The Spanishtown Dons
By June Morrall
[I wrote this in 1993. Gives a bit of insight into HMB’s famous precision drill team champions.]
Coastsiders were so proud of the Spanishtown Dons that they planted their name in huge cardboard cut-out letters on a hillside for all to see in the 1950s.
There was so much to be proud of–as the Dons, a precision drill team, had their many successes splashed across the front pages of the Half Moon Bay Review. Drilling before thousands of spectators at hundreds of exhibitions, they were repeatedly rewarded with national and state championship titles.
Drillmaster Manuel Sousa, once honored as San Mateo County’s “Man of the Year,” organized the Dons in 1947. Attired in colorful “Zorro” style outfits with sashes and sombrero hats, the Dons responded to commands in Spanish, researched and brought back to Half Moon Bay from Mexico City by Belle Vallejo, a teacher and prominent Half Moon Bay resident.
Once you witnessed their precision performance the Spanishtown Don were hard to forget.
In 1949 the Dons logged 4,000 miles, including an exciting trip to Chicago, courtesy of the Half Moon Bay Lions Club. That year their expenses totaled $4,700, most of it budgeted for buying uniforms. These were not insignificant figures almost 50 years ago. The team was supported by generous donations from Coastsiders. The Dons also worked at fairs and sold tickets to dances to raise money for their expenses.
The owner of the Palace Miramar Hotel gave the Dons $10 for every $100 worth of tickets they sold for the popular “Mid-Winter Dance.”
By 1951, the Dons had won their 100th award. They became so well known that Ed Sullivan invited the group to appear on his television show, “Toast of the Town.” They also turned up as guests on Art Baker’s “You Asked For It.”
Each spring they made their annual appearance in a Half Moon Bay benefit appearance for th American Cancer Society, honoring Gasper Intoschi, a former member who had succumbed to the horrible disease.
In August 1954, the Dons traveled by Greyhound bus, driven by Coastsider and Greyhound employee Kyle Bowman, to Milwaukee, site of the competition for the prestigious national men’s drill championship title. Without previous experience, Bowman agreed to be their flag bearer.
(Photo: L-R: Larry Hewitt, Chairman, Spectacle of Music; Jean Bradshaw, Don’s Banner Girl; Captain Manuel Sousa; Patsy Speer, Majorette; Delores Mundrich, Don’s Banner Girl and Dean Potter, Mayor, South Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Accompanied by the talented majorette Patsy Speer, who also won a first place trophy, the dons easily retained their title. As they marched before 100,000 onlookers, they also scooped up the award for the best drill team in parade.
That evening in Milwaukee, the Dons were the featured group in what was billed as “The Annual Spectacle of Music”.