Perez felt sting of racism



June 14, 2019 - 4:22 PM

Polo Perez

Cheers and catcalls shook Yates Center’s gym at a 1956 game between the Wildcats and Humboldt’s Cubs. The two schools had a heated rivalry in the old Tri-Valley League, being 20 miles apart.

During the game, a referee blew his whistle and pointed at Polo Perez.

“He gave me a T (technical foul),” Polo said.

Cub Coach Frank Hemphill, usually difficult to evoke, bolted from the bench. “What’d he do?” Hemphill demanded. “He cussed at me in Spanish,” the ref said. “You understand Spanish?” Hemphill replied. “No, but I know he was cussing me,” the ref insisted.

“I didn’t say anything,” Polo vowed this week. “Besides, I didn’t even speak Spanish.” 

“I was the only Mexican in the league,” Polo said. Along with teammate Larry Anderson, an African American, the two were the only minorities in the league. Fans “gave us a hard time,” said Polo, now 81. 

Sometimes it was subtle, often it wasn’t.

The previous season the Cubs set a school record, going to the state tournament for the first time. His senior year, he also quarterbacked the football team.


POLO GREW up in one of the “cement” houses south of Monarch’s plant. The simple bungalows were for those from Mexico, same as a covey of row houses south of Humboldt’s Santa Fe depot.

After high school Polo drifted before being drafted in 1961, after Korea and before Vietnam heated up.

In October 1962 the Cuban Missile Crisis erupted. The Soviets had moved missiles into Cuba capable of carrying nuclear warheads. A naval blockade elevated tensions.

Polo was among soldiers stationed in Georgia to deal with any confrontation that might occur.

“That’s the only time I saw a president,” he said. “Kennedy came to our base.”

Soldiers were ordered to remain in formation when the president arrived. Instead, “the minute we saw him everyone broke formation and ran to his car, even the generals.” So much for orders.