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JACC No. 8: Stories: Yosemite, The Shooter, Handcuffs, West Valley Rules

April 20, 2017

A series of my most memorable moments with the Journalism Association of Community Colleges.

In my various officer roles with JACC I worked behind the scenes helping plan and run regional, faculty, and state conferences for quite a few years. Doing so put me in a position to hear stories that the average attender at these events might not know. In this post, I encapsulate some of my favorites.

YOSEMITE

I was not around when this one happened, but it is so funny. Before settling in Fresno as a semi-permanent location for conferences in the 1980s –on the theory of planning it in the middle of the state and making it easier for schools from across the state to drive there—the annual conventions rotated around the state. In 1966, it was held in Yosemite Curry Village campgrounds, the ones with the tent cabins. One college adviser could not attend with his students and sent along a school administrator as a chaperon in his place.

Students had free time in the evening and advisers shuffled off in a group by themselves. The school administrator did not think that was a good idea and patrolled the campgrounds himself to make sure no hanky-panky was taking place. He came upon a cabin where he heard a couple clearly in the throes of sex. Those cabins had no locks on the door, so he burst in and demanded, “Okay, where are you from,” hoping to find out which college needed discipline. The man in bed replied with a Swedish accent, “We are from Sweden. We are on our honeymoon.”

THE SHOOTER

The annual conventions include both workshops from media professionals and various on-the-spot writing, photography, editing, and design competitions. In the 1980s and early 1990s we staged news events for the news writing and photo competitions. Rio Hondo College’s John Francis had strong theatrical background and often was in charge of planning these events.

This one year he staged an event with a speaker standing on a stage spouting white supremacist rhetoric. Midway through the speech one of the “students” climbed on stage and argued with him. When the speaker ignored the interruptions, the “student” pulled out a gun and shot the speaker.

Now, we conference planners knew this was coming. Photographers were crowded around the semi-circular stage in the hotel ballroom snapping away, trying to get a decent photo of a boring image of a speaker at a podium. Suddenly things picked up when the “student” climbed on the stage. But the payoff was to be when then gun came out. As I watched, a third of the photographers dove for the floor. Another third lowered their cameras as if to say, “My gosh, he has a gun.” You could easily tell who was NOT going to win the photo competition.

But what makes this a memorable story is what we discovered later. San Jose City College had brought a student to the convention who was a Vietnam veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. And, we learned later, he had a real gun with him. We were damned lucky he did not pull the gun out and shoot the shooter. We determined shortly after that that we either needed to think through our canned scenarios a bit better or present real-life news events.

HANDCUFFS

For several years, I served as the organization’s executive secretary/treasurer. One of my responsibilities was to stay after an event and pay bills. In those 1980s days at the Hacienda Hotel in Fresno the registration fee covered the costs of running the convention, meals, AND hotel rooms for all. Today, the hotel rooms are a separate expense covered by the attendees directly or through their schools.

After one conference I was waiting around on a Sunday afternoon after all had departed while the hotel’s computer system spit out a 45-page bill for all the meals and hotel rooms –a bill that required a $60,000 check before I left town.

While waiting, the hotel’s security chief came up and said we had a problem. A maid had entered a room to clean up and found a naked male guest –a student—handcuffed to the bed. His partner the night before, who had already left town, happened to be one of the outgoing female student officers of the organization. The key to the handcuffs, thankfully, had been left behind across the room on a chest of drawers.

WEST VALLEY RULES

Pierce College was the dominant newspaper among general excellence mail-in competitions during the 1980s –much like Contra Costa or Southwestern these days. I was teaching at West Valley College by then and, surprise, that weekend the Norseman newspaper had beat out Pierce for first place in general excellence. (We no longer rank the general excellence award.)

I was waiting around to pay the organization’s bill (see above) when the security chief again showed up said that there was a problem. It seems that overnight someone had climbed up on top of the hotel and changed the hotel saloon’s marquee message. There might be damage to the Spanish tile roof. He pulled out his note pad and said, “Yeah, they changed the message to ‘West Valley rules.’” I buried my head in shame, it was MY students. Worse, as it turned out, it was the tallest, heaviest student; it couldn’t be a lightweight.” Thankfully, only one tile was damaged.

And it did not stop there. My students had already headed back to San Jose in school cars. The college had even supplied a gas credit card for use over the weekend. When they stopped for gas, one of them decided to use the credit card to buy a toy truck the gas station was selling. I had to explain that to the college administration the next week, too.

Previously: No. 10: The swimming race and the photo darkroom, No. 9: Getting a thesis topic

Next: Clearing out the Holiday Inn

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