By DENNIS WYATT
The graduate that helps feed 35,000 people every month.
The English teacher who helped set the standard.
The successful musician that’s teaching music to others.
The Sierra High power couple that made things happen.
Three baseball teams that established the standard.
The quintessential coach and teacher.
The six — Rudy Valencia, Debbie Mitzman, Randy Sandoli, Don and Kim Widmer, the 1998-2000 varsity baseball teams, and Jack Thomson — were inducted into the Sierra High School Hall of Fame Sunday evening during ceremonies in the campus cafeteria. They bring the total number of inductees in the SHS Hall of Fame since its first class was honored to 25 — a fitting number given this is Sierra High’s silver anniversary as a high school. The inductees are drawn from former students, staff, and community members with strong ties to Sierra High.
Valencia was honored for serving as Director of Operations for the Manteca-based Second Harvest Food Bank that helps feed 35,000 struggling people in the Northern San Joaquin Valley and adjoining Sierra counties.
Valencia, who was in the sophomore class that started Sierra High and eventually was part of the school’s first graduating class, oversees not only supplying more than 90 food closets in the region with 15 million pounds of food annually but he also oversees and directs a number of other food initiatives. They include programs that serve 2,600 at-risk senior citizens and 4,200 at-risk children as well as the Mobile Fresh endeavor that distributes 20,000 pounds of fresh produce monthly to underserved neighborhoods.
He also serves as a coach with the Sierra High girls’ basketball program. Valencia also works quietly behind the scenes at Sierra making sure the campus’ at-risk students don’t go hungry.
“It is such a blessing to give back to the school,” Valencia said of his serving as a coach.
Mitzman was among the initial faculty that helped open Sierra High in 1994. Selected for her solid reputation as one of the most effective Manteca Unified teachers of English Language Arts, she was part of a core group of teachers that was established to help create and define procedures, policies, schedules, training, curriculum and what is known as the “Sierra Way” in reference to values and standards.
She developed and implemented many programs at Sierra concurrent with serving as the English Department chair. Those programs included the Peer Resource Program, the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention program, and the Reading Support class. She also was a trainer and mentor for other teaches in the district and county. She was — and still is — an avid supporter of the Sierra High band, choir, and theater programs.
She started her MUSD career in 1976 as a Lathrop School elementary teacher. She also taught at New Haven and Stella Brockman before joining the inaugural staff for Sierra High where she taught until 2016.
After accepting the honor, Mitzman referenced a number of former students in attendance including several that traveled from Los Angeles for the ceremonies.
“I was all about you,” Mitzman said to her former students. “I had the best career anyone could ask for.”
Sandoli is a pianist, composer and lecturer in Jazz Studies at the University of Pacific where he serves as the Assistant Director for the prestigious Brubeck Jazz Institute. He directs jazz combos as well as adjudicates and serves as a clinician at numerous music festivals.
The 2006 Sierra High graduate has a jazz trio that performs regularly while recording original music. He has recorded two albums that have received significant airtime on jazz stations across the country. His most recent album “Simcha” — Hebrew for joy — includes trio, quartet, quintet, and sextet arrangements of regular music.
He has returned to Sierra High on many occasions as both a guest artist for concerts and fundraisers. Sandoli is an active member of Habitat for Humanity.
Sandoli shared “there are several men in my life” that helped lay the foundation for him to achieve his potential as a man and a musician including Sierra High band instructor Richard Hammarstrom.
Don and Kim Widmer
The Widmers — who farm as well as have another full-time job with State Farm Insurance — brought their high octane community service to Sierra High when the first of three sons enrolled in 2006 and continued as energetic supporters through their third son’s graduation in 2014.
The couple served over 5,000 meals to the teams and athletes that participated in their sons’ sports. Both were active members of the Sierra High Athletic Boosters. They led fundraising efforts as well as the planning needed to install new scoreboards on campus, new wrestling mats, and a scorers’ table for basketball and volleyball. They also were instrumental in helping Sierra secure an all-weather track.
Kim Widmer said they were “so blessed” to be able to support not only their sons and friends but those that were their teammates on various Sierra High teams.
Thomson was also part of the faculty that opened Sierra High in the fall of 1994. He served as the Business Department chair for 23 years until he retired from teaching in 2017. He also served as the school’s first baseball coach until stepping down in 2018. Thomson has also coached football and baseball.
Thomson finished his 41-year high school coaching career with 607 wins. That ranks as the second all-time high out of the 194 member schools in the Sac-Joaquin Section and is within the Top 25 for the State of California. His Sierra High baseball teams have won five Valley Oak League titles and have advanced to the section playoffs almost every year.
Thomson was selected as a state California Interscholastic Federation model coach in 2010. He’s been inducted into the California Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame and Manteca Hall of Fame. The Sierra High baseball field was dedicated in his honor earlier this month.
Thomson told those in attendance while he gets a lot of kudos for coaching just as important — if not more so — for him is being a teacher.
The 1998, 1999 and 2000 varsity teams set the standard for Sierra High’s baseball program.
During the three years the teams were led by Jack Thomson and his staff of Kevin Alvavesos and Todd Vick.
The teams still hold the Sierra High record for a 33-game Valley Oak League win streak. They did not lose a single league game from March 1998 to April 2000. Overall the teams went 39-2. The 2000 team’s record of 26 still stands as the best at Sierra High. The teams sported the most valuable league player each year with Robert Perkins winning the honor in 1998 and 1999 and Josh Duran in 2000.
Each team claimed a VOL title and advanced to the section playoffs with the 2000 team reaching the section championship game. The teams saw three players that would eventually be drafted by Major League Baseball teams. Perkins was drafted by the Atlanta Braves, Matt Miller by the Florida Marlins, and Matt Berezay by the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers in different drafts.