Over time a man’s life can take him many places.
Thirty-seven years ago, the paths of Doug Cornfoot and Harvey Marable crossed for the first time. With both having just completed two years at their respective junior colleges, the two were brought together as part of the California State University, Stanislaus men’s basketball team for the 1979-80 season.
Cornfoot, a Colorado transplant with a self-described plucky playing style, transferred to Stanislaus after a chance encounter with a recruiter who was scouting one of his West Valley Junior College teammates.
Marable, a reserved small-town kid who spoke volumes on the court, opted for Stanislaus after playing two years at the College of Sequoias because of its small size and travel schedule, which included Hawaii and Alaska.
The towering players — standing a respective 6 feet, 4 inches and 6 feet, 3 inches — were recruited to help revamp a basketball program that had become accustomed to losing.
“The first year was a setting of a new culture I would say,” Marable said. “They always had one guy who would score a lot of points…There wasn’t a lot of support. But my year, we started getting a lot of support and changing into a winning culture.”
Marable was a key contributor in that culture shift as he led the team in scoring and rebounding with an average of 20.9 points per game and totaled 251 rebounds.
“Harvey was probably the most talented guy I played with at Stanislaus my three years. He just had a knack of scoring and using his body to get the best shot that he could get,” Cornfoot said.
“I kind of just went there and I looked at what they needed. I went to some open gyms they had and saw that everybody wanted to play guard and shoot,” Marable said. “Nobody wanted to rebound or run the fast breaks, so I started rebounding and running the fast break and I found my niche.”
Cornfoot’s minutes on the court during that first season were minimal, but by the following season he was able to fight his way into the starting lineup.
“He worked hard and he had a motor that just wouldn’t stop,” Marable said of his teammate. “He had a nose for the ball and he was one of those players you wouldn’t like to play against but you were glad he was on your team.”
“I wasn’t always the most talented guy, but I thought I was a pretty tough player. I didn’t back down,” Cornfoot said. “I wasn’t intimidated by anybody and I knew I could play and guard anybody. I just had that, ‘I wasn’t going to lose’ attitude.”
After finishing 8-21 in their first season together, the combination of Cornfoot’s grit and Marable’s skill, along with improved team chemistry, helped elevate the 1980-81 Warriors to a 16-12 record. That season also saw the first post-season appearance from the Warriors in school history. Marable again led the team in scoring with an average of 19 points per game and set a single-season record of 225 field goals en route to an All Far Western Conference 1st team selection.
That marked the final season Cornfoot and Marable would be teammates. Marable left Stanislaus to play semi-professional basketball in New Zealand while Cornfoot stayed with the Warriors and made school history as the men’s basketball team finished the 1981-82 season with an 18-13 record and a Final Four appearance at the NCAA Division II National Championships, where he was selected to the All-Tournament Team.
Following 1982, both Cornfoot and Marable put their competitive basketball playing days behind them and their paths remained separate as they got jobs, began families and pursued individual endeavors. Still, the love of the game never left them and before long Cornfoot and Marable took up coaching.
Marable began his coaching career as an assistant for Turlock High before taking the helm of the Hughson High Girls varsity squad from 1995 to 2000, during which time he helped lead the Huskies to Trans Valley League and Sac-Joaquin Section Championships as well as a California Interscholastic Federation NorCal Semifinals appearance. By 2004 he was named the head coach for Pitman High’s boys varsity basketball team.
“I wanted the opportunity to help kids. There’s a lot of kids that kind of slipped through the cracks and were being missed, so I wanted to see if I could help in some kind of way,” Marable said.
Cornfoot also began his coaching career with a couple of assistant jobs, one with Hughson and one with Turlock, before landing his first head coaching job with the Delhi High Boys varsity team where he posted winning seasons from 2003 to 2005. Cornfoot followed his stint with the Hawks with a return to Turlock where he took over head coaching duties for the Bulldogs varsity boys in 2006.
“You’ve got to find something to fill that void. Coaching seemed like the thing to do to keep that competitive fire going,” Cornfoot said of his decision to begin coaching.
The decision to take what they had learned as players and become coaches resulted in a reunion on the basketball court, albeit in a different capacity, for the two former Warriors when Cornfoot’s Delhi team took on Marable’s Pitman team during a foundation game in 2005. As fate would have it, that reunion was permanently extended once Cornfoot took over Turlock’s team, the cross-town rival to Marable’s Pride squad. Nearly a decade later and the two have faced each other as rival coaches more than two dozen times and counting.
“They’re fundamental. They do all the little things right and that’s kind of how Harvey was,” Cornfoot said of Marable’s Pitman teams. “He was a level-headed player. He wasn’t flash and all that stuff. Harvey liked to fly under the radar and I think he kind of transferred that into his program. You don’t read negative stuff about Pitman basketball and every year they’re in the mix for the playoffs.”
“His teams are teams you want to coach instead of play against, just like him,” Harvey said of Cornfoot’s Turlock teams.
As coaches, Cornfoot has won three Central California Conference championships and gone to the playoffs 10 times with his Bulldogs while Marable has taken his Pride to the playoffs seven times. Playoffs and championships aside, however, the biggest games of each season are undoubtedly the cross-town matchups between the two Turlock schools.
“The actual event of the game is very exciting,” Marable said of the rival matchups. “It’s guaranteed to have almost a full house. The electricity from the crowd and from the students on both sides brings a lot of excitement and joy and competitiveness throughout the evening.”
“That’s an experience that every high school player should have an opportunity to be in,” Marable added.
The annual Turlock versus Pitman games have proven to be close and competitive nearly every season, though Cornfoot has the head-to-head edge with 19 cross-town wins to Marable’s six.
“There’s a respect for Harvey and the way he’s run his program, but I still want to beat him every time I play him,” Cornfoot said. “You don’t want to lose to someone you knew or played against. You want to go out and beat those people that you know well and respect.”
From strangers to teammates to rival coaches — the lives of Doug Cornfoot and Harvey Marable have twisted through time like the branches of a corkscrew willow, weaving in and out of each other’s paths with a common root: basketball.