Photos by Leon Worden | Story by Perry Smith, KHTS
September 22, 2014 —
College of the Canyons officials celebrated COC's 45th birthday Monday during a lunchtime celebration at the college's Valencia campus.
"At College of the Canyons, we're ready for the next 45 years. We're prepared to face that future, even though we have no idea what it's going to hold," COC Chancellor Dianne G. Van Hook said. "And the reason is because we care and we have the courage to dare."
Birthday cake and commemorative pins were shared at the event organized by the college's Associated Student Government.
Legendary basketball coach Lee Smelser make a special appearance, sharing memories that spanned the first 31 years of COC history. Smelser, a 2005 inductee into COC's Athletic Hall of Fame, said if he hadn't stayed in touch over the years, he wouldn't believe what the college has become.
One of COC's original board members, Bruce Fortine, spoke about the changes that have taken place, not just at the college, but the Santa Clarita Valley, and how COC has grown with it.
"Forty-five years ago, there was no mall, there was no auto center, there was no industrial complex," Fortine said. "There was only 60,000 people who lived here."
An overwhelming majority of Santa Clarita Valley voters, 92 percent, showed support for what would become COC by responding to the question: "Do you want a college?"
Construction of the "core campus" would begin in 1970, after a voter-approved bond measure.
The college, which now boasts two campuses — one in Valencia, which hosted the ceremony, and another in Canyon Country — started off with help from a Hart district school, he said.
"Forty-five years ago today, Sept. 22, is when we first started holding classes," Fortine said. "Not here; they were at Hart High."
Dave Baker, then-superintendent of the William S. Hart Union High School District, lent space to the college's first students until the campus was built.
The real story started two years earlier when the idea for a college took root in the same year the master-planned community of Valencia was born.
Voters approved the college on the Nov. 21, 1967, ballot, as "optimism abounded for what lay ahead in this once-sleepy whistle-stop along the Southern Pacific Railroad's Los Angeles-to-San Francisco line."
About Coach Lee Smelser
2005 Inductee, College of the Canyons Athletic Hall of Fame
The name Lee Smelser is synonymous with College of the Canyons basketball. Not only did Coach Smelser begin the team, but he turned it into a thriving, vibrant program that continues its success to this day.
Coach Smelser built the initial program in 1969 and went on to coach for 31 consecutive years. While the program struggled at first, in only its third season it posted a 20-12 record. Six times the team would win 20 or more games, and thirteen times the team would win 15 or more. After the 1974-75 season, College of the Canyons had its first All-State and All-American player in Jesse Boyd. Boyd scored 1266 points in two seasons, a 2-year record that stands to this day.
It didn't take long for the program's second All-State and All-American as just 2 seasons later, George Sims won the awards for the 1977-78 season, a season in which the Cougars went 21-9 and won their first conference championship. The list of All-State and All-American players continued to add up, with Pete Coeler (1984-85), and Vincent Ray (1985-86.) Other All-State players included Nick Sanderson (1990-91), David Langley (1991-92) and Randy Eason (1993-94). A total of 73 players were named All-Conference over Coach Smelser's 31 seasons. Four times, Smelser was named Conference Coach of the Year.
In 1984-85, the Cougar basketball team won its second conference championship, then playing in the Mountain Conference. Smelser guided the team to three more conference championships in the 1990-91, 1991-92 and 1993-94 seasons, all in the Western State Conference. Over that four year span in the early nineties, 21 years after Smelser started the program, the Cougars posted an amazing 80-42 record.
During his 31 years with College of the Canyons, Smelser worked in other capacities, such as serving as the Athletic Director for five years and the golf coach for two. He also began another athletic program at College of the Canyons - the softball team - and served as coach for the first two seasons of that fledgling group.
After the 2000-01 season, Men's Basketball Head Coach Lee Smelser retired, having compiled a 455-512 career record.
In 2002, Smelser was inducted into the California Community College Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
— College of the Canyons