Pioneers Paying it Forward
Five who left their mark on Cal State East Bay’s athletics programs provide opportunities for those who follow.
BY FRED SANDSMARK ’83
Cal State East Bay’s student-athletes have much to be proud of. Over the years, many Pioneers have earned All-America honors and national championships, tallied school records, and made memories and friendships to last a lifetime. The attributes that helped them become top athletes — including perseverance, teamwork and humility — have driven them on to successful professional and personal lives.
Former student-athletes are also rightfully proud of the institution that supported them while they earned an education and pursued their athletic dreams. The five individuals profiled here — all members of the University’s Athletics Hall of Fame — show their pride and gratitude by contributing time, talent and money to help the next generation of student-athletes at Cal State East Bay.
They’re truly Pioneers who pay it forward.
Springboard to success
Lori Stilson-Armstrong (B.S., ’83) Soared to Hollywood from Cal State’s Diving Board.
Ask Pioneer alumni for their college memories and they often mention the panoramic hilltop vistas of the East Bay. Lori Stilson-Armstrong has a specific recollection: “The reason I went to Hayward is that I couldn’t believe the view from the diving board,” she says. “It was phenomenal.”
As Lori Stilson, she was a three-time NCAA Division II All-American in 1- and 3- meter springboard diving. She was inducted into the University’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2000, but she almost didn’t make it to Cal State at all. With eight children from rural Kerman, Calif., Stilson’s family couldn’t afford college, but she was recruited by diving coach Cal Caplan. “I had been diving since I was six years old, but I’d never had a coach so interested in me,” she says.
In addition to diving and studying, Stilson worked as a cocktail waitress and lifeguard to make ends meet. “Being a college athlete keeps you organized and focused,” she says, but her college years weren’t a complete grind. She recalls hanging out with her teammates — many of whom are still friends — and traveling up and down the state for competitions. Some memories verge on comical: “I will never forget [Coach] Tim Tierney asking me to teach some of his football players to swim,” she laughs. “I have never seen anybody go to the bottom so fast!”
Stilson-Armstrong’s diving ties directly to her 28-year career as a Hollywood costumer. Mal Caplan, her coach’s father, was the longtime costume head for MGM and Universal, and when the team traveled to Southern California they’d tour the studios with him. “I kept saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to do this,’” she recalls, but quickly adds that the Caplans didn’t help her break into the business. It took hard work, talent and dedication, just as diving did.
Today, Stilson-Armstrong proudly supports Cal State East Bay. She donates to the University because she believes today’s students — particularly student-athletes in aquatic sports — deserve the same opportunities to learn and compete that
She also gives to the University because she knows — from experience — how important college years are in a young person’s life. “I contribute a little bit every year because I really attribute my growing up to Cal State Hayward, and essentially to my coach, Cal. He opened up my whole world and made me excited about life.”
Goals of Success
Soccer Star Frank Fudenna (B.S., ’77) found his athletic home in Hayward.
The college career of Frank Fudenna follows a storyline that’s familiar and inspiring to sports fans: Tragedy leads to triumph.
Fudenna was an outstanding three-sport athlete — football, soccer and baseball — at Fremont’s Washington High School. Upon graduation in 1973, he was accepted at UC Davis and planned to be a football walk-on, but instead returned home when his father, Takeo Fudenna, passed away. Fortunately, several of Fudenna’s high school teammates had enrolled at Cal State East Bay (Then Hayward) and encouraged him to come out for the soccer team. That’s where Fudenna met Coach Colin Lindores and Assistant Coach Haru Nagawa, and found his home. Nagawa, in particular, “was a mentor to me,” Fudenna recalls. “He taught me how to play soccer the way it should be played. Between those two coaches and a great group of athletic guys, we became an awfully good team.” The Pioneers were champions of the Far Western Conference and appeared in the postseason in 1975 and 1976.
Fudenna played both forward and defender but shone in the backfield. “Even though I was short, I could jump high,” he says. (Fudenna is 5 feet 6 inches.) “And being an ex-football player, I knew how to run into people and strike the ball well.” He was selected to the All-Far Western Conference team three times, played in the college East- West All-Star Game in Florida, was drafted by the San Jose Earthquakes, and was invited to try out for the U.S. Olympic team.
But again, family responsibilities called, and Fudenna joined his brothers’ farming business in Salinas where he lives today — and where he still uses lessons learned on the soccer field. “You learn to prepare, you learn to work hard, you learn to never give up, and you learn humility,” he explains. “And you learn to use everybody’s strengths to work together and help each other.”
That philosophy also drives Fudenna’s giving to Cal State East Bay. A 2008 inductee into the Athletic Hall of Fame, he donates regularly to the university, but prefers to remain humble about his contributions. “I just try to help in any way I can.” He also supports the soccer program when coaches visit Salinas to recruit student-athletes.
And as the family business prospered — the Salinas region today is “the nation’s salad bowl,” Fudenna notes — he has increased his donations accordingly, with particular emphasis on helping build the soccer program. And he’s done it while retaining his innate humility. “It’s really been over the last few years that I’ve been able to help more, donate more, and do more things for Cal State.” he says.
Winning on the field
Pioneer Pitcher Rich Sherratt (B.S., ’70) found life lessons on the mound.
In 1968 — a tumultuous year on college campuses, when political and antiwar protests made headlines — Rich Sherratt sought structure and inspiration on the baseball diamond at then-California State College at Hayward. The lessons he learned there fueled a lifetime of success.
Sherratt’s mother, widowed when Rich was just nine, had little money to send her son to college.
So Sherratt lived at home in Alameda, worked several jobs while earning his bachelor’s degree in recreation, and made time to play on Coach Al Matthews’ powerhouse team, where politics took a backseat to performance. Cal State's 1968 team had an 11–3 league record and finished second in the
Far Western Conference.
“He had rules and structure,” Sherratt recalls of Matthews’ coaching style. “It didn’t matter what your viewpoint was — you were expected to play to the best of your ability.” Sherratt and Matthews remain close friends.
As a pitcher, Sherratt tallied 16 wins and a 2.90 ERA in the 1968 season — numbers that remain on the University’s top 10 list. More important, his teammates voted Sherratt the Most Inspirational Player two years running. “That went to providing leadership and inspiration to my teammates and coaches,” Sherratt says.
Leadership and inspiration continued to propel his life after graduation. Sherratt taught school, coached youth baseball, led the Boys and Girls Club of Alameda, and held public office. He later launched several profitable business ventures and attributes his success directly to his time in a Pioneer jersey.
“Athletics is a critical part of education, and a critical part of forming a person’s personality,” Sherratt says. “The competition, the teamwork, the camaraderie — they all make a more rounded person, especially in business.”
When he entered the Cal State East Bay Athletics Hall of Fame in 2002, Sherratt reconnected with his alma mater. He endowed a very generous scholarship for student-athletes in 2009. Sherratt supports the University financially because he knows that many Cal State East Bay student-athletes today face the same obstacle he did: the need to balance academics, sports, work and financial challenges.
“I have learned, over the years, that it’s our responsibility to give back and provide opportunities for those who follow us,” says 2012 honorary doctorate recipient. “Whether you’re giving $100 or $100,000, the point is that everybody can give something back to help the next generation of students.”
It’s a pitch that remains as accurate today as it was in 1968.
Hall of fraternal fame
Don Sawyer (B.S., ’68) and Mark Sawyer (’78) left indelible marks on Pioneer Athletics — and each other.
Like many athletes, Mark Sawyer remembers specific contests in great detail. A hammer thrower, he recalls one tense meet when he fouled on his first two attempts. His coach, Don Sawyer, who also happens to be his older brother, pulled him aside.
“I was very nervous, and Don just brought me back and gave me a little talking to,” Mark says. “Take a deep breath and just think about what you’re doing,’ he says. I wound up throwing a personal best.”
It’s fitting that Don became his brother’s coach. When Don played Pioneer football in 1966 and 1967, Mark was in the stands at every game and often watched practices. After a tryout with the Oakland Raiders in 1967 — the first Pioneer to sign a professional sports contract — Don returned to the university in 1970 as a football assistant and began a storied career as professor, coach and administrator.
One early accomplishment was recruiting brother Mark as a hammer thrower in 1974. Mark went on to earn three All-America honors and a national championship, and set a still-standing school record with a throw of 200 feet 3 inches.
“He called the hammer throw ‘the magnificent obsession,’” Don says, recalling his brother’s intense dedication and work ethic. Still, the coach- athlete relationship weighed on the brothers at times. “Coaching your brother is a difficult task,” Don says. “I’m not sure I would recommend it. I think sometimes I put more pressure on Mark than on anybody else.”
“I’m sure I wasn’t the most coachable guy at times,” Mark counters. “But the years have tempered it. All I remember is the good stuff.”
Today, the Sawyer brothers — both members of the Cal State East Bay’s Athletics Hall of Fame and donors to the university — remain each other’s biggest fans. Both say the other was the better student-athlete in their day, but that’s about the only topic on which they disagree. They see each other daily and are unabashed in their mutual affection. “I still love and respect him as my big brother,” Mark says.
The brothers’ devotion to Cal State, represented by their financial donations, is nearly as strong. Don, who has included Cal State in his estate planning in addition to giving annually, points out that several his siblings — not just Mark — also attended the University. In that way, giving money to the University is a way of perpetuating the Sawyer family legacy.
For the Sawyer brothers, that’s the true “magnificent obsession.”