REEDLEY - Verne Horton, a former baseball coach at Reedley College and a member of the RC Athletic Hall of Fame, died on April 22 in Southern California at the age of 94.
Horton coached the Tigers from 1950-56 and led the team to three championships, including an undefeated season in 1951. He coached the Tigers' football team for three seasons as well and became a career educator that included time as a vice-principal and principal at Reedley High School before moving to Southern California in 1972.
Horton was inducted into the RC Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001; that year joining two of his former players in Jack McBride and Henry "Hank" Vasques. In a 2001 interview with the Reedley Exponent, he told of his excitement in being inducted.
"It's really an honor for me to be considered with the likes of [HOF members] J.R. Boone, Babe Danielson and Shirley Gustafson," he said. In addition to all the star Tiger players Horton coached, he also had an opportunity to coach Gustafson — who went on to a Hall of Fame coaching career in volleyball — on the Reedley Comets women's softball team.
Horton was a World War II veteran, serving in the Marines. After his military duty, the San Bernardino native played baseball at the University of California in Berkeley. While there, he was a relief pitcher for the Golden Bears as they won the first College World Series title in 1947. They beat a Yale team in the final that featured first baseman and former president George H.W. Bush.
Horton's shot at a professional baseball career was derailed by an arm injury, but after graduation from Cal at age 25 he came to Reedley to start his coaching career. In addition to coaching the Tigers to titles in 1951, '53 and '54, Horton and equipment manager Fred Preheim worked to build the college's baseball diamond. In the 2001 Exponent article, the two received help on angles and elevations for the new field from the RC math department. In addition, legendary Fresno State baseball coach Pete Beiden gave advice on what kind of grass to plant.
Horton also lettered in football at Cal, and he coached the Tigers for three seasons including a 7-4 record in 1955.
"Looking back, I really wish I had stuck it out with football — playing and coaching," he said in the 2001 article. "It's more of a challenge to coach football. There's a lot more a coach can affect on the field during a game."
After Reedley College, Horton moved over to work with the Kings Canyon Unified School District. Both his son John (Class of 1964) and daughter Deby (Class of 1970) were Reedley High graduates.
Horton was a USMC Staff Sergeant, radio waist gunner in World War II. Deby Anderson said her father flew 43 missions and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross Medal.
The first plane Horton flew on was a B25 in training, and his final flight came in 2017 when he flew in a restored B25 at the Commemorative Air Force SoCal Wing in Camarillo. The flight was recorded in an episode of The Weapon Hunter television show called "The Big Bad B25." Horton also was among military members honored at a Veterans Day Celebration in Menifee in 2019.
Survivors include his son and daughter, two stepdaughters, four grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. His first wife, Naydene, was well known in the Reedley community during the family's years in the area. She died in 2008. Marlyn, Horton's second wife of 40-plus years, died in 2017.
Anderson said her father was a "teacher until the end" with numerous success stories of programs he developed during his educational career. She said students constantly invited him to college graduations, reunions, and other milestone events.
"He has said over and over that he had a good life with few regrets," Anderson said. "He was a good man in many ways."
Anderson said her father asked that anyone wishing to make donations to the B25/PBJ Project can do so by sending it to CAF SoCal Wing, PBJ Project, 455 Aviation Drive, #9501, Camarillo CA 93010.
(Reedley College Athletics)