In a very real sense, Jim Fregosi set the standard for athletic excellence at Serra High School.
He represented a bridge between the all-boys Catholic school’s formative years and a brave, new world that lay just down the road.
Fregosi, who died last Friday in Miami at age 71 after a series of strokes, was Serra’s first, true big-time sports prospect, a gifted kid who was wooed by both college football recruiters and Major League Baseball scouts and would eventually wind up front and center on America’s professional sports stage.
Fregosi wasn’t just a two-sport gem; he was a four-sport phenomenon as a prep athlete. In addition to football and baseball, he was a state-caliber track and field star as well as a tough, physical basketball point guard.
In his senior year at Serra (he graduated in 1959), he was an all-Catholic Athletic League performer in football, baseball and basketball and long-jumped 23-8 which, at that time, was the best mark in Northern California.
Fregosi was the genuine article, the real deal, a natural who went effortlessly from sport to sport. He made high school athletics look like a walk in the park. For him, maybe it was.
Nick Carboni, a teammate of Fregosi’s in both football and track and field, has recalled that his cohort didn’t practice much. “He just played sports all year,” Carboni said in an interview several years ago. “Whatever the season, that’s what he played.”
When Fregosi entered Serra as a freshman in the fall of 1955, the school was beginning a fresh chapter; it had moved to a new campus on West 20th Avenue, about a mile south of its original location at the corner of Crystal Springs Road and Alameda de las Pulgas.
The old Serra site was small and cramped; it’s “football field” was about 80 yards long and basically dirt; the gymnasium was tiny and inadequate for actual ballgames.
The new school, which could hold twice as many students as the previous site, was a sea change. Serra teams could play at home. Fregosi’s class was the first to go through it all four years.
The athletic program grew apace. Fregosi was in the vanguard. A full year younger than his class (he graduated at 17), he was a sporting prodigy, earning a staggering 11 varsity letters during his time at Serra.
During Fregosi’s tenure on the campus, the CAL was expanding. It included schools in the East Bay, Marin County and Santa Clara County. Travel could be daunting.
In less than a decade after Fregosi departed from Serra for bigger things, the CAL would be carved up into a new West Catholic Athletic League and a CAL for the East Bay only.
Marin Catholic High School became part of a public school league in Marin County and the East Bay version of the CAL has been disbanded and its members scattered throughout a variety of leagues.
Once Fregosi graduated, Serra began to churn out a steady procession of eye-catching sports stars, including eight more Major League Baseball players.
Among the notable names, in no particular order, are: Tim Cullen, Danny Frisella, Jesse Freitas Jr., Lynn Swann, Tom Scott, John Caselli, Jim Freitas, Tom McBreen, Norm Angelini, Tom Brady, David Bakhtiari, Barry Bonds, Gregg Jefferies, Scott Chiamparino, Dan Serafini, Jim Walsh and Randy Gomez.
Early in the 1990s, the Peninsula Times-Tribune, a long-gone local newspaper, took a poll to determine the best high school athlete ever produced in these parts.
Swann was No.1; Fregosi was No.2. There are those who would dispute that result.
John Horgan can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.