either wounded or killed by the enemy in action – on each occasion.
“The wounds were nothing really. I thought I had a better chance of getting killed going back to get treatment,” he smiled.
Perhaps the closest Ramsey came to losing his life came while the 102nd was camped out on the west bank of the Rhine River in northwestern Germany.
During a lull in the fighting, He and two other soldiers – one he knew, Roland Hayes of Santa Rosa and another, he didn’t – were fortifying a building with sandbags when a mortar shell came from out of the blue.
Ramsey was knocked unconscious.
“I woke up and was talking to the other guys, saying how close it was, and I didn’t get any response,” he said. “Then I noticed Roland was almost decapitated. I didn’t even know the other one’s name – he was a replacement the day before – he had a hole (as big a fist) in his forehead.”
“It was the only shell that fell that day,” he added. ” The other guys shielded me, I guess. I was very lucky.”
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As far as experts go, The Union’s “experts” have not exactly lived up to the billing so far this season.