I’ve always accepted the fact that sports and politics carry on hand in hand. Some of the most successful political leaders shared an athletic background. The great Vince Lombardi once said “running a football team is no different from running any other organization — an army, a political party, a business. The principles are the same, the object is to win — to beat the other guy.”
Four people recently elected and re-elected to the Tehachapi City Council have been ingrained in the athletic history of our community. They have been leaders on the field and courts, coaches to young men and women, officials, boosters, supporters and volunteers. They either already have or are now taking that experience and leadership into local politics.
Joan Pogon-Cord has been a physical education teacher and coach at Tehachapi High School since the 1970s. When she came to THS, Title IX, the banner legislation that established girls’ sports, had just taken root. She was the first woman coach at Tehachapi High; she went to bat for her girls, for her sports, for equality. She was a trailblazer for the Lady Warriors of today and programs like volleyball, which has built a dynasty. “Pogie,” as we all know her, probably taught more than 90 percent of this community and she never left her THS home. Now retired, she simply can’t stay away, serving as the official scorekeeper for Warriors volleyball and basketball, and a substitute in the classroom. Her selflessness as a coach and volunteer was a major reason she won in a landslide in District 4 and unseated an incumbent.
Recently re-elected to another four-year term, Phil Smith has been on the Tehachapi City Council for decades, but even during that time he managed to be instrumental in local AYSO soccer program. He spent more than a decade as a coach and board member for that organization. It wasn’t something he did for just a few years to gain political favor; no, he stuck with it and helped lay the groundwork for the league many kids enjoy today.
When smith's own children wanted to play roller hockey in the 1990s, he teamed up with another of this year’s elected candidates, Michael Davies, who won the at-large seat to fulfill the term of our late Ed Grimes, whose local sports history could fill a book. Davies and Smith saw the need for roller hockey in Tehachapi and the Tehachapi Mountain Roller Hockey Association was born. They converted the old Jacobsen Junior High School tennis courts into a home arena, they still play hockey there today. Davies didn’t even have sons playing; he just loved hockey, he just loved this community. He still acknowledges he stops to watch the kids play when he drives by the rink. I guess even the most-humble laymen should be able to enjoy their handiwork from time to time.
Davies’ involvement wasn’t limited to just building hockey rinks. He is most well-known for officiating with the Tehachapi Valley Recreation & Park District. For more than 30 years he has been a referee at basketball games and been an umpire on the softball diamond. I think you’ll probably agree that given the political climate these days, nobody is better qualified to sort through the issues than a man who has successfully umpired adults on a softball field.
The involvement of these three in local sports, for the right reasons, helped shape young people, I know that personally. Even Mayor Pro-Tem Susan Wiggins, who recently won re-election in District 5, has a sports connection. Her late husband, Ed Wiggins, was an All-League lineman for Tehachapi and a member of the 1960 DIL Champion Warriors. Over the years the 1960 squad, the first to win the DIL in Tehachapi’s history, would reunite at the Wiggins’ home in Tehachapi each Mountain Festival weekend. Although Ed Wiggins has passed, the team still meets at Susan’s home to reminisce about their historic season. I guess once the wife of a Warrior, always the wife of a Warrior.
Leaders are forged by choosing to take on responsibility and each one of these individuals has a track record of that. Now, they are taking that leadership to the next level for the benefit of an entire community. A big jump indeed, but as one of my coaches used to say, “champions rise to the occasion.” I’m confident these community champions will do just that.
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.