Living legends


DJ Burrough

When the final buzzer went off on March 9, 1968, in the Long Beach Sport Arena, the Compton High School boys’ basketball team had not only secured a state championship, but also a place in high school sports history. Compton High School was the first team in California history to win 66 games without a loss and back-to-back undefeated state and national champions. The 50th anniversary of that historic accomplishment —  in 2019 — is a record that remains unbroken. 

The all-Black basketball team in post-riot Compton uplifted the community and the nation, says Michael Hopwood (’77), an alumnus of Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College who was captain of the ’68 team. “The whole city was lifted by what we were doing, particularly as we got close to the undefeated season. It was important for us to win every game.”

In 2013, when the California Interscholastic Federation presented its list of the top 100 athletes from the state’s high schools over the last 100 years, none of the players or coaches from the team were honored. That decision spurred Hopwood to make a documentary film about the team. He funded the film with crowdsourced donations and $8,000 of his own money, and started tracking down archival footage of games and interviewing players who played for and against Compton High School. The film features Jim Newman and Byron Scott, both ASU Hall of Famers, and NBA Hall of Famer and former Phoenix Suns player Paul Westphal.

“We set out to tell our story because our record still stands and has not been matched since,” Hopwood says. “There’s an old saying that if you don’t toot your own horn nobody knows you’re in the band.” 

At the end of 2019, Hopwood made the final edits on the 113-minute documentary, “Living Legends 66-0.” The full-length film is now available to buy or rent on Google Play and YouTube Movies.

“It’s a good story,” said Hopwood, who lives in Maricopa, Arizona, with his wife, Beverly. “It highlights all the challenges we went through to achieve what we did. We came out of it closer than we went in.”

It’s fitting that Hopwood was the one to make the documentary, says Amen Rah, Professor Emeritus at Long Beach State University and a long-time friend who played against Hopwood in junior and senior high school.

“Michael was always the leader of the team,” Rah says. “There was still a lot of segregation and racism, but we just wanted to play. Mike was always intellectually inclined and he kept that team together.”

After graduating in ’68, Hopwood came to ASU on a basketball scholarship. He was a four-year starter and majored in education. He finished his degree while playing professionally in Europe, and later earned his master’s degree in Education Administration from National University, and a master’s degree in Biblical Theology from Esther Mallet International Bible University.

He also went on to play for professional teams in Europe, first in France and then Switzerland. While playing in the European Converse All-Star game in Geneva in 1982, Hopwood discovered his dream of playing in the NBA would always elude him. “I was running down the court and started to daydream about after the game, what party I might go to,” he says. “I always told myself that if I couldn’t devote all my attention and energy into the game that I wouldn’t hang on and I would transition to another profession.” 

Hopwood returned to the  U.S.and taught full-time — first at Sacaton Middle School on the Gila Indian Reservation and then in the Los Angeles area. He devoted nearly his entire career to teaching algebra and geometry and coaching basketball.

“My education classes provided me with the ability to investigate an idea or situation in a methodical manner, evaluate facts, discern the truth and then take action,” Hopwood says. “It helped me adapt and grow both as an individual and professionally.” 

Hopwood stepped into new roles as an assistant principal and worked to establish Safe Passage Programs to create safe routes for students to school in areas with high levels of gang activity. “No kid, teacher or staff member should have to fear coming to school or work. That’s one of my core beliefs: safety first.”

Hopwood eventually moved to district administration, becoming the Local District 7 coordinator of school operations for the Los Angeles Unified School District. During that time, he worked with the principals of 56 schools to improve operations and safety.

“He was the captain of the team that pulled everybody together to reach a resolution to any crisis,” says Dellis Frank, a retired organization facilitator who worked with Hopwood. “He was always cool under pressure.”

In 2011, Hopwood became operations administrator for the Superintendents Intensive Support and Innovation Center, overseeing 93 campuses across the district, including partnership, pilot and public school choice schools. He retired from the district in 2013 as the longest-serving school operations administrator in the district, with more than 28 years of service in education.

“He could always bring people together,” Rah says. “Mike has a vision for society — not the way it is, but the way it ought to be.”

In addition to his work as director and producer, Hopwood was recently recognized as one of the “Top 100 Visionaries in Education," an award presented to him July 25, 2021, by the Global Forum for Education and Learning (GFEL).