Friday, September 18, 2015

Book review: "Long Beach State: A Brief History" by Barbara Kingsley-Wilson

Among Southern California universities, Cal State-Long Beach has long had to live in the shadow of higher-profile neighbors like USC and UCLA. But with nearly 37,000 students, and a long list of notable alumni, Cal State-Long Beach has had an impact on culture and the economy that deserves to be recognized.

In "Long Beach State: A Brief History, author Barbara Kingsley-Wilson describes in colorful detail how this college emerged from a bunch of agricultural fields just after World War II and grew into major university.  

In the early days, Kingsley-Wilson notes, the college wasn't much. The first classes were held in a converted apartment building. One newly hired professor couldn't find the campus. Another was shocked to find the school's library had no books. In the 1950s, the parking area became so muddy when it rained that cars slid down the hill.

I enjoyed the stories about 1960s, when students starting challenging campus administrators and sought to exercise more of an independent voice. Controversy erupted over one student's sculpture show that some thought was obscene.

In one good chapter, Kingsley-Wilson describes how the basketball program, under Coach Jerry Tarkanian, battling visiting teams amid the noisy and hot Gold Mine gym. The Tarkanian era, Kingsley-Wilson notes, had its ups and downs, and eventually came to an unpleasant end when the coach exited amid charges of NCAA rules violations.

There's also a good explainer on why the college is sometimes known as "Long Beach State," sometimes as "Cal State Long Beach," and sometimes just "The Beach."

I liked the stories about how women's sports grew on campus from a shoestring operation of play days and dance classes to something much more. Eventually, the campus would get a national championship from a women's volleyball team led by someone named Misty May.

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