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Nostalgic ground-breaking for PHS field, track

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Nostalgia collided with the future with laugh-provoking and tear-inducing results last week as Petaluma High School officially dedicated its new synthetic-turfed field and track.

The original purpose of the event — a ribbon-cutting for a $7 million refurbishment of Steve Ellison Field was almost lost in the emotion of the naming of the field press box in honor of the late Ron Walters, known affectionately as “The Voice of Petaluma,” and the track for long-time coach and teacher Doug Johnson on the 50th anniversary of his involvement at Petaluma High School.

The chilly spring air surrounding the field was warmed by stories and memories of both men by families and friends of the two friends who will now be linked forever with another friend, former Petaluma football coach Steve Ellison, for whom the entire field is named.

Walters, who passed away last year at age 84, spent many happy afternoons and evenings either announcing or calling track meets and baseball games from the press box that now carries his name.

Walters’ morning radio show on Petaluma radio station KTOB was the start to a good day for many, if not most, Petaluma families, and his radio calls of Petaluma High sporting events brought the accomplishments of his beloved Trojans, and later, equally beloved, Gauchos into homes throughout the community.

Walters was much more than a “voice,” he was ready and willing to help in any way he could, and that meant, among many, many volunteer duties, not only announcing for Johnson’s track teams, but also helping in any way he could at the meets, serving as starter, timer, lining the track and even helping place and remove hurdles.

Walters’ daughters — Leigh, Juli and Erin — brought laughs, cheers and more than a few tears when they joyfully sang a Trojan fight song written by their father.

Johnson said he was doubly honored to be included in the ceremony with his friend.

“This is amazing,” he said. “To have it happen with Ron is like a dream come true.”

Actually, Johnson couldn’t even have dreamed about such a magnificent facility when he was running barefoot on a dirt track at Chapman Elementary School near Chico.

“I want the people at Chapman Elementary School to know that one of your boys did all right,” he said.

Johnson has done all right for 50 years, coaching, teaching and building outstanding athletic programs in track, cross country and girls basketball, while sharing Walters’ love for Petaluma High.

“If you can have a (positive) influence on a kid, you are doing your job,” he said.

The track that now carries his name is far different from the one he spent all night trying to fill with bark for the first meet he attempted to run as Petaluma track coach. At 1 o’clock in the morning on the day of the meet, “for the first time in my life, I gave up,” he said. He called the Montgomery coach and had the meet moved to the Viking track.

“To see the evolution has been incredible,” he said.

The new track is the second Johnson has overseen at Petaluma High, following the original synthetic track in 1990.

He personally oversaw the installation of what he called, “My Taj Mahal,” helping originate the layout and overseeing each step of the installation.

So enthralled were school district officials, guests and families that they almost forgot to cut the ribbon on the new $7 million facility, which also includes a sparkling new synthetic playing field with purple end zones and a Trojan head at midfield.

The evening included tours of the track and field and a school open house, with Petaluma faculty on hand to greet visitors and explain the many programs offered at the school.