When recapping the Tehachapi High School football season last week, I made mention of two teams that shared tough seasons like the 2018 squad. One of them was the 1941 Warriors, who posted a 0-8 mark; until 2018, it was the last time Tehachapi had lost eight contests in a season.
Any reference to something like that is simply for historical comparison, having been one who has worked both in journalism and sports information. It’s important to include these references, no matter how unpopular they are. They were not intended to call out or embarrass a team. Quite the opposite. I hope maybe the underclassmen use it as motivation when preparing for next season. Maybe 2018 inspires a “never again” style-reaction by the players in the locker room. Time will tell.
Thankfully, some of my predecessors in this community took time to completely research the history of our football program, leaving plenty of information online about the Warriors that have come before. So, after writing about the 1941 team, I dove a little deeper than their record, to find a pretty incredible story.
There have been plenty of great coaches along the way, but many have never heard of 1941 head coach Nevin McCormick. He posted an 0-8 record during his one season coaching Tehachapi green and white, but the context of his departure is something for the history books. He was a graduate of Notre Dame, playing in 1937 and 1938 for the Fighting Irish where he was an All-American halfback leading the Irish in rushing yards with 347 on 91 carries in 1938. His head coach was Elmer Layden, who eventually left South Bend to become the commissioner of the National Football League. Talk about a football pedigree.
The environment of 1941 cannot be overlooked either. Although the United States wasn’t involved yet, World War II had been underway for a few years following the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 and in August of ’41 the constant bombing raids by German forces over London had been initiated. No doubt the reports from newspapers, radio broadcasts and news reels coming back to Tehachapi had this group of boys convinced that it was only a matter of time before it was their problem.
The war would eventually be the reason McCormick only walked the sidelines one season for Tehachapi. Three weeks after their final loss of the season to Lone Pine, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 and McCormick was drafted shortly thereafter by the United States Navy. Thankfully, McCormick would come home after his service, but he never returned to Tehachapi. Instead he went back to his native Livermore, Calif., where he restarted what would become a brilliant teaching and coaching career. He was also an athletic director at Livermore High School and school board member after retirement.
He received the nickname “Bunny” along the way. There is no reference to that during his short Tehachapi tenure, so I will assume that came from his time in the Navy. The few Tehachapi pictures that exist of McCormick lack any bunny-like features, but the 1941-42 Tomahawk yearbook did say "his congenial personality and inspiring leadership won the hearts of all who came into contact with him." So maybe that laid the groundwork.
McCormick passed away in 2002 at the age of 88. Among the accomplishments listed in his obituary were his marriage to his wife, Bernice, for 60 years and a family that included two daughters. Sounds like despite one tough season in Tehachapi, McCormick figured out how to win in life.
We see numbers on pages, records listed in history books and shades of gray in pictures sometimes covering the real story. In 1941 that story was most likely centered around football not being the most important thing in the lives of the players and the coach, especially given the world’s situation, which many on that team would eventually be a part of.
One line in McCormick’s obituary really stands out: “His impact on all who met him was long lasting and rewarding.” Despite not winning a game in 1941, we are still talking about him 77 years later. I guess there might be some truth to that statement after all. Not bad for a winless coach turned hero and distinguished public servant; we can put that in the win column for sure.
Corey Costelloe has covered the NCAA, professional and local sports for more than 20 years as a reporter and broadcaster. A THS graduate, he now resides and works in Tehachapi. He can be reached at email@example.com. The opinions expressed are his own.