RCC sports honor contributors

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By Ricky Holmes / Asst. Sports Editor

By Ricky Holmes / Asst. Sports Editor

For the past nine years the Riverside Community College District has honored individuals whose achievements and contributions have elevated Tiger athletics and this year was no different.

On April 1, RCC honored a sports writer, a former NBA player, a longtime coach and an athletic trainer in a ceremony at the historic Mission Inn in downtown Riverside at the Tenth Annual Recognition Awards.

The first person to be recognized for their achievements was Michele Himmelberg.

Himmelberg began attending RCC in 1974 and immediately made an impact on the sports programs.

When she started attending RCC, there was not a women’s basketball team on campus so she circulated a petition to get a team started.

With her petition and help from then Athletic Director Mark Johnson she was able to get a team started that same year.

“That first year was pretty hard, we didn’t have very many games or much of a schedule,” Himmelberg said. “That first year we got going and the second year was a little bit better. Now RCC has had many fabulous women’s basketball teams and I am so excited to see how far its gone.”

Himmelberg was also named the most valuable player as a volleyball player for the Tigers as well as being the sports editor for Viewpoints.

After RCC, she transferred to the University of Southern California and graduated with a degree in Journalism and has had a prolific career as a sports writer ever since.

In the early 1980s, she was one of only a few female sports writers who were tasked to cover the National Football League.

As a writer for the Fort Meyers Press News, she fought for and eventually won equal locker room access for post game interviews.

The next honoree was Fred “Lucky” Smith. Smith, a Riverside native, was playing playground basketball when he caught the eye of legendary college basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian who was the Tigers coach at the time.

Under Tarkanian’s tutelage, Smith and the Tigers captured two consecutive state championships in 1965 and 1966.

Smith then transferred to the University of Hawaii.

After graduating, Smith was entered into the NBA draft. He was selected by two teams, the San Diego Chaparrals of the American Basketball Association and a new NBA expansion team: the Milwaukee Bucks.

Smith opted to go to the NBA and join the Bucks.

Unfortunately for Smith his career was shortened by knee injuries and he is now relegated to watching his son John coach the RCC men’s team.

He couldn’t be happier about that if he tried.

“This past year I had the privilege of watching my son take Riverside to its first state championship since I was there.” Smith said. “Needless to say, I was extremely proud of that.”

After Smith, the next honoree was an individual that the college knows all too well.

Don Birren accepted his award amongst a cheering crowd that included many of the athletes that Birren helped mold.

Birren was a staple in the Tiger athletic community for 38 years.

When he was hired in 1960, he was hired on as a football coach initially but that wouldn’t be his only job.

He soon became the women’s volleyball coach, the wrestling coach and even the strength coach.

Birren was also the volleyball coach when Himmelberg won the MVP award.

Birren accepted the award and then gave a lengthy speech so as to “not forget anyone” and it was apparent that many of the athletes that he molded had essentially molded him in return.

The final recipient was one person that many in the Tiger athletic community know well.

Jim Clover started working at The Sports Clinic in 1985, shortly after graduating from Ohio State University.

From there he was recruited by then head Athletic Trainer Al Boyd to “just help out”.

Since 1985, Clover has worked with many of the coaches and athletes involved in the 19 men’s and women’s sports programs at RCC.

During his tenure he has authored two textbooks, brought athletic training to over 40 high schools and colleges, and helped coordinate care for over 3,000 events.

This event highlighted the RCCD athletics and the legacy that these individuals have left behind.

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