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News, Sports, Community Events Top Year In Review
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Escalon's varsity softball players donned rally caps during the playoffs and got a comeback win on the way to a second consecutive Section title in 2018,

The end of the year always brings a chance to look back at the top stories of the past 12 months and this week, we begin the Year in Review by showcasing highlights from January through June, in Part 1 of the special feature.



An ‘open invitation’ has been issued to the community to attend the upcoming Retirement Party for Mike Pitassi, who retired in December after 30 years with Escalon Community Ambulance. The former ECA Chief will be feted at the retirement event, scheduled on Saturday, Jan. 6 at the Azores Band Hall on First Street. Hours for the event are 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Missing three key players didn’t seem to hamper Escalon’s JV Cougars on the basketball court this past week. In fact, the squad utilized its depth and players committed themselves to the goal of winning. That resulted in a 3-0 run through the Cougar Christmas Classic and a first place trophy for the JV team at their own tournament, hosted Dec. 27 through Dec. 29.

A new scorer’s table has been put into service in the Escalon High School gym. A dedication ceremony on Wednesday night, Jan. 3 was hosted between the JV and varsity boys basketball contests, with the table dedicated in memory of Mike Backovich. The longtime teacher and coach at EHS passed away in February, 2017.

Escalon’s annual Lloyd C. Engel Tournament saw 35 teams send wrestlers to the two-day event and the host Cougars came away with four champions. “We had four champions,” added Scott. “Going 6-0, taking first place in Pool A and voted Most Outstanding Wrestler was Alex Jimenez at 126 pounds.”

They may be young … but they are already experiencing the joy that comes from giving. Not only have a group of four local girls learned a new skill – sewing – but they have put their efforts to good use by donating blankets they have sewn to the Escalon Police Department. Over the past several months, the blankets they made went to an effort that provided blankets countywide but the local foursome wanted to do something in their own community. So it was decided they would donate blankets to the Escalon Police Department, for officers to keep in their patrol cars for use in a variety of situations.

Senior Rex Robbins was crowned as Escalon’s Homecoming King on Friday night, capping off a festive week on the campus of Escalon High School.

The message was simple, yet profound. Everyone can make a difference. Whether it is in the lives of fellow students, parents, teachers or the lunch crew, everyone has the power to make the day better for those around them. Motivational speaker and coach Kevin Bracy brought that message to an enthusiastic audience at Collegeville Elementary School on Friday morning, Jan. 26, following that up with a later appearance at Farmington Elementary.



Presented with a request from a group out of neighboring Riverbank for non-profit status to allow for a lower cost to utilize the Escalon Community Center, members of the Escalon City Council tabled the group’s request … but decided to review the entire process. The city has a list of roughly three dozen organizations considered ‘non-profit’ in terms of Community Center use, which offers the facility at a reduced rate for events. The list was revised several years ago, following the major renovation at the Community Center, but council members indicated it may be time to review it again.

The busiest year on record for the Escalon Fire Department has just concluded – with 2017 coming in with the highest number of calls ever, said Fire Chief Rick Mello. “We had 1,124 calls and that is our most on record since we started keeping track,” Mello explained.

Plenty of Cougars ended up at the top of their weight classes on Saturday, as Escalon played host to the Trans-Valley League wrestling finals. Thirteen JV wrestlers took the mats and 12 of them placed while all 13 varsity Cougars qualified to Divisionals, seven of them winning individual league championships.

Two games for Escalon’s varsity soccer boys saw the squad get two more wins and claim the Trans-Valley League title in the process. They hosted Modesto Christian on Monday, Feb. 5 and walked off with a 9-0 shutout, leading 3-0 at half and really coming on strong in the second half of play against the Crusaders.

Agriculture is a driving force in the Central Valley – and especially the San Joaquin Valley – economy. Escalon’s FFA students have had success at the local, state and national level and many have gone on to careers in the field. Looking to keep that trend going, creating a workforce for the needs of the future, Escalon Unified School District is in the process of developing and implementing a dedicated school farm. Also planned is construction of multiple ag buildings, starting with facilities at the Van Allen Elementary School property along Highway 120, west of the city.

While there won’t be any Cougars heading to the State Meet this year for the boys, the Escalon girls have their first ever state medalist following competition this past weekend. Mikayla Vega came home from the Girls State Meet in Visalia with a fifth place medal, securing the first medal for Escalon in the sport.



A Memorial Resolution introduced in the California State Assembly by 12th District Assemblyman Heath Flora in January honors the life and legacy of the late Dave Ennis. A copy of the resolution was presented to members of the Ennis family at Monday night’s Escalon City Council meeting. A longtime member of the council, who served three terms as Mayor, Dave Ennis passed away on Jan. 5, 2018 at the age of 71.

Battling in a hard-hitting game on the field, the combatants share a meal and camaraderie after the competition is over. Rugby might not be the best known sport in this area but a group of players are gathering for regular contests and aiming to bring a title to the region. Members of the San Joaquin-Stanislaus Harlots team, which plays its home games at Northgate Park in Manteca, includes players from throughout the Central Valley, including Escalon High alums Josh Vandagriff and Brian Lynn.

Heavy rainfall that pounded the region during the day on Thursday, March 1 cleared away just in time for an evening start to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V soccer championship game – but West Campus still managed to rain on Escalon’s parade. The Trans-Valley League champion Cougars – who had dispatched Delhi and Highlands in the opening two rounds of playoff action – were shut out in the finale by West Campus, 2-0.

Her mother didn’t even know she was serving in Vietnam. It was a secret that Air Force Captain Jane Lombardi kept so her mom wouldn’t worry that she was in harm’s way. Her service was noted in a special way on Saturday night, March 10 as brother Joe, along with multiple family members and friends, celebrated the dedication of a room at the Stanislaus Veterans Center on Coffee Road in Modesto in her memory. Along with Joe and Jane, the Lombardi siblings also include sister Mary and brother Tony.

An unoccupied vehicle on the railroad tracks at the Highway 120 crossing just west of Escalon was struck by a train about 10:30 p.m. on Monday, March 19. Escalon police and fire crews responded to the scene after receiving a report of a vehicle vs. train accident. Escalon Police Department Detective Anthony Hardgraves said there were no injuries in the incident, as everyone got out of the vehicle safely.

A multi-alarm fire in Escalon early Monday afternoon March 26 caused extensive damage to a well-known business, the blaze breaking out at Rossetti’s Corner/Michael’s Deli at the intersection of Escalon-Bellota and Lone Tree roads.

A two vehicle accident at the intersection of Lone Tree and Carrolton roads on Tuesday night, March 20 left one child dead, another injured and both drivers with serious injuries.



Thursday, March 29 was a bit different for Tina Van Houten. She didn’t have an alarm clock going off to wake her up … and she didn’t have to get ready for work. Van Houten wrapped up a 33-year career with Escalon Community Ambulance on Wednesday, March 28, working her final shift with the local ambulance service.

It was a ceremonial ‘flipping of the switch’ recently on the Escalon High School campus, under the new solar array positioned over the student parking lot. School administrators, staff, students, school board members, project officials and more were on hand for the event, designed to showcase the Escalon Unified School District’s entry into solar energy.

Escalon Police were involved in a high speed chase that ultimately ended with the arrest of three suspects in connection with a robbery at a local business. Officers were dispatched to a report of a robbery in progress at the Rite Aid in the 1700 block of California Street about 4:15 p.m. on Wednesday, April 11.

The tarps covering the demolished vehicles were pulled back, a 9-1-1 call was made, sirens wailed in the distance … and the 2018 edition of Escalon’s Every 15 Minutes program was underway. Put on for juniors and seniors at Escalon and Vista high schools, the simulated drunk driving crash is designed to realistically drive home the dangers of drinking and driving. By the time the smoke cleared, emergency crews had done their work and police had investigated, one student was under arrest, two were dead, one was paralyzed … and countless lives were changed forever.

The Saturday of Service work day known as Love Escalon saw plenty of volunteers turning out to donate time, effort and elbow grease to the community service effort. Coordinator Brittany Doornenbal said several projects were done during the day on April 21, with Love Escalon just one of the community service efforts around the Central Valley conducted on that day.



With a limited number of volunteers – but plenty of willing donors – the Escalon Fire Department’s Fill The Boot drive netted over $22,000 this past weekend. Coordinator Jennifer Cannon said she was extremely pleased with the effort, both from volunteers who collected the donations and the motorists who provided them.

Six candidates seeking the 10th Congressional District seat turned out for a special forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters and the local American Association of University Women - Oakdale, Riverbank, Escalon Branch (AAUW-ORE). On hand for the Wednesday, April 25 forum hosted at the Bianchi Community Center in Oakdale were Democrats Mike Barkley, Michael Eggman, Josh Harder, Virginia Madueno, and Sue Zwahlen; and Republican Jeff Howze. Organizers noted the only candidate not appearing was Republican Jeff Denham, who currently holds the seat; he was in Washington, D.C. and could not attend the forum.

Bringing together teams from four communities, the combined Oakdale Escalon Riverbank Waterford Relay For Life also raised an estimated $74,000 for the American Cancer Society. The signature fundraising event for ACS, the 2018 Relay For Life was staged on the campus of Oakdale High School, with teams setting up their tents around the soccer fields.

An early morning crash that snarled traffic on Highway 120 east of Escalon on Tuesday, May 1 has been linked to a homicide in Oakdale. Escalon police, fire and ambulance crews all responded to the scene of the crash about 8:30 a.m. last Tuesday, on Highway 120 between Steinegul and Seidner roads when two vehicles collided head on. Authorities have now confirmed that the driver of the car that crashed into an oncoming truck towing a trailer has been arrested on suspicion of homicide.

After nearly eight years serving the Escalon community as its librarian, Jamie Turner is moving on. She will be leaving Escalon to begin a new role as the branch manager at the Tracy Branch Library.

The recent traffic shift onto the new bridge over the Stanislaus River along McHenry Avenue has paved the way for the demolition of the old bridge, as work continues on the McHenry Avenue improvement project.

“What a great way to end a terrific season ... Section Champs ... Wow!” That was the reaction of Escalon High School Boys Golf Coach Rusty Fachner commenting on the fact that his troops had just taken the Sac-Joaquin Division 5 Section Title.

Noah Rast of Escalon FFA won High Individual in the Vegetable Crop Judging contest at the annual California State FFA Finals competition earlier this month.

Bringing home the blue Sac-Joaquin Section softball banner for the second year in a row was twice as nice for Escalon’s Lady Cougars. They earned the Division 5 title after completing an undefeated run through the Trans-Valley League and going into the playoffs as the top seed in D5. Along the way, they defeated Waterford, Hilmar, Linden in extra innings and then Hilmar again in the Section final.

Three members of the Class of 2018 will walk into Memorial Stadium as class Valedictorians on Friday night, June 1. Anna Bonfiglio, Timothy Megenney and Priscilla Nowling were named as the top students for this year’s graduating class and all have been asked to provide speeches at the June 1 commencement.

Daniel Angelo Felix – better known as Danny – graduated from Escalon High School with the Class of 2012. Earlier this year, he lost his battle with cancer, passing away at the age of 23. Friday saw the culmination of a project in his honor, the placing of a memorial bench in the Main Street Park in downtown Escalon. His mom, Dina Felix, joined by several family members and friends, gathered for an official ribbon cutting and brief dedication service.

Meeting up with an old nemesis, the Escalon varsity Cougars baseball team once again found themselves on the wrong side of a final score against Capital Christian. In a battle of the Cougars in Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 play, Capital Christian knocked Escalon out of the postseason with a 6-4 win on Tuesday, May 22. The game was played at Sac City College and ended the 2018 season for the baseball boys.



From the time they set foot on the Escalon High campus as freshmen to entering Memorial Stadium at Engel Field one final time as Cougars on Friday night, June 1, the Class of 2018 has grown and achieved … with more to come. The graduates in the 98th commencement exercise for Escalon High School gathered under sunny skies with a light breeze to celebrate their accomplishments with family, friends and the community.

A high speed near head-on collision along Highway 120 near Sutliff Road just east of Escalon on Saturday morning left one driver deceased, his two passengers and another driver with major injuries. A third driver narrowly escaped injury, driving off the roadway to avoid the crash. The driver of the GMC was identified by the San Joaquin County Coroner’s Office as Demetrio Martinez-Sanchez, 35, of Mountain View.

Emily Bavaro of Escalon was crowned Dairy Princess during a recent ceremony at Chez Shari in Manteca. The event was hosted on June 6. Sarah Weststeyn, the reigning District 5 Dairy Princess, crowned the new Dairy Princess. She ended her reign by turning over the title to Emily, wishing her well as she represents the California dairy industry throughout the coming year. Emily will serve her reign in the district from 2018-2019.

Several dozen people settled in for a brief Saturday morning ceremony to officially dedicate and put the new Escalon Community Ambulance rig into service. With welcoming remarks by ECA Chief Vanessa Herrero, a prayer by Bruce Marconett, remarks from ECA board chair Diane Alcorn and retired ECA Chief Mike Pitassi and a ribbon cutting, the new ambulance was added to the fleet.

Joel Johannsen needs to schedule a couple more days to clean out his desk. He keeps getting distracted by going through memories that he finds as he does the clean out, memories collected from decades in education, including more than 15 years with the Escalon Unified School District. Johannsen is retiring, leaving his post as the EUSD Assistant Superintendent after spending eight years with the district office and several more before that in different capacities.

A new initiative is taking root in Escalon. A weekly Farmer’s Market has been in operation for the past few weeks on McHenry Avenue and organizer Andrea McCoy said they hope to keep it going on in to the fall. The market runs each Saturday, currently scheduled from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the June 23 edition featured several vendors, though some wrapped up early as the heat soared to near triple digits.

Writing took young students around the world over the past couple of weeks … but they never left Escalon. The Great Valley Writing Camp drew participants from Escalon, Ripon, Oakdale and beyond for a two-week program, hosted at Dent Elementary School. The program was offered for those as young as four-years-old, in transitional kindergarten, up to those entering the seventh grade. More than three dozen kids took part and there were several teachers and coaches on hand as well.


Next week, a look at top headlines from The Times for the second half of the year, July through December.

Graduating seniors at Escalon High School sing the Alma Mater as a class one final time.
Escalon royals helped out delivering groceries at Heritage House during the Love Escalon event.