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Balboa Island basketball pros

February 05, 2006|By ROBERT GARDNER

I ran into George Yardley at the doctor's office, both of us waiting for our regular checkup, and it reminded me that one part of our city has made a significant contribution to professional sports.

Not many places the size of Balboa Island can boast of having had two nationally known professional athletes. Oh, professional athletes might congregate in some desirable place they can now afford. The notorious Dennis Rodman has a home on the peninsula, and a number of other former professionals live in the area, but the idea of having two athletes who were good enough to become professionals actually come from a place as small as Balboa Island is rather amazing.

Yardley went into professional basketball from Balboa Island by way of Stanford. John Valleley went into professional basketball from Balboa Island by way of UCLA. Neither was very tall by today's standards, but each was an outstanding player in high school, in college and in the professional ranks.

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Valleley had the misfortune to play behind one of basketball's immortals, but he still had an outstanding professional career.

Yardley was one of the real stars of the game and, for years, an annual award was given in his name to the area's outstanding athlete. I don't follow local sports much anymore, so I'm not sure if it's still given, but for a long period, at least, this was the highest accolade for local competitors.

George Yardley was the son of George and Dorothy Yardley. George Sr. was an early contractor who became an integral part of the Holstein organization in its development of much of the town.

Dorothy Yardley became the justly famous grand dame of the Balboa Bay Club. Such was her energy and presence, my sister Marion used to say of her, "When I'm in the room with Dorothy, I feel like she's taking up all the air."

When George Jr. retired from basketball, he took up tennis and golf, where he shined until his knees began to act the way too many career athletes' knees do. He wore so many braces he looked like the Tin Woodsman on the court and course, and finally he had to retire from tennis, as well.

I don't know whether he's still playing golf or whether he's now into lawn bowling, playing checkers or just sitting there, contemplating his navel, but whatever it is, he's doing it with his usual competitive zeal.

John Valleley also had strong Balboa Island roots. He was the son of Ronnie and Vivian Valleley of Valleley's boat rentals, an integral part of Balboa Island's history. After a notable basketball career, John Valleley became one of the first beach volleyball stars.

Balboa Island can be justly proud of having given to the sports world two men of the caliber of George Yardley and John Valleley.

* ROBERT GARDNER was a Corona del Mar resident and a judge who died in August, 2005. This column originally ran in April, 2003.

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