Tracing Tracy Territory: Reporting on scene in 1966
by Jon Mendelson
Oct 26, 2012 | 2290 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Reporting on sports has long been a staple of news coverage in the Tracy Press. How the hometown teams are doing is something so many local residents, including even members of the teams, want to see in their local newspaper.

With that in mind, the Press has had solid sports coverage over the years, and that coverage has been the work of a number of sports editors. And with very few exceptions, we have had some very good ones, including our present sports editor, Bob Brownne.

Dave Payne was one of those. Not only did Dave, who died last week in South Carolina at the age of 72, do a solid job of covering sports, he was the first real sports editor the Press had on its staff.

Before Dave came to work here in 1965, fresh out of San Jose State, several of us over the years edited the sports pages. But we, including myself, formed only a small staff, so we covered a whole lot more than sports in the way of news.

Prior to Dave, we had some “stringer” sports writers, usually local high school or college students, who wrote coverage of games, in those days for Tracy High, then Tracy’s only high school. Guys like Rick Overall, his brother, Stan, and Ron “Stub” Raymond quickly come to mind.

Although Dave also covered school news, including school board meetings, while at the Press, he was first and foremost a sports guy who took our coverage to a new level.

As the son of Charlie Payne, he came by his love of sports naturally. Charlie, as at least a few old-timers will recall, was one of Tracy’s unique characters.

He was a longtime postal worker, in charge of delivering parcel post all over town. In making his rounds, Charlie would linger awhile, often a long while, to jaw about the ups and downs of the Oakland Oaks (his favorite team) and the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League, and later the Giants and A’s and pro football teams — and how the Bulldogs did Friday night.

His son Dave was just as interested in sports, but he wanted to report, rather than talk, about the games. He wanted to be a sports writer. While still in high school, he wrote some sports stories for the Press. And he kept writing for us and school publications when he attended Modesto Junior College and later San Jose State.

When he graduated from San Jose State with a degree in journalism, he came to work at the Press. And while local sports were at the top of his priority list, he also would head to Oakland or San Francisco on his days off to attend pro football or baseball games. Reports of those games would be covered in his column on the sports pages among the local coverage, and they gave the budding sports writer experience in covering professional sports, experience that served him well in his career.

And while Dave covered all kinds of sporting events for the Press, I believe his best reporting came one day in 1966 as he covered a non-sports breaking story.

On June 28, 1966, three inmates at Deuel Vocational Institution were being led into the holding cell at the court building in Wainwright Village when they grabbed correctional officer Bill Hiles’ gun, and Deputy Constable Corky Canale slammed the holding cell door with Hiles and the three inmates inside.

The inmates demanded to be set free, lest Hiles be harmed.

Dave was in the Press office when he heard on the police radio about what was going on in the courthouse, and he went right to the courthouse, soon after the start of what would be a long standoff.

DVI Superintendent Ray Procunier stood by the holding cell door, flanked by Sheriff Mike Canlis, negotiating with the inmates. The talks started and stopped a dozen times as Dave took notes. Finally, after three hours, the inmates agreed to give up, coaxed by an offer from Procunier to buy them a hamburger and milkshake at the local drive-in before returning them to the state prison east of town.

Dave interviewed Procunier, Hiles and others at the scene to develop a main story along with sidebars. His friend Charlie Sutton came up with photos of the inmates and Procunier leaving the back door of the court building.

The next morning, we had solid coverage of a major local story that dominated the front page of the Press, thanks to Dave and his hard work that hot summer day.

Later, we entered Dave’s coverage in a statewide newspaper contest. We thought it would certainly be a winner, but he took second place. How a story about a landslide in a coastal town took first has always escaped me.

After three years at the Press, Dave moved over to the San Jose Mercury News, where he covered the Raiders and 49ers during the early years of his 33-year career there. Later, he returned to covering prep sports for the Merc, first in San Jose and then in Palo Alto.

He also became quite an expert in covering soccer, a sport in which Jon, the eldest of his three sons, excelled.

Over the years, Dave would stop by the Press to renew our contacts, most recently during a Tracy High Class of 1958 reunion four years ago. He always told me that working for the Press gave him his start.

And, yes, we both recalled that hot summer day in 1966 at the Tracy Courthouse.

‘The Happy Warrior’

In last week’s column retracing the history of presidential visits — and nonvisits — to Tracy, one error hit me in the face when I awakened last Friday.

“No,” I said to myself, “it was Al Smith that Herbert Hoover defeated in 1928.”

Anyway, Al Smith, known as “The Happy Warrior,” was New York governor in 1928 and the first Catholic to run for president. One commentator opined during the campaign that Smith had all the qualifications to be president, except for three “P’s” — peace, prosperity and prejudice.

John F. Kennedy overcame the third “P” 32 years later, in 1960.

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at
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