Poly High Honors Alumni at Bears of Distinction Gala
By Daniella Masterson
The entertainment industry has the Hollywood Walk of Fame to commemorate distinguished stars. The NFL has the Pro Football Hall of Fame to celebrate gridiron warriors. But Riverside Poly High has the Bears of Distinction to celebrate alumni who have exceeded the ordinary in their field.
Poly recently held its second annual Bears of Distinction to induct six alumni into the school’s hall of fame known as the Bears of Distinction. Each recipient’s name is mounted on a plaque and displayed on a wall outside the administration building. The ceremony is held the Friday before homecoming.
“Now when I talked to students, I asked them which one of you is going to be on that wall?” said Poly High Principal Darel Hansen. “What great things are you going to do; how are you going to change the world?” he added.
This year’s honorees included two African Americans who are outstanding athletes – a record-holding track star and a powerful running back who was already in the Riverside Sports Hall of Fame.
Renee Chambers-Rose hails from the class of 1981. After a successful high school and collegiate career in Track and Field, Chambers held the San Diego State University 400-meter record for 20 years and still holds the 800-meter record. She transitioned her outstanding athleticism into a career in coaching. She would become a five-time Coach of the Year and CIF Coach of the Year. Later she won the Women’s Coach of the Year seven times at Mesa College in San Diego.
Mark Green was in the Poly Bear’s graduating class of 1985. His ticket to greatness was stamped when he received a scholarship to play football at the University of Notre Dame where he played for the hall-of-fame coach, Lou Holtz. Green was a four-year starter culminating in an undefeated season and a national championship in 1988. In 1989, Green was selected by the Chicago Bears and spent four years playing for the Bears in the National Football League.
Hansen said the idea to start a hall of fame began years ago in the school district to better connect with the community. “We really wanted to separate ourselves from the athletic perception of a hall of fame. We wanted it to be all-inclusive. So, we came up with the Bears of Distinction,” he said adding that Arlington High School has started a ceremony and other schools will eventually launch a similar program.
“2021 was our first induction ceremony,” said Hansen. “The first ceremony had 13 honorees. The biggest names were Reggie and Cheryl Miller. But our honorees went all the way back to Walter A. Gordon, a graduate of 1912 who was honored posthumously. Dell Roberts was also honored.”
Hansen said since the school began in 2021, they have been flooded with emails, letters, and phone calls from the community to recommend a recipient. In addition, the ceremony has inspired more donations, enabling the school to purchase a statue of their mascot, an 8-foot 800-pound statue of a Grisly Bear. But most of all, the educator is proud of how the wall of fame is inspiring the students.
“Poly has such a rich tradition… You will see the students stopping to read each one of the plaques (featured on the wall of fame),” said Hansen boasting that the school has everyone from an Olympian to a student who became a renowned author and artist after surviving imprisonment in the Japanese Internment Camps during WWII. “I’ve seen entire classrooms come out. Some of the classes have done assignments on the honorees,” he said.
The following are the names of this year’s other honorees: Virginia McAvoy Blumenthal, class of 1966 and owner of Blumenthal Law Offices which is considered the first woman-owned firm in the Inland Empire; Ab Brown, class of 1936 and the 14th Mayor of Riverside who won three terms; Duane Roberts, class of 1954 and owner of the Mission Inn and visionary who restored the historic hotel; and Johnny Sotelo, class of 1943 and the first Latino elected to the Riverside City Council serving in Ward 2 for 10 years.