I was new to this area, 1979, spring time. Baseball and softball. A little tennis and swimming. Track & field was huge. How huge? Jim Scribner, the highly successful girls’ track & field coach at Redlands High, was setting his team’s lineup for San Gorgonio – then rivals in the Citrus Belt League.
It could’ve been that Eugene Howard, father of the Howard sisters – Denean, Sherri, Tina and Arta – could’ve decided to move into the Redlands school district. Or Colton. Fontana. Even somewhere in Riverside.
No, San G seemed to be the better fit. By the way, Eugene had six daughters. Darlene and Gina were the oldest.
Those kids were A students, maybe a few B’s. For 13 years, they lived in Alaska. Eugene was a Master Sergeant … and the girls’ coach. They showed up in San Bernardino – Norton Air Force Base – for one memorable season.
San G’s track & field program, sensational throughout the years, was never better than it was in 1979.
Sherri Howard ran a 54.48-second clocking over 440 yards – a county record that stands to this very day. The four sisters combined to run a 3:42.95 clocking in the 4 x 400, which is now third best in San Bernardino County history.
The Howards were this county’s answer to a Long Beach Poly dynasty. One was a senior, while the others were 11th, 10th and ninth graders. Together, they won Southern Section titles in both the 4 x 400 and 4 x 100 relays.
Sherri Howard, who went on to become an Olympian (1980, 1984, 1988) and a TV personality (The X-Files, Diagnosis Murder, Martial Law, among others), ran an Olympic record 48.83 in a 400-meter leg of the 4 x 400 – despite two stress fractures in her left foot.
Sherri and Denean, who showed up at Cal State Los Angeles, are both Olympic gold medal winners. Imagine that? From around these parts?
Talent? Hereditary? Hard work? Eugene was All-City in Detroit basketball and all-state in track. Barbara Howard, their mom, was a high school track star in Texas. The Howard sisters were also hard workers devoted to training.
It was Sherri Howard’s 54th birthday on June 1.
But that sensational 1979 season was something to behold. Denean (Olympics in 1984, ’88 and ’92) was the freshman, Tina was a sophomore, Sherri was a junior and Arta was a 12th grader on those relays. In that single season, the four set four national high school records in the 4 x 400, breaking their own record every weekend for a month until they reached the State finals – winning in 3:44.05 after winning the 4A title (3:46.34) and the Masters (3:44.9).
They set seven national records over a three-week period while at San G.
Sherri Howard won the 400 state title (53.65).
There are so many stories, it’s probably better to just share a blurp of a memory.
Back to 1979: Here’s Scribner, charting his team’s lineup for that Redlands-San G dual. New reporter shows up. Knows nothing about the area. Hey, Coach, how’s it going? Scribner looks over at this raw rookie reporter, fresh from Central California. Sure, everything’s great, Rook writer!
“I’m getting ready,” he said, “for the Howard sisters.”
First I’d heard of them. I can’t even recall how that dual came out.
That’s 10 points in the relays, easy, plus five more each in the 100, 200 and 400, possible sweeps if San G coaches logged Howard sisters in each event. Maybe they long jumped? Or triple jumped? Who could recall who else San G had in those years?
Redlands was always strong – and deep.
A year later, the Howards moved on to Granada Hills Kennedy High. Denean won the state 400 title for Kennedy in 1980 (53.04) and 1982 (52.39). Kennedy notched a couple of 4 x 100 titles with the remaining Howard sisters.
Matt Maeda, San G’s fourth athletic director – Bob Betty, Larry Arnold and John Powell – since the Howard Sisters Days, said three out of the four showed up at the school’s Hall of Fame induction ceremonies a few years back.
“The fourth (Howard sister),” he said, “sent her daughter.”
Relay members to the end.