Knee Deep: The Southern Cal ran through it

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WON EDITOR MIKE STEVENS with Dean Hall aboard the Southern Cal out of Oceanside Sea Center.
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BY MIKE STEVENS

Back in early April, I did a modest below-the-fold write-up about the storied vessel Southern Cal, now operating out of Oceanside Sea Center (OSC), returning to the water for the first time in two years following a significant round of upgrades. Passengers on that first trip included friends and family of OSC owner Ernie Prieto, and one lucky WON editor that got to tag along for the newsworthy ride. Fishing was slow that day, which I now know was the best possible scenario, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Dean Hall was my first high school teacher, as in, freshman year, first period (biology). He had several years under his belt by then, but he was still one of the younger, “cool” teachers who regularly held court in a button-down Hawaiian shirt that undoubtedly became a major part of his wardrobe following a solid collegiate baseball career at the University of Hawaii prior to a stint in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

He coached baseball at San Marcos High School, and in the classroom he had ways of making science fun. When it was time to dissect something, it wasn’t the garden-variety frog, but squid. When we turned in the results of the dissection, we were instructed to write our names on our papers in squid ink, then we fried ‘em up and ate them.

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Hall made casual references to being a bit of an angler, but I never really talked shop with him. As a bit of a class clown, he referred to me as “Mega Face” not only in class, but every time he saw me in on campus for the next four years. That included when he was the public-address announcer at varsity basketball games where he would use “Mega Face” instead of my name. He even left an answering machine message to my mom that started with, “This is just a call to let you know how well Mega Face is doing in my class…”

Naturally, I fell out of touch with him post high-school and pre social media, but I did eventually reconnect with him on the latter which was right around the time he retired from teaching. He eventually connected with Prieto as an angler on the Chubasco II when it was running independently out of Mission Bay. That relationship grew and Hall ultimately became a deckhand on the boat as fun, on-the-water retirement job.

In the years that followed, I’d occasionally ping him for WON reasons, and he was even telling me off-the-record about the OSC idea and how they looking to open a new landing in Oceanside. WON got to break the news when it went public, and by that time, Hall worked more out of OSC headquarters than on the boats and “Office Dean” became his nickname.

An invite from Hall was how I ended up on the Southern Cal that day in what was really

THE SOUTHERN CAL docked at Oceanside Sea Center. WON PHOTO BY MIKE STEVENS

just a dry-run for the vessel and an opportunity to, as Prieto put it, to “make sure the oven turns on.” Fishing did happen, but it was one of those days where the current and wind weren’t cooperating. Fish were caught, but it was all secondary to smack-talk, ball busting and sampling everything the new-look galley had to offer.

The banter between Dean (when I arrived at the landing and instinctively called him, “Mr. Hall” he said, “that will be the last time you ever say that”) and I ranged from classroom antics, all the times he got a stern talking to by the principal, baseball, fishing, “how on earth I got such a good lookin’ wife?” and other stories of varying levels of appropriateness about what went on behind the scenes during his teaching career. Things you’d never hear as a student.

Eventually the boat would make a stop, and we wouldn’t even fish. We’d just keep talking about anything and cracking the hell up. We did share the rail a few times, so that box was finally checked. Before I stepped off the Southern Cal, I told Dean I was stoked this finally happened and “it’s cool knowing you’re out here, doing this.”

When I received a message last week from my neighbor, WON BASS pro and fellow SMHS alum Chip Gilbert that Mr. Hall had passed away unexpectedly, I was in as much shock as the rest of his former students, athletes and colleagues. The shock remains as I write this less than a day later, but I find a lot of comfort in the fact that day on the water on the Southern Cal got to happen, and the fishing was sub-par.

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