Spending the holidays at a gym or soccer field?

I wouldn’t know what it’s like to be a parent, and I don’t know that I want to. But I can only wonder how most parents spend their holidays. I know I’ve spent most of my major holidays covering major sporting events (like the Rose Bowl) but for the first time this season I will have Christmas day off. While most families take vacations I will be covering holiday tournaments as I’m sure most of you will be attending (as if you had a choice) your son and/or daughter’s basketball or soccer tournaments. But unlike just about every high school varsity team in the area, the La Caada High School girls soccer team will not be taking part in a holiday tournament. La Caada coach Louie Bilowitz has had it that way since 1994 when he realized that his son’s senior year would probably be the last time they could all take a vacation. Since then, Bilowitz has opted to not play in holiday tournaments, realizing most families would rather take the holiday break to vacation as a family, perhaps for the last time before the kids head off to college. “I’ve coached the girls now for five years and coached the boys for 15 years,” Bilowitz said. “When my son was a senior in high school in 1994 I realized that he was going to be going to college and summer he’d be with friends and that was the last time we were going to be with him.” The parents were not only receptive to the idea but appreciative. So where will you be this holiday break?

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Football: St. Thomas Aquinas crowned national champs

From Rivals:

ORLANDO (Fla.) – It doesn’t take long to realize Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas is a national championship-caliber football team.

Just ask a coach who has been at the top of the high school football universe.

“They are the best, no doubt about that,” Lakeland coach Bill Castle said after falling to the national champion Raiders in Florida’s Class 5A state championship game.

Castle led the Dreadnaughts (14-1) to a pair of national championships in 2005 and 2006, but he could not come up with any solutions to stopping St. Thomas (15-0) in a 56-7 drubbing Friday in Orlando, Fla., a game that clinched the RivalsHigh national title for the Raiders.

It marked the first national championship and fifth state title for St. Thomas and coach George Smith, who has guided the Raiders for 32 years. Three of the last four national champions came out of Florida’s Class 5A, which is arguably one of the most challenging divisions in the country.

“If you win the state championship in the state of Florida, you’ve got a decent football team no matter what class you are in,” Smith said. “We didn’t talk about that [the national championship], but if that comes with it, that is a very unbelievable event.”

Click here to read the rest of the story and for a list of the nation’s Top 100 teams.

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Steve Ramirez: Did he really say that?

When I covered Major League Soccer at The Register I was well-known for asking the tough questions whether it was after a game, practice or at a press conference. I’m sure U.S. Soccer men’s national team head coach Bob Bradley would admit it and so would every executive/coach who has worked and works for Chivas USA, my first pro beat as a 20-year-old sportswriter (of course when I covered the Lakers I let the big boys do the heavy lifting). But after listening to Rob Parker’s tone and his last question not only did he clearly cross the line but it sounded personal despite what he wrote in his column today on the Detroit News website. Parker goes on to write in his column how he and Rosemead native Rod Marinelli have had talks after press conferences and their mutual respect for one another. Heck, even former Chivas USA coach Bob Bradley pulled me aside one time after a soccer practice and asked me why I wrote a critical story, calling a 0-0 tie tasteless. We talked for a good 20 minutes about the game, his experience coaching the Chicago Fire and comparing the media in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. There was also that one time Bradley yelled at me for continually asking whether one of his best players was in fact pondering to leave the club. Turned out I was right; the player left to Mexico. And his predecessor (Preki) and I went at it, too, after a report that the team was trading a marquee player. I was sure there was video footage of it but I can’t find it and I know there is audio recording because there were five other reporters who watched it unfold. Coaches/players/executives reach a level of comfort with the media. When Bradley was hired as the U.S. MNT coach I approached him and said it was probably the last time I’d interview him since I was thinking about leaving journalism to go to law school. He wished me well, shook my hand and had words of encouragement for me. The point is there’s a difference between asking tough questions, staying professional and acknowledging respect for one another as opposed to crossing the line, something Parker clearly did

From Steve Ramirez (AKA The Instigator) on Robledo’s blog:

There’s an old saying in politics, whether you are republican or democrat, that thou shall never speak ill of another party member.

It’s also goes for the journalism profession. But today I’m going to break that unwritten rule. I’m embarrassed today of being a sportswriter, and I have Detroit News columnist Rob Parker to blame. He clearly stepped over the line Sunday when questioning Detroit Lions coach Rod Marinelli after the Lions became the first NFL team in history to go 0-15.

Parker tried to place the blame on the Lions defense, and defensive coordinator Joe Barry, asking Rosemead native Marinelli why he hasn’t replaced his DC, who also happens to be his son-in-law.

When he didn’t get the answer he wanted, he crossed the line, asking Marinelli, “Do you wish your daughter would have married a better defensive coordinator?”

This coming from someone who probably doesn’t know the difference between a ‘Cover 2’ or a ‘Plug 1.’ Why get personal, Rob?

The Lions problem lies not with the coaching staff, but with the players that former team president Matt Millen put together. I reflect back to motor sports, and what Al Unser Jr. once told me, and that was that if two cars are close in performance, the better driver can make a difference. But if one car is clearly quicker, the best driver in the world is not going to make that difference up. It’s the same in team sports, where if the gap in talent level is too great, the best coaching staff in the world is not going to be able to win with it.
I guess Parker doesn’t know that. And the Fox Sports staff agrees with me, listen to what they say at the end of the video.

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U.S. Soccer Development Academy: A strain on players?

It wasn’t long ago I was lambasted for an article I wrote being critical of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. I asked U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati a few years ago what his thoughts were about coaches saying the academy undermined high school competition, specifically in Southern California. He compared me to Mr. Jack Bell for asking such a question which he answered vaguely if I recall. FYI, Jack Bell is a journalist for The New York Times.

In a soccer preview a few years ago, here’s how I ended my report:

U.S. Soccer Development Academy a hit?

Hardly. There was not a single coach surveyed who likes the idea of U.S. Soccer having the newly created Development Academy play during the high school season.

Several teams lost top players to the academy.

Competition in the CIF-SS and tournaments in Southern California are as tough if not more competitive than the schedule the academy has set out: playing other club teams that are not even Premiere teams, the highest level in club soccer.

The West Coast Classic in January is one of the toughest high school tournaments in the nation. Case closed? Time will tell.

I will get into this subject more as we get closer to league play, but the consensus among high school coaches is the academy is doing more harm than good. With this side of town being a hot bed for youth soccer, I wonder what are the parents’ thoughts of the academy and if you prefer the academy over high school competition where there is just as much exposure, if not more. What schools and/or players are still being affected by the academy and why should kids make the grueling decision, playing for your high school team or the Academy? I know this was a hotly contested issue in Orange County, but there are other soccer hotbeds, this part of town included.

Click here to read what my boy Jaime Cardenas, formerly of the Los Angeles Times, wrote on the Academy.

And … for a complete break down of the Academy by Jaime Cardenas, click here.

For the record, Cardenas and I cover high school soccer together in Orange County while he worked at the Los Angeles Times and I with the Orange County Register. We had numerous debates over the Academy and the plan was to both write explanatory reports on the academy, but just as I was about to report on it I was promoted from Major League Soccer to Lakers/Angels while Cardenas got heavily involved in the origins of the academy as you can tell by his well-done reporting.

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