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Looking Back At 2008
Economic concerns, staff changes, sports team success and plenty of community activities found their way into the pages of The Escalon Times during 2008. Following is a recap of some of the year's top stories, covering the first six moths of the year, January to June. Beginning with a homicide and ending with an Olympic hopeful on the mats, it was a busy start to the year.


San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department detectives are investigating a possible homicide, with the body of a young man found in Farmington on Sunday morning, Jan. 6. The sheriff's department was notified of a male body being discovered on South Van Allen Road just south of Highway 4 around 10 a.m. Sunday.

It was classified - prior to it hitting - as the 'Storm of the Century' and though it didn't pack much of a punch on Sunday, the Friday and Saturday thrashing of the local area by the winter storm was more than enough for local residents. The city came through relatively unscathed, though there were plenty of tumbleweeds rolling around, scattered power outages, many tree limbs broken off and some signs blown down.

San Joaquin County sheriff's deputies have arrested a Stockton man in connection with the dumping of a body in the rural area outside Farmington earlier this month. Christian Robert Concha, 21, of Stockton was arrested following the serving of a search warrant on Friday, Jan. 11.

Escalon played host to the annual Lloyd C. Engel Wrestling Tournament on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 11 and 12. Nearly 30 teams were in town for the event, and several Cougars earned medals.

Walls have been ripped off, the kitchen has been dismantled and the wind and rain can now whistle through what used to be the Escalon Community Center. A wide-ranging renovation project at the center on Escalon Avenue has seen crews go in recently and do the demolition part, tearing down the old kitchen and taking out the various fixtures in the bathrooms, leaving primarily just an empty shell of a building. But the reconstruction will be well worth it, city officials said, with a new and improved community center due at the other end.

The price tag is steep - $15,000 - but fundraising efforts are under way and Escalon Community Ambulance officials hope to add the 'Auto Pulse' machine to their lifesaving arsenal this year. The system, a mechanized CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) machine, has just been put into service by the ambulance corps, which is taking part in the pilot testing program for the equipment.

Change won't come overnight, but those Escalon High students that were part of the recent Challenge Day hosted at the school are determined that change will come. Change, in the form of a more accepting high school campus, one that welcomes diversity and stays free of 'cliques' that segregate the students. Change, that students and the adult facilitators that went through the program with them, hope will extend into the larger Escalon community.


Coming to Escalon from the private sector, John Abrew is on the job as the new city engineer, filling part of the post previously held by Doug Stidham. Stidham, who plans to retire in June, has been serving as the city's Public Works Director and City Engineer, but Escalon City Council members agreed during budget talks to separate the two positions. Abrew joins the staff as the new fulltime engineer.

With the top scoring student for the second year in a row, and two students headed to dinner with the Governor, Escalon High students did themselves proud at the San Joaquin County Academic Decathlon. The EHS decathletes placed second in the Small Schools division over the two-weekend event, placed third overall behind Lodi and Middle College and also took second place honors in the Super Quiz.

As his classmates erupted into applause and fellow candidates quickly stood in line to shake his hand and offer congratulatory hugs, Escalon High School senior Fernando Munoz quietly accepted the honor of being named Homecoming King 2008.

Where once stood aged, peeling and dilapidated picnic tables and benches, newly refurbished, gleaming, inviting tables have taken their place, thanks to a cooperative effort of the Escalon Ministerial Association and the City of Escalon.

Putting plenty of distance between themselves this time out on the mats, Escalon varsity wrestlers captured the Trans-Valley League championship with a decisive 173.5-140 win over Waterford in the TVL finals Saturday, Feb. 9.

Winning on the road to start the week, it was a loss at home to close out the season for the varsity basketball girls at Escalon. The varsity squad topped Riverbank on Monday, Feb. 11 by a 54-45 final, but lost on the home court Thursday, Feb. 14 to Hughson, 48-28.

Trailing at the half, Escalon's varsity boys mustered all their drive and desire and came back to win a thriller in their home finale on Tuesday, Feb. 12 taking a 1-point win over Riverbank. They went on the road for Friday's final game of the Trans-Valley League campaign, falling to Hughson to split their contests for the week.

Fire destroyed a more than century old building in Escalon early Saturday morning Feb. 16, burning down a storage barn on the Escalon Lumber and Hardware site on First Street.

Favorable weather - and people that didn't let the price of gas stop them from traveling on a holiday weekend - combined to help push Farmington Fire Department's "Fill the Boot" collection to lofty heights. Shortly before noon Monday, Farmington Fire Chief Conni Bailey said the effort was "already over $21,000" and that didn't include the Monday totals. With those donations figured in late Monday night, Bailey said the final total would top out at just over $30,000 for the Firefighters Burn Institute.

With rain clouds threatening to open up at any time, festivities to dedicate the Bob Loureiro Field scoreboard at Escalon High kicked off right on schedule Saturday morning, Feb. 23. After more than four decades of coaching, longtime teacher, coach and athletic director Bob Loureiro - now retired from EHS - was on hand for the dedication of the new scoreboard in left-center field of the varsity baseball diamond and the naming of the field in his honor.

Stockton was the final stop for seven Escalon wrestlers, as all came up against some stiff competition at the Master's Meet, failing to qualify for the State Wrestling Tournament in Bakersfield.


It may not be as big a bottom line as originally anticipated ... but it will still be written in black ink, and that's something Escalon city officials feel good about, completing a mid-year budget review for the city recently. "The bottom line is we're going to be fine," City Manager Greg Greeson said of making it through the fiscal year with some cash still on hand. "We had projected a $72,000 surplus, now we think we'll have around $12,000."

No layoff notices are anticipated but some belt-tightening measures will have to be taken in the Escalon Unified School District, as administrators and board trustees grapple with the impact of the state budget deficit.

Artwork covered nearly every square inch of space in Escalon High School's old gym, pieces contributed from all grade levels for the annual showcase, Arts Alive, staged at Escalon High from March 3 through 7. There were paintings, sculpture, improvisational drama and comedy, pencil sketches and more than you could possibly take in during one visit. Student volunteers from the middle and high schools helped elementary students participate in a variety of art projects while teachers served as tour guides, taking their students through the gym to see the variety of artwork displayed.

Making an accurate self-appraisal is the first step toward success. That, according to Escalon High School Principal Joel Johannsen, who just helped guide the school through its official WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) accreditation visit. Now, the school will wait to hear what the verdict is; whether the school gets an accreditation for one, two, three or six years.

Moving up the start of the irrigation water season by a few days, officials at the South San Joaquin Irrigation District formally opened the season on Wednesday, March 12. The decision to move up the date from the originally scheduled start of Monday, March 17 was made by board's agriculture committee.

Though it was a bit chilly, there were no storm clouds in sight and not a drop of rain to be had on Saturday morning, March 15 as Opening Day for Escalon's Cal Ripken youth baseball and softball program went off like clockwork.

A "person of interest" is being sought in connection with the early morning fire at Escalon Lumber and Hardware on Saturday, Feb. 16 that destroyed an old storage building on the property. "We're going to go ahead and call this an arson," Escalon Battalion Chief Terry Pinheiro said. "We ruled out all possible accidental and natural causes. It started on the southeast corner of the building, outside."

Come and bring your concerns and ideas. That's the whole concept behind a scheduled Escalon Chamber of Commerce business mixer, set for Friday, March 28 from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Leonardo's Café at 1764 Main. "I'm just hoping for a good turnout from the business people," said Chamber vice president Cheryl Harter, who is organizing the mixer. "It's all about them."


She has her own farm at home ... and spent several years as a veterinarian technician before jumping in to a new assignment, as Escalon's Animal Control Officer. Samantha Storment has joined the staff of the Escalon Police Department, coming on to fill the ACO position.

Five years after the United States first went to war in Iraq, the Escalon Support the Troops Coalition is still going strong. With Joy Sweger now at the helm, the group has just finished packing up another shipment of boxes to send to military troops overseas.

Sirens wailed, victims cried out in pain and horror and the drunken driver sat sprawled, head in his hands, as the reality of what had just happened hit him. The grisly scene was played out Thursday morning, April 3 along Escalon-Bellota Road, just outside the fence circling the property of Escalon High School. As juniors and seniors sat motionless in the stands watching the production, their classmates were part of the drama, involved in a mock two-car crash in which one driver - Josh May - caused a fatal wreck because he had too much to drink and made a bad decision that changed lives forever.

They danced, they sang, they did stand up comedy, dramatic readings and played their instruments, all with the spotlight squarely on them. Dozens of Farmington Elementary students took to the stage at the Escalon Performing Arts Center on the high school campus for the annual Farmington Follies presentation, staged for family, friends, schoolmates and the community on Thursday night, April 3.

Keeping up the momentum that propelled them to a spring break championship in the Orestimba Easter Tournament, Escalon's varsity baseball boys won a pair of contests to close out the first round of Trans-Valley League play.

Formal dedication of Escalon's new 'gateways' was done with a bit of pomp and circumstance on Thursday afternoon, April 10. With the American Legion colorguard there to raise a trio of flags - the American flag in the center, flanked by the POW/MIA and California state flags - and Mayor Gary Haskin there to offer a few words, the dedication was official.

After 14 years with the City of Escalon, Building Inspector Marlene Himes has seen it all and probably knows the city from the inside out better than just about anyone. Himes will retire from her post on Friday, April 25, leaving to enjoy time with her new grandson, her already retired husband and to do some golfing, boating and relaxing.

Making history, Escalon High School senior Kristen Steves was elected State President for the California Future Farmers of America, FFA, at the recent FFA Convention in Fresno. She is the second state president to come from Escalon and the first state officer since Tommy Bottoms spent a year in service as State Sentinel a few years ago.

Less than four months after approving the purchase of the Greer buildings along McHenry Avenue, plans are moving full speed ahead for development of the facilities as the new city Civic Center. "We've been meeting once a week with the architects," City Manager Greg Greeson said of city officials getting together regularly with representatives of the Modesto-based SKW firm, brought on board to develop the existing shells into workable city offices.

The Escalon boys golf season didn't end exactly the way they wanted, but the results were outstanding nevertheless. Entering the Trans-Valley League Tournament on Tuesday, April 29 at Lockeford Springs, the Cougars needed to outscore Ripon Christian to win the league title. But RC proved to be the better team, defeating the Purple and Gold by seven stokes.

Wednesday night, April 30 was a time for 'Solarbration' at Farmington Elementary School, with the formal dedication of the school's solar panel coupled with a Family Science Night. The event was the culmination of a process that started a few years ago, when Joel Johannsen was principal at Farmington and worked cooperatively with teachers Tina Harper and Joan Lagorio in writing a grant through the Pacific Gas and Electric Solar Schools Program.


After winning the Trans-Valley League team title with a perfect mark in league play, Escalon's tennis players kept the ball rolling by claiming four out of five titles at the TVL championship Friday in Modesto. Playing at the SOS Club on May 3, the Cougars got league title from boys doubles, mixed doubles, girls singles and boys singles.

Information on everything from senior nutrition needs to protecting against fraud were offered as part of the second annual Senior Day in Escalon, put on through the Escalon Chamber of Commerce in cooperation with the City of Escalon.

There's a sign that's been hanging in the third base dugout of the Escalon varsity softball team throughout the season. Six words greet the girls before every practice, before every home game. Dream It. Pursue It. Achieve It. It's a formula the girls used to grab a piece of the Trans-Valley League title, holding off Modesto Christian 1-0 on Friday, May 9 in the regular season finale to share the crown with the Crusaders.

From nine to 39 years, the staff members retiring from Escalon Unified School District will be recognized at a special retirement celebration on Tuesday, May 20. Fifteen staff members will retire at the end of the school year, and they have combined to dedicate over 350 total years of service to the district.

The Escalon High School boys golf season ended on a high note on May 13, as they traveled to Greenhorn Creek Golf Course to play in the Divisional Golf Championships. The Cougar linksters, who finished a point away from winning the TVL title, got some welcome revenge as they took third place finishing behind tournament champion Bret Harte and Central Catholic. In posting a team score of 446, Escalon bested Trans-Valley League champion Ripon Christian by 7 strokes.

They pulled out all the stops Friday night, May 16 in Collegeville - from a scrumptious homemade burrito dinner to the annual school talent show - and the crowd was boisterous and appreciative. Nearly two dozen acts took to the stage in the Collegeville Elementary cafeteria-multipurpose room, the students and staff combining talents to put on the successful show.

Escalon's tennis season finally came to an end, when the Cougars made the trip to Auburn to face off with Placer High School in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III team finals. They came up just a bit short, falling to Placer by a 4-3 final.

It came down to one game ... the season resting on Monday's battle with the Western Athletic Conference champion Central Catholic squad ... and Central ended the baseball season for Escalon with an 8-2 victory at Zupo Field in Lodi. After beating Bret Harte in the opening round, Escalon moved on to the semifinals and the best two-out-of-three series against Central. They lost the first, 14-9, on Saturday, May 17 but made it a game, battling back from an early deficit. That was followed by another game on Monday, May 19 and, facing elimination, the Cougars couldn't get past Central.

Escalon's Jillian Van Tassel has been chosen as the state's Junior Beef Ambassador. Candidates vying for the post from throughout the state competed in the 2008 California Beef Ambassador Contest on Saturday, May 17.

In a winner take all contest - as in the winner made the playoffs and the losing team was done - Modesto Christian came out on top in a 2-1 soccer game against Escalon. Played at MC, the game was the final one of the season for the Lady Cougars.

With four Cougars competing at the Masters Meet on Thursday and Friday, May 23 and 23 in Sacramento, it was a busy week for coach Rick Heflin. But it was his final time to travel with the team as head coach for track and field, the longtime coach stepping down from the post.

Though you wouldn't have known it by Saturday's chilly weather, the start of the long holiday weekend was a hot one, with local fire departments rushing from one call to another nearly all day Thursday, May 22. A strike team from the Farmington Fire Department was also called in to service, sent to battle the Summit Fire in the Santa Cruz area.

Some seated in chairs brought in for the service, others standing reverently amidst the small American flags decorating the graves of servicemen, a large crowd gathered at Burwood Cemetery outside Escalon for Memorial Day services on Monday morning.

Trains, cows, the smell of tomatoes ... all figured in to the commencement address given by co-Valedictorians Matt Heflin and Brian Arotca at Friday night's Escalon High School graduation May 30, as the two shared their memories of high school, growing up in a small town, and preparing for the adventures ahead. "It has been a long and hard four years but we are finally here," Arotca told the capacity crowd at Engel Field. "We want to congratulate our classmates on a job well done." Heflin said Escalon's often distinct summer aroma is a good way to tell people how to get here. "You travel until you smell it," he said, to chuckles from the crowd.

With 176 graduates attending - out of a possible 225 - the Escalon High Sober Grad Night 2008 was a huge success.


An American Crow found in the Tracy area of San Joaquin County has tested positive for West Nile Virus, WNV, the first sign of the virus activity in the county for 2008. The San Joaquin County Mosquito and Vector Control District confirmed that the crow tested positive.

Less than two weeks after graduation day for the Class of 2008 at Escalon High, there has been some major re-shuffling of administrative positions in the school district. School board members on Tuesday night approved two new appointments, with current administrators moving to new positions. Both changes are connected to a pair of resignations, with El Portal Middle School Principal Wilson Nacario and Assistant Principal Jill Polhemus both submitting resignations earlier this month. "The board made two appointments, for the El Portal principal position they appointed Mark Vos and Dave Lattig will be the new assistant principal at the high school," explained Escalon Unified School District Superintendent Dave Mantooth. "These are two shifts in-house and we're very pleased."

Showing a 3.6 percent increase from last year, the Escalon Consolidated Fire Protection District has a new budget in place for the 2008-2009 fiscal year. It includes a 3.18 percent cost of living adjustment for employees and was approved at the Thursday night, June 12 session of the fire board. Final budget figure adopted was $1,086,175.

Playing in the NCVA, Northern California Volleyball Association, a team of girls from the Ripon and Escalon area will be packing their bags and heading for Texas next week. Among them will be Taylor Laugero of Escalon, 10, a versatile volleyball player who can take on the role of Libero as well as fill just about any spot on the floor. The Team Elon 12 and Under girls have earned a bid to the Junior Nationals, also known as the Junior Olympics, at the Dallas Convention Center by virtue of their run through the Northern California circuit.

It wasn't quite the outcome they were looking for ... but Escalon Unified School District officials are taking a three-year accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, WASC, and looking ahead to a re-visit down the road. District Superintendent Dave Mantooth outlined the WASC accreditation for school board members at their Tuesday, June 24 meeting. The WASC team was on campus toward the end of the school year and recently completed its report, handing down the three-year accreditation.

When he came to Escalon over 12 years ago, Doug Stidham figured he would spend a few years here, then move on. But more than a decade passed and, rather than move anywhere else, Stidham decided to close out his career in the Land of Peaches and Cream. Filling the dual role of City Engineer and Public Works Director, Stidham will officially retire as of July 1. Current Public Works Superintendent Patrick Riggs will move in to the director post and new hire John Abrew, brought on board a few months ago, will fill the city engineer slot.

From some of the earliest classes to students that just graduated a month ago, Escalon High PIT - Peer Interaction Team - members gathered at the school for a special reunion on Saturday, June 21. Brought together by Lesley (Veldstra) Killingsworth and Kaitlin Ogilvie, both members of PIT during their high school days, the reunion was two-fold; staged as a celebration for longtime teacher Steve French on his retirement and also to get the PIT members back together to share memories and catch up with what has been going on in their lives while marking the 20th anniversary of the program.

Olympic hopeful and Escalon High alumnus Vic Moreno went 2-and-2 in his competition earlier this month at the Wrestling Olympic Trials in Las Vegas. Over 30 family members and friends traveled to Las Vegas to watch him compete. Moreno was seeded sixth in the 55 kg (121 pounds) freestyle weight class.

Next week: A review of top stories, July through December.