BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Two years ago the Bakersfield Jockey Club was on the verge of folding. These days it looks like they’re going to need a bigger room.

There were no open seats to be found at Tuesday’s breakfast at Hodel’s honoring high school athletes and others, the latest in a series of twice-monthly meetings. Back in September 2022, however, the club was nothing more than a half-dozen hearty souls wondering if the organization – originally created for sportswriters and sportscasters – was worth preserving. 

Sixty years ago the Jockey Club was more of an informal press conference for journalists than a celebration of excellence in high school sports. The late, great Bakersfield Californian columnist Larry Press was a co-founder. In his column of June 12, 1963, he wisecracked its membership included a bunch of “self-styled experts happy to dispense the lowdown on all subjects, without truth or accuracy interfering in the slightest.”

 Now, according to board member Frank Wooldridge, it’s a reflection of a healthy community that appreciates youthful promise.

“I hear from the coaches, from athletic directors, ‘I’ve been in other places, in other cities, in other states, and they don’t do stuff like this, and why is that?’” Wooldridge said. “Well, I’ll tell you why it is. Because Bakersfield, we have an underlying culture of service.”

Tuesday’s edition of the Jockey Club, which honored 18 student-athletes, doubled as a tribute to guest emcee Ned Pementer – the legendary, longtime coach at Foothill High – and focused on schools about to embark on the 2023 playoffs, including last year’s state runner up in football, undefeated Shafter. 

But the adults kept things in perspective – coaches brought up individual athlete’s grade point averages more often than their teams’ win-loss records. The Bakersfield Jockey Club celebrates athletic achievement, but it’s clear that academic excellence makes a difference as well.