Both current and former Merced High Bears gathered together at the County Fairgrounds on Saturday for the 2023 Hall of Fame Dinner.
As guests enjoyed a fabulous dinner prepared by Pereira Catering, the spotlight was on 14 former MHS athletes and a string of championship wrestling teams — all of whom were being honored for their accomplishments in local sports and within the community.
- First to be recognized was the 1973-1978 Wrestling Teams, who established Merced High School’s dominance over the Sac-Joaquin Section during a six-year span. These teams under the direction of Steve Sanchez won five Section championships in five years, including 10 CIF State and 15 CIF Sac Joaquin Section individual Champions in that same period.
- Swimmer Mike Carpenter was recognized for his part in an All-American relay team in the 200 Medley Relay in 1981, an all-time MHS top 10 times in six of the eight individual events contested in the high school schedule, and as part of the water polo team that won Sac Joaquin Section championship title.
- Sandra Clark was a key part of Merced High’s Swimming and Water Polo Teams, regularly scoring six and seven goals in individual games as a sophomore on varsity. In swimming, Clark still holds a swimming record with a time of 2:00.11 in the 200 Medley. Clark held the 200 freestyle women’s mark of 2:00.8, the 200 I.M mark of 2:14.94 and 100 free mark of 55.2.
- Les Contreras was promoted to varsity as a sophomore on the baseball team in 1966, and would play shortstop and second base and batting over .300. Contreras would be selected as an All Star his senior year.
- Robert “Bob” Dallas was a three-sport athlete in his two years at Merced High. He played football, Basketball and Baseball. In 1948, during his senior year, Merced High School won the Valley Championship. Dallas was named the Most Valuable player winning two games as a pitcher during the championship run before signing a baseball Scholarship to Saint Mary’s College in Moraga.
- Sam Diele was a Basketball and Football player in high school and was drafted in 1943 to serve in World War II at Omaha Beach, France, and the Battle of the Bulge under Patton at Bastogne. Returning to Merced High, Diele would coach football and basketball teams and would eventually move to the varsity squads and later take over the Boys Varsity Basketball program in the mid 1960s. Diele would continue his coaching by taking over the new girls’ basketball program and would coach them for the last six years of his career. Sam would lead the girls team to three Central California Conference Championships, and take the 1978 team to the CIF Sac Joaquin Section title game coming up just short of a championship. Sam coached Hall of Fame inductees, Claudia Eaton (2015) and Lori Powell (2016).
- Eddie Gamboa would be a three-year varsity starter for the MHS Baseball and would help lead the Bears to a Sac Joaquin Section Championship his Junior year while dominating on the mound, in the field and at the plate. Gamboa was selected as an All Section player and was the Central California Conference Player of the Year in 2002.
- Steve Loop was a three-sport athlete in the early 1980s playing varsity soccer as a freshman, football and swimming. Loop is probably most known for his ability to kick a football, but his soccer and swimming abilities helped lead Merced High to success. Loop was All Conference as a freshman for soccer and helped lead Merced swimming to a CCC Championship by being the conference champion in the 50 free and section qualifiers in the 100 breaststroke. In football, Steve would be selected First Team all CCC, All District, All Northern California and play in the North South All Star Game. Loop held MHS records for field goals made and the longest field goal of 53 yards.
- Jennifer Mata (Davey) as a freshman at Merced High would compete on Varsity and would wind the Frosh/Soph sub section championship. Her sophomore year she was undefeated and CCC Champion but hit the board in sections and finished 7th. Jennifer Mata would come back and in her Junior year to be undefeated in league and win the CIF SJS championship.
- Karen Mathieu played was a four-year athlete at Merced High School playing varsity softball all four years, wining four straight CCC Championships and being named 1st team All CCC her junior and senior years as a pitcher and second base. Mathieu would be a three-year varsity starter in basketball under Coach Sam Diele. During her three years on Varsity they would win three consecutive CCC Championships and play in the section playoffs. Mathieu would earn first team All Northern California team and completed her senior year averaging 21 points and 12 rebounds per game.
- Bob Puglizevich was the rock of Merced High Bear’s football defense, allowing zero completions for the entire season, and was voted the teams most outstanding defensive back. Puglizevich was also the team’s placekicker, and earn the Most Guts award for being the most aggressive defensive player. Puglizevich would then wrestle for the Bears earning Most Inspirational Wrestler and being recognized as one of the team’s best. Competing in his third sport of track and field under the guides of his father, Puglizevich would compete in the 120 high hurdles, pole vault and high jump.
- Jhay Roland is the name many remember when they talk about the 1990 State Champion Merced Bear Football Team. During Roland’s three years as a varsity starter for MHS Football the teams won three straight CCC Championships, were in three CIF Sac Joaquin Section Finals going 2-1 and won two straight CIF Sac Joaquin Section Championships in 1989 and 1990. In 1990 Roland’s MHS team was picked as the No. 1 team in the State of California by Cal Hi Sports. During these three seasons, Roland’s teams were 41-1. Roland was the 1988 Cal-Hi Sports Sophomore All-State football team selection before earning the title of 1990 Cal-Hi Sports All-State football team selection. In his three years as running back for Merced High, he would would amass career totals of 3,160 yards and 43 touchdowns.
- Salvador “Chappo” Olivarez, was a two sport standout at Merced High in the late 1930s and in 1940. He was the starting quarterback for the Bears football program and was a dominant pitcher on the mound. He was awarded the 1940 All American Baseball Player award his senior year. Olivarez served in the military during World War II where he boxed and played baseball. Olivarez would earn the Bronze Star for campaigns in France and Germany for heroic achievement. The attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 derailed Olivarez’s baseball aspirations until his return after the war in 1945.
- Raymond Olivarez attended MHS from 1963-1966, and was a varsity letterman in both wresting and track and field. Olivarez would compete in the pole vault for the Bears, and after his graduation in 1966 he would spend time planning and volunteering community services events with Club Mercedes. Olivarez would be called to serve himself in the Vietnam War in the 11th armored Cavalry under General George Patton IV. When Olivarez returned from Vietnam he committed himself to service through Club Mercedes. Olivarez has helped serve the homeless, coach youth baseball served pre-game meals for local high school teams and cooked for MHS fundraisers.
- Jodi Williamson (Kemp) would go on to play volleyball, basketball and softball as a Bear. In volleyball Williamson would earn first team all CCC her sophomore, junior and senior years and named conference MVP as a senior. She only played basketball for two years and focused on Softball and Volleyball her Junior and Senior years, and earned a four-year varsity starter in Softball earning 1st Team honors her junior and senior years. Williamson was the SBO athletic director her senior year as well.