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Murdock Stadium at El Camino College to be demolished

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Memories of Murdock: an era comes to a close at El Camino College

The sun is setting on Murdock Stadium which is scheduled to be demolished in December. Opened on Thanksgiving Day in 1949, the venue will be replaced with a newer facility. Photo by Julian Garside

Another South Bay landmark is about to go the way of Marineland, the Torrance Drive-in and Ascot Park — all in the name of progress.

Murdock Stadium, which sits on the west side on the campus of El Camino College, will soon be demolished and replaced with a new stadium as part of Phase Two of the Kinesiology and Fitness Complex project, scheduled to open by summer 2014.

The $37.2 million project includes the construction of a new stadium, incorporating a running track and synthetic turf field for both football and soccer. Various support facilities such as a new field house and storage will also be included.

According to El Camino College President Thomas Fallo, funding for the project comes from the facilities bond measure that voters passed in 2002. The new stadium is expected to retain its name.

Built in 1949, Murdock Stadium was named after Forrest G. Murdock, the founding president of the college.

In the October 3, 1949 issue of the campus newspaper Warwhoop, an article stated “When the development reaches its completion, it will be the fourth largest stadium in Southern California.”

The first event at the new stadium was held November 24, 1949 (Thanksgiving Day) featuring El Camino’s football team which defeated East L.A. College in the Warrior’s Homecoming game.

The stadium seated around 12,500 and also fielded El Camino’s men’s and women’s soccer teams. The Los Angeles Aztecs of the North American Soccer League called Murdock Stadium home for two seasons (1975-76) and the stadium was the site of the 1991 U.S. Olympic Festival soccer competition.

Murdock Stadium has hosted numerous high school football games including CIF Southern Section and City playoff games along with rivalry contests such as Carson-Banning and Narbonne-San Pedro.

The venue served as the site of many ECC graduation ceremonies along with various community events including 4th of July Fireworks shows and concerts. In 1997, the Beach Boys performed to commemorate El Camino’s 50th anniversary.

With its privacy and short driving distance from Hollywood, Murdock Stadium became a popular filming location for the movie and television industry.

Maybe the best known movie filmed at Murdock Stadium was the 2005 remake of “The Longest Yard” featuring Adam Sandler and Chris Rock. Hundreds of local residents were used as extras portraying spectators in the stands.

Other films include the 2003 remake of “Cheaper by the Dozen” starring Steve Martin, “The Lady Killers” featuring Tom Hanks, “The Best of Times” with Kurt Russell and Robin Williams and “The Other Sister” featuring Diane Keaton.

El Camino was also used as a filming location for the 1980s HBO series, “1st & Ten.”

John Featherstone said the demise of Murdock Stadium is bittersweet. Featherstone played football for the Warriors in 1967-68 before transferring to San Diego State. He has held the position of head football coach at El Camino since 1985.

John Featherstone has won more than 200 games as head football coach at El Camino College. Photo by Dwight Ueda/El Camino College

“We’re excited about the new stadium,” Featherstone said, “but I’ll miss the old one. The greatest thing about the stadium was that there was no track. The bleachers were close to the field making it a wonderful fan stadium.”

Featherstone said the new stadium will retain its horseshoe shape with an open end and seat approximately 7,000 on the home side and 4,000 on the opponents’ side.

“I believe the scoreboard will be lowered and berms will be built at the open end for fans to enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere,” Featherstone added.

A commemoration of the stadium was held last Saturday prior to the Warrior’s final football game of the season against defending Southern California champion Mt. San Antonio College. Hundreds of alumni and supporters gathered on the school’s softball outfield for a tailgate party to celebrate the team’s Homecoming Game and relate stories of events that took place at Murdock Stadium.

El Camino will play its 2013 home schedule at Redondo Union High School, the same site the Warriors used for many games while Murdock Stadium was being built in the late 1940s.

Gridiron greats

El Camino boasts one of the top community college football programs in the nation, paving the way for countless numbers of players who have earned athletic scholarships at four-year universities. More than 30 former Warriors have played in the National Football League (NFL).

One of the best seasons came in 1971 when the Warriors went 11-1 and defeated Santa Rosa 48-13 in the state championship game, earning the team a No. 2 ranking in the nation.

In May, the 1971 team became the first non-individual inductee to the El Camino College Athletic Hall of Fame.

Arguably the most famous former Warrior is Fred Dryer who enjoyed a stellar season at Murdock Stadium in 1966 when he earned Junior College All-American honors.

The defensive end played in 176 games with the New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams recording 104 sacks during his 13-year career. Dryer was inducted in the ECC Athletic Hall of Fame as a charter member in 1988.

After his retirement from the football field, Dryer had a successful career as a film and television actor which included playing the lead role in the television series Hunter.

Bobby Beathard (1954-55) played football at El Camino before becoming a general manager in the NFL. During his 38 years in the league, his teams competed in seven Super Bowls winning the Lombardi Trophy four times.

Tight end Jim Obradovich (1971-72) played at Murdock Stadium before moving to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum where he played for USC. A seventh-round draft pick in the 1975 NFL draft, Obradovich played for the New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Following Obradovich’s footsteps was El Camino great Derrick Deese (1988-89). After a standout career at USC, the former Warrior played all five offensive line positions during his NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Two local high school stars have used El Camino’s football program as a stepping stone to successful coaching careers.

Current University of Washington head football coach Steve Sarkisian (1993-94) was a star baseball and football player at West High in Torrance whose baseball career at USC didn’t pan out. He transferred to El Camino where he played shortstop and Featherstone talked him into giving football another try.

Sarkisian enjoyed a record-setting career at El Camino before playing at Brigham Young University and the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League.

During his two years at El Camino, Sarkisian set school records for most touchdowns thrown in a season (42) and in a career (62). In 1994, he passed for 645 yards in a single game, a school record that still stands today. That same year, he set a national junior college record by completing 72.4 percent of his passes earning him All-American honors.

Aviation High School graduate Don Morrow (1978-79) was an All-Conference quarterback at El Camino before becoming a two-year starter at CSU Northridge. He was inducted into the ECC Hall of Fame in 2003.

Morrow has been a coach at the high school level for more than 20 years, holding his current position as head coach at Mira Costa High School since 1993. Earlier this year, Morrow became the school’s athletic director.

Warrior Legend

El Camino has won more than 200 football games under Featherstone, winning the national championship in 1987 and the state championship in 2006.

Coach Feather, as he is affectionately known, said his favorite memory of Murdock Stadium came when he was in high school. A standout receiver at Mira Costa High School, Featherstone was selected to participate in the Lion’s All Star game after his senior season as a Mustang.

“It was 1966 and I had my first opportunity to play in the stadium,” Featherstone recalled. “I remember walking into the tunnel and the sound of the cleats clicking on the pavement is something I’ll never forget. Later, I was able to catch a pass for the winning touchdown.”

Featherstone and offensive coordinator Gene Engle (also a former Warrior) have had a long-standing relationship and they both take pride in the number of college scholarship their former players have earned.

“In our 27 years together, Gene and I have had every scout imaginable come to our campus,” Featherstone said. “The first time they see Murdock Stadium, their jaws drop. Many of them have commented that our stadium is as good as theirs at a four-year university.”

It’s not surprising that Featherstone’s favorite game came during the 1987 national championship season. El Camino was hosting Long Beach City College in the next to the last game of the regular season and found itself trailing 13-7 late in the game.

“We were on our own 10 yard line and facing a third down and 20,” Featherstone explained. “I called a timeout and called play 844. Dan Speltz, who is on our coaching staff now, was our quarterback. I told our receiver, Ricky Wills, I was going to walk down to the spot where he should be to make the catch. After the reception, three or four defensive players hit him at the same time knocking each other down and Ricky went all the way for the score. The crowd went nuts. The stadium was bouncing.”

Featherstone remembers El Camino’s game against Taft at the PONY Bowl at Orange Coast College which helped determine the national title.

“We had beaten Golden West the previous week,” Featherstone said. “Taft had a bye and came down to watch us play. That’s when they made a terrible mistake. They lined up by the tunnel and we’re yelling how they were going to kick our asses. I never had a team so fired up and we annihilated Taft the next week.”

Featherstone admitted that playing a season at Redondo High may temporarily hurt his recruiting but he faces a change on a more personal level.

“I have to change my will,” Featherstone said with a laugh. “I requested that part of my ashes be sprinkled on the 50-yard line at Murdock Stadium.”

Getting their kicks

Murdock Stadium became the site where a dream came true for a transplant from Montreal, Canada. When he was 13 years old, Julian Garside fell in love with the game of American football. But in an area ruled by hockey and rugby, there were few – if any – opportunities for the youngster to compete on the gridiron.

In 2009, Garside decided to go out for El Camino’s football team. Not only did the 6-foot-4, 255-pound Garside make the team as a defensive tackle – he did it at the age of 41.

“I only got to play in three games, but I definitely had my ‘Rudy’ moment,” Garside said. “For those three days, I was like a kid anticipating Christmas and finally getting to open his presents.”

El Camino’s football team is not the only squad who has enjoyed success at Murdock Stadium. The men’s soccer program began in 1977 reaching the state championships in its second year with current coach John Britton, a member of the 1978 team.

The program has turned out many teams that have won state, conference and tournament titles along with developing numerous players who have obtained scholarships to four-year universities and/or played professionally including recent graduates Sheldon Thomas (Trinidad and L.A. Galaxy) and Antonio Martinez (Chivas USA).

One of El Camino’s first stars was Jim Millinder, a North Torrance graduate who became a Junior College All American in 1977. In 1978, Millinder became a professional playing with the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League. He returned to the South Bay and played for the L.A. Aztecs before becoming an assistant coach for the men’s and women’s teams at El Camino.

In 1987, Millinder was the men’s interim head coach leading the Warriors to the California Junior College State Championship. He took over as the women’s head coach in 1990 winning another state title. In 1994, Millinder became the head coach at Loyola Marymount University before a 10-year career at the helm of the USC women’s team. He was inducted into the ECC Athletic Hall of Fame in 1992 and is in his first year as head coach of the University of San Francisco.

While Britton has coached many successful men’s and women’s teams at El Camino, he has fond memories of his playing days in Murdock Stadium

“I set a single season scoring record in 1978 of 32 goals and 28 assists which still holds up to this day,” Britton said. “But my best memory of soccer at ECC is the opportunity I got to play against my native Scotland prior to the Mexico World Cup as part of the LA Heat playing/coaching staff. I only got on the field for the final 20 minutes of a game we lost 3-0 but to play against my Scottish idols and coach against future legend Alex Ferguson is a moment I’ll never forget.”

El Camino began its women’s soccer program in 1981 and has won State and Southern California Conference Championships. Britton has served as head coach since 1995.

“Every year we have three or four women move on to play Division 1 soccer,” Britton said. “We’ve enjoyed tremendous success and, fortunately, we will be able to play homes games on the practice field next season while the new stadium is being built.”

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