San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol Staff
The 1965 North Valley Broncos from Pacoima were a little league baseball team nobody from the City of San Fernando or Sylmar wanted to play — and not simply because of their talent.
Segregation was still a defining standard at that time in parts of the Valley, and in those two communities. The North Valley Broncos players were all African American, and it was easy for segregated communities to refuse to let them play against their teams, even though a non-separated league had been created two years earlier.
But the Broncos got the best possible revenge — on the field of play. They were good enough to reach the 1965 Little League World Series, the first all-Black team from Southern California to qualify for the tournament.
Living and deceased players from that team were recently honored by the community and LA Councilmember Monica Rodriguez at the Pacoima Little League Field.
“We are dedicating the intersection of Dronfield Avenue and Osborne Street to commemorate the history and success of the 1965 Pacoima Little League [team] for going to the World Series,” Rodriguez said.
“It was an incredible and remarkable story; an all-African American team ascending into this remarkable story. And it’s really important for us to commemorate that story and [the obstacles they overcame] for young people and generations to come.”
It’s a story that people such as Crystal Jackson will not allow to be lost in history.
“I have studied the history of Pacoima for the last seven years,” said Jackson, an author and director who is also president of the Pacoima Historical Society. “And nobody would believe how much [of Pacoima’s] history was hidden from the rest of the world, from the country, from the state, from the city, They didn’t let our history be known.
“The history of this baseball team, it started because in 1960 there were no places to play if you were ‘of color.’ The other leagues told them ‘no.’ But their parents said, ‘we’re not standing down and taking that. We will go around the hurdle, we will go through the hurdle and we will make this happen for our boys.’”
The player’s fathers got together and leased an area of land near Hansen Dam for $1 a month so the team would have a place to practice. The Broncos then went on to win the North Valley League and make it all the way to New Bedford, MA, where the Little League World Series was played.
Anthony Davis — one of the greatest athletes to come out of Pacoima, and who also went on to fame playing college and pro football — was part of that Broncos team. He distinctly remembered how his team was not allowed to play baseball in Sylmar or San Fernando at that time.
“We weren’t allowed to play across the street,” Davis said. The Broncos’ rudimentary field was across the street from where white youth played on a better field and with better equipment.
But Davis and the other players would not be discouraged — or disparaged.
“Looking back at this historically, one of the best things is ‘this’ was my foundation [to succeed],” Davis said. “I tell kids everywhere I go, if anybody tells you that you can’t make it in life, all you do is get up, look in the mirror and say, ‘I can.’ Every time you get knocked down you get back up, and you gotta be stronger.
“It’s like playing a baseball game. If you strike out four times, the next day you might go four for four.”
Michael Oliver, representing his late brother Larry, tearfully remembered a game against a San Pedro little league team where Larry “fouled off 17 balls. He refused to be struck out. And then he got a base hit.”
It was that kind of desire and tenacity that got the Broncos to the Little League World Series — and to become a part of history.