The 1974 Southern California Sun had a terrific coaching staff, a solid group of professional players, and a clear mission. Unfortunately the same money problems that haunted the other franchises of the WFL also hovered over the Sun franchise, culminating in a federal indictment against owner Larry Hatfield. Securing fraudulent loans to pay league assessed moneys, Sun bills, and other expenses, Hatfield still entered the 1975 season as the Sun’s President and General Manager. Davidson was no longer an owner in the Sun franchise and it was assumed that the chicanery that marked the start-up of this franchise was a thing of the past as Sam Battistone, Jr. assumed ownership. Battistone had been a partner with Chris Hemmeter in the 1974 version of the Hawaii Hawaiians and they had made arrangements so that all existing bills were paid, including 1974 player salaries. Hemmeter sold out his share, or gave it away so that he could focus upon being the Commissioner of the New League, Inc. that was doing business as the 1975 World Football League. Battistone wanted to be in southern California so in effect, he “switched” franchise ownership and was now the owner of the Sun. Young Battistone’s money came from his share of the Sambo Restaurant chain. For those of the last two generations, this may not be a familiar restaurant franchise but its story is worth telling. Sam Battistone, Sr. and his friend and business associate Newell Bonette, often referred to as “Sam and Bo” as they so frequently traveled together, opened their first restaurant on June 17, 1957 in Santa Barbara, California, right across the street from the beach. The name Sambo’s Restaurant was a contraction of their nickname’s Sam and Bo. Discovering the child’s book “Little Black Sambo” written by Hellen Bartrum in 1899, they thought they had a perfect theme for their new establishment. They painted the walls with murals of drawings from the book, showing a little boy from India who was chased by tigers. As the tigers ran faster and faster around a tree, they turned into butter which Sambo put on his pancakes. The Little Black Sambo theme was, in the late 1950s, not considered to be offensive or politically incorrect as the boy was not African or African-American and those truly were simpler times. They became famous for huge pancakes, excellent breakfast-type food, and the ten cents cup of coffee. At its peak, Sambo’s had 1200 restaurants nationwide. Perhaps they overreached with their expansion, perhaps it was a backlash of the Black culture but by 1981 the chain had gone bankrupt. However, they were still a thriving enterprise in 1975 and Battistone, Jr. also owned a piece of the NBA’s New Orleans Jazz, World Team Tennis, and the professional International Track Association. A native of Santa Barbara, ownership of the Sun fulfilled his desire to return to and live in California. MORE...
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