Monday, Jan. 12, 2009 | All around town, everyone lamented 2008 as the worst year ever for San Diego sports.

The Padres were considered contenders for the National League West title, but they finished last.

San Diego State football was supposed to breakthrough with a bowl trip, but the Aztecs suffered a 70-7 loss to New Mexico and didn’t win a Mountain West Conference game until the season finale.

The Chargers were favorites to make the Super Bowl, but they stumbled to the most disappointing start in franchise history at 4-8 before the Denver Broncos opened the door for the Bolts to sneak into the playoffs.

Well, 2008 officially came to an end with the Chargers’ AFC playoff loss Sunday at the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was a disappointing loss for a city that loves the Chargers, but I beg to differ this was a bad sports year.

If that’s how you feel, I say you’re too pro sports-centric. I say football isn’t the only college sport in town. I say you’re too provincial if you think the only San Diego sports stories worth watching are athletes playing at Petco Park and Qualcomm Stadium.

Actually, it was quite an amazing year for San Diego athletes. Their feats ranged from Olympic gold medals, to a World Series MVP to a national college player of the year. Add it all up, and I’ll bet there haven’t been too many years more prolific than 2008.

It’s my job at the Hall of Champions to keep close tabs on the year’s sports successes so we can celebrate what will be the 63rd annual Viejas Salute to the Champions dinner Feb. 18 at the Town and Country Hotel’s Grand Exhibit Hall.

Typically we honor about five Amateur Stars of the Year and five Pro Stars of the Year. This wasn’t a typical year, though. What was the point of leaving off an Olympic medalist, a college All-American or a college basketball player responsible for a milestone win in the city’s history just because there were 10 other athletes who had bigger years?

That’s why the Hall of Champions saw fit to honor an unprecedented 21 athletes as Professional, Olympic and Amateur Stars of the Year.

If you only watched the Padres, football Aztecs and Chargers in 2008, here’s what you missed and who is being honored by the Hall of Champions:


COLE HAMELS (Baseball, Phillies/Rancho Bernardo High alum) — Hamels went 4-0 in the post-season and was named the World Series MVP after leading the Phillies to the world championship. He won the first game in the Division Series, the first game in the League Championship series and the first game in the World Series.

JIMMIE JOHNSON (Motor sports, NASCAR/Granite Hills High alum) — Johnson won the Sprint Cup for his third straight NASCAR overall season title. He is only the second driver to three-peat in NASCAR history. Cale Yarborough was the first (1976-77-78).

CARLOS QUENTIN (Baseball, White Sox/USDHS alum) — Quentin was named to his first All-Star team and led the White Sox the AL Central title before a hand injury ended his season. He had 36 home runs with 100 RBIs in 130 games.

LAYNE BEAUBIEN and JESSE SMITH (Water polo, Olympics/Coronado High alums) — Beaubien and Smith are among the top defenders in the world, and they led the U.S. to a silver medal. It’s the first Olympic medal for the men in water polo since 1988.

MONIQUE HENDERSON (Track and field, Olympics/Morse High alum) — Henderson won her second career Olympic gold medal in the 4×400-meter relay while running a tactically crucial third leg in a blazing fast 50.1 seconds.

DAVID LEE (Volleyball, Olympics/Granite Hills High alum) — The 6-foot-8 middle blocker led the U.S. to a gold medal while leading the team in blocks.

MORIAH VAN NORMAN (Water polo, Olympics/USDHS alum) — Van Norman won her first Olympic medal as the U.S. brought home a silver medal. Van Norman was one of the Americans’ leading scorers.

PHILIP RIVERS (Football, Chargers) — Rivers led the NFL with a passer rating of 105.5 as the Chargers won their final four games to claim a third straight AFC West title.

MIKE SCIFRES (Football, Chargers) n Scifres’ season showed once again why he is considered the best punter in the NFL despite not being named to the Pro Bowl team. He set a Chargers record for net punting average of 40.9.

ADRIAN GONZALEZ (Baseball, Padres/Eastlake High alum) — Gonzalez was named to his first All-Star Game and won his first Gold Glove. He hit 36 home runs with 119 RBIs.


AMY DEGROOT (Volleyball, USD) — DeGroot, a junior outside hitter, was named the West Coast Conference Player of the Year after she led the Toreros to their third straight WCC title and a No. 15 national ranking. USD advanced to the NCAA tournament for the 13th time in 14 years. She earned honorable mention All-American.

TIFFANY JOH (Golf, UCLA/Rancho Bernardo High alum) — Joh, a junior, won the U.S. Amateur Publinx title in June for the second time in three years. During her college season, she was the NCAA runner-up, an All-American and the Pac-10 Player of the Year.

BRANDON JOHNSON (Basketball, USD) — Johnson, a junior combo guard, led the Toreros to the West Coast Conference tournament title when he was named the WCC Tournament MVP. In the NCAA tournament, USD recorded a milestone win as the first men’s basketball team from San Diego to win an NCAA tournament game when the Toreros upset Connecticut. Johnson was named first-team All-WCC.

WHITNEY JOHNSON-COURTRIGHT (Track and field, UC San Diego) — Johnson, a senior studying to become a surgeon, was named the NCAA Division II National Field Athlete of the Year. She won the NCAA Division II triple jump title with a mark that was four inches shy of the Olympic trials qualifying standard. She also placed fourth in the long jump.

JOHN MATTHEWS (Football, USD) — The senior wide receiver was named a first-team All-American on the Football Championship Subdivision team. The NFL prospect led the nation’s FCS schools in five categories and set USD career records for touchdown catches and receiving yards.

BRIAN MATUSZ (Baseball, USD) — Matusz, a junior, was named the West Coast Conference Pitcher of the Year as he led the Toreros to the WCC title and a trip to the NCAA tournament, where he picked up a win in the regional opener. He also was named a first-team All-American and was the third pick of the draft overall by the Baltimore Orioles.

CHRISTINA ROSS (Softball, SDSU) — Ross, a senior, was named the Mountain West Conference Pitcher of the Year for the second time in the last three years. She led the Aztecs to the NCAA tournament and national rankings. She was named a second-team All-American.

GREG SPRINK (Basketball, Navy/El Camino High alum) — The 6-foot-5 senior guard/forward earned honorable mention All-America while finishing his career third on Navy’s all-time scoring list. He was the first Navy player to score 20 points in seven straight games since David Robinson. He led the Midshipmen in scoring at 21.2 and averaged 6.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

STEPHEN STRASBURG (Baseball, Olympics/SDSU/West Hills High alum) — Strasburg helped the USA Baseball team to an Olympic bronze medal as only collegian named to the Olympic team. During the college season as a sophomore, he was named the Mountain West Conference Pitcher of the year and a first-team All-American.

CANDICE WIGGINS (Basketball, Stanford/La Jolla Country Day alum) —Wiggins won the Wade Trophy as women’s college basketball’s national player of the year. She earned All-American honors for the fourth straight year and was named Pac-10 Player of the Year for the third time. She finished her career as the Pac-10’s career scoring leader. After the college season, she was the third pick of the WNBA draft by the Minnesota Lynx.

It wasn’t a bad year for San Diego, after all.

Tom Shanahan is‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions and an occasional writer for You can e-mail him at Or send a letter to the editor.

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