By Bill Swank
60 years ago, San Diego Park & Recreation leader Chuck Hile organized and outfitted Clairemont’s first baseball team: The Clairemont Colonials.
Mel Rizzo, 75, who still resides in Clairemont, was a hard-hitting catcher on that local Junior American Legion team. They played in a tough league. Post 492 of East San Diego advanced that year to win the 1954 Junior American Legion National Championship in Yakima, Washington.
“It was the first baseball uniform I ever wore,” recalled Rizzo. “Chuck Hile was the rec coach at Whittier Elementary and he named us the Clairemont Colonials. It was a strange name.”
Chuck Hile, 83, remembers hustling for sponsorship. “I begged Clair Burgener for the money to buy the uniforms. His construction office was across the street from Whittier Elementary School. He was a cool guy.”
Hile laughs and shakes his head at Rizzo’s memories. “I haven’t a clue why I picked the name Colonials, but I picked the “C” on the cap to model the Cincinnati Reds. I thought the style was way cool.”
As he reminisced about the Colonials, the octogenarian easily slipped back into the vernacular of the day. “Cool” became a popular expression in the 1950s. It was the opposite of “square.” Clairemont, of course, still has a square and it is still recognized as the cultural center of the community.
In addition to Rizzo, Jim Clark and Bill Hunt would go on to play baseball for legendary Ernie Beck at Mission Bay High School. Beck transferred to Clairemont when the school opened in 1959. He coached the Chieftains until 1984 and was the winningest high school baseball coach in San Diego County when he retired.
Mike Mountain is a name from the Colonials roster that might sound familiar to Clairemont epicureans. Contrary to popular belief, Mountain Mike’s Pizza located in the Clairemont Village is not owned by Mike Mountain.
Old-timers remember back when the Colonials were playing, the “Village” shopping center was known as the Clairemont Quad.