Very few Cal fans ever knew the first ever college women’s basketball game was held between Cal and Stanford in 1896. Few Cal fans have heard the name Helen Wills Moody, Cal alumnus and eight-time Wimbledon champion.
There are hundreds of stories like this in Cal sports history, buried deep in the sands of time. But in the past few years, Leslie Mitchell has taken upon herself to unearth these forgotten Berkeley lores.
When she’s not working as an attorney in Sacramento, Mitchell writes blog posts about Cal sports history for the popular California Golden Blogs. Mitchell — better known as CalBear81 to the blog — is a fan favorite at the blog for her ever-entertaining history lessons.
Although the research and writing can get time-consuming, Mitchell was almost born to write about Cal sports history. A third-generation Cal alum who majored in history and Dutch in the late 70s, Mitchell has the research skills, endless love for her alma mater and the encyclopedia knowledge to make her the perfect fit to become the unofficial Cal sports historian.
Though the majority of her blog posts are about Cal football, Mitchell also writes about the history of smaller sports like women’s tennis or baseball. Of the 30-plus posts she has written thus far, her favorite story was about the 1896 Cal-Stanford women’s basketball game.
“I would have expected the honor going to some East Coast university,” Mitchell said. “I was like, ‘We were the first college women’s basketball program ever?’ How about that?”
Surprises have become commonplace for Mitchell whenever she researches for a story. But even then, she stumbles into tales that make her shake her head in amazement.
“I was once flipping through a Cal alumni book that my grandfather used to have, and I found this spectacular photo of this huge mob of people surrounding the Cal crew team by Sather Gate (after they won the gold medal in the 1928 Olympics),” Mitchell said.
“You can’t imagine a mob of 10,000 people showing up in Sproul Plaza today for the football team.”
The ability to share experiences like this with a community of Cal fans in the blog draws her back to continuously researching and writing. Despite not having any deadlines for her stories by the blog editors, Mitchell churns out a new story every couple of weeks. Through her regular contributions, she has become one of the most respected bloggers at the site.
While many of her stories date back more than a century, she still does most of her research online. But over the past few years, as some stories become harder to find on the Internet, Mitchell has accumulated a collection of sports history books for research.
In addition to books, Mitchell boasts a small but rich memorabilia collection that span nearly 100 years of Cal football. Some artifacts like her rare 1920 Big Game program were bought. Others, like her father’s ticket and program of the 1938 Rose Bowl, are passed down as a sort of Mitchell family heirloom.
Mitchell has no thoughts of slowing down her writing — in fact, she’s more concerned about being able to cover all the historical gems she has discovered. She has dozens of future topics written down a list — like a series of Cal’s early Olympians in time for the London Olympics — and the list continues to grow with passing time.
With so much to write and seemingly so little time, Mitchell is holding back the idea of possibly publishing her work into one giant anthology. But even then, there might be another issue that could complicate her book career.
“Some of the old pictures I used still may be copyrighted. It’s easier to use copyrighted images online than on a published book,” Mitchell said.