The SGVN is proud to announce that longtime staffer Steve Ramirez is the new Star-News Prep Sports Editor

Steve Ramirez, who has been with the company more than 20 years, is replacing Miguel Melendez as the Star-News Prep editor. Steve was the Whittier Daily News prep editor last year, and serves many capacities at the SGVN, including college football writer, area college beat writer and auto racing. When it comes to football, he’s the most knowledgeable on out staff, despite what Aram might say (can we get an lol). In all the years I’ve worked with Steve, few work as hard as him. Please welcome him aboard. With Steve leaving the Whittier Daily News, weeklies reporter Eric Terrazas will replace Steve as the Daily News prep editor.

That’s company man Mr. Ramirez in the company shirt ..

Logan McClain, an honorable mention all-Rio Hondo League defensive end at Blair last season, plans to play at Maranatha this season …

Logan McClain, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound defensive end who earned all-Rio Hondo League honorable mention last season at Blair, plans to play at Maranatha this season.

McClain was one of few players in limbo at Blair after the school couldn’t find a head coach until last Friday when it gave Johnny Lopez the job.

Several of Blair’s top returners had already transferred to other schools. McClain, however, was waiting to see what became of the coaching and player situation at Blair before deciding what to do.

“He’s started the application process,” Maranatha coach Pete Karavedas confirmed late Thursday. “We would love to have him, but we need to see the application process through.”

McClain has interest from several colleges, according to his father Carl. He would bolster a Maranatha roster that could use a talent of his caliber along the defensive line and possibly on offense.

If Blair is unable to field a varsity team, McClain would be eligible right away under current CIF rules. If Blair does have a varsity team, McClain would likely have to sit out until Oct. 1.

Lopez is adamant Blair will have enough players to a field a varsity roster. The 50-year-old coach would not disclose how many players he has on his roster, but video shot of Blair’s practice on Wednesday showed just eight players in attendance. The Vikings finished last season with 12.

Aram’s take: Nice get for Maranatha. More on that in a bit. It’s time for Blair to drop the blind optimism act and start being realistic. There are 10 opponents on the schedule who would like the opportunity to start making other plans if the Vikings aren’t going to have a varsity team. Not to mention, there are probably a handful of players like McClain who don’t want to be in limbo. I don’t know where or how 20-30 players will suddenly show up on the practice field at Blair, but even if they do, with no spring ball, no summer passing games or practices (until reently) and no weight room sessions, having a varsity team is now a SAFETY ISSUE. It’s simply not fair to put kids who would run through walls in search of Friday Night glory in harm’s way. They need to be protected from themselves … OK, about Maranatha. You never know how a talent like McClain is going to blossom at a school like Maranatha. He could turn into one of the better defensive players in the area now that’s he got a supporting cast and consistent practice time under the guidance of high-quality coaches. If McClain thrives, an already talented Maranatha gets that much scarier.

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UPDATED: Eight players at Blair football practice this a.m. …

UPDATED: I was having trouble with a file transfer, so I had to run home and get my camera. When I returned to Blair, there was eight players at practice (by my count). Up from seven earlier this a.m. I also spoke with coach Johnny Lopez, who told me they have more players than what I saw there, but they were at UCLA(?) and some other places. I was skeptical and told Coach Lopez as much. Listen, Coach Lopez seems like a good guy in a tough spot. He’s definitely trying to do the right thing. But Blair is so far behind the rest of the area in terms of preparation, that you wonder about safety. Think about the things this team has missed — spring ball, summer passing, weight room. Not good. And now they can’t even field a starting 11 to give the air a look. It just seems more practical and safe to have a JV team instead of varsity. Of course if 10 more guys show up, things may be all right, but still there’s a ton of preparation time to make up for and football is a contact sport. The less prepared you are, the more likely you are to get hurt.

I decided to drive by Blair this morning and take a look for myself after hearing from player parents on Tuesday that only six kids attended practice that morning.

I counted seven eight players on Wednesday morning. Three linemen-types and four skill players (at least that was the type of drill they were running).

As reported yesterday, new head coach Johnny Lopez has stated that he does have a roster big enough to field a varsity team. But Lopez would not give a specific number or even an estimate as to how many players are in the program.

From what I saw Wednesday, Blair is not even close. Granted, there’s a slight chance that other players were in the weight room or doing film study. But what was on the field on Wednesday is not enough.

Aram’s take: This situation really needs to be escalated. It’s time Blair and Pasadena Unified school officials start getting real about the prospects of not having a varsity team this season. The Vikings’ first game is Aug. 24 against Hoover. If the school officials are holding out hope of having a varsity team despite the reality that the current numbers present, then they are doing a disservice to any players who want to transfer (especially seniors) and play somewhere this season.

UPDATED: Johnny Lopez says he’s still the coach at Blair and has conducted three practices …

Blair High School named Johnny Lopez as its new varsity football head coach last Friday.

Lopez, 50, was most recently head coach at Eagle Rock for one season in 2008. He graduated from Rosemead in 1979.

Blair has had three practices since his hiring, Lopez said. However, Lopez would not say how many players are currently on the roster and only that “players are trickling in.”

When asked if there were currently enough players to field a varsity team, Lopez said “Definitely”.

Reports from Blair parents, however, were that only six players participated in practice on Tuesday morning. Then later in the day, parents said they were told on Tuesday afternoon that Lopez did not pass his background check and was no longer head coach. Lopez said those claims were untrue.

Aram’s take: This story would be aided greatly if school officials would simply return phone calls. Why Lopez would not give an exact number of players currently in the program, or even an estimate, is a bit concerning. But I’ll take him at his word that there are enough for a team. For the time being, it looks like Blair will have a varsity team. There have been several defections from last year’s team. What their eligibility will be at their new schools is unclear. Any current players who were hoping for immediate eligibility at a new school if Blair does not field a varsity team may have just had their hopes crushed.

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Monrovia LB Brett Walsh commits to Northwestern …

Monrovia standout linebacker Brett Walsh committed to Northwestern on Tuesday.

Walsh led Monrovia in tackles last season with 192 and forms the area’s top linebacker tandem with George “G5″ Frazier, who is headed to Colorado.

Walsh also had offers from Nevada and South Dakota.

Aram’s take: Great choice! You got BigTen football and great academics … and Chicago nearby. Congrats to Walsh!

Will Blair have a team in 2012? With no head coach and very few players, we’re starting to wonder …

By Aram Tolegian, SGVN
twitter.com/ChemicalAT

In six weeks, the Blair High School football team is scheduled to play its first game of the season. But for some players and their parents, it’s hard to imagine that day will ever come.

While most area teams are concluding their summer preparations, which include practices, passing tournaments and linemen competitions, Blair is a program without a head coach and the team, what’s left of it, has not had an organized practice since early June. The Vikings are scheduled to open the season on Aug. 24 against Hoover.

“Most of the parents have said ‘This is crazy. This is ridiculous. We’re going to pull our kids and take them somewhere else,’” said Carl McClain, whose son Logan was an all-Rio Hondo League defensive end last season as a junior and is still holding out hope something will happen.

“The main players, the majority of them, have left. They’re gone. If my son was in the 10th grade, that would be no problem for us to pick up and go somewhere else, but he’s a senior.

“I shouldn’t have to move my son out of the city of Pasadena so he can go somewhere else to play. He’s a senior. I shouldn’t have to pull money out of my pocket so my son can play somewhere. That’s not fair.”

Blair was coached last season by Gary Parks, who resigned this past offseason after four years at the school. Blair started last season with 22 players on its roster, but Logan McClain estimated that the team had just 12 players when the season ended.

After Parks left, the school began its search for a replacement in April, according to Pasadena Unified School District board president Renatta Cooper.

The school’s first choice was hired but quickly quit due to a lack of equipment and poor facilities, according to Cooper. The school was not able to hire its second choice, who turned the job down because no teaching position was offered. A third choice was preliminarily hired, but failed a background check and was let go.

“The position has been re-flown and it’s my understanding that they’re going to be interviewing again Thursday,” Cooper said on Wednesday. “What more can they do? They had to re-fly the position. It is unfortunate that they were not able to secure the services of a coach. They began the process early enough to have this taken care of.”

“I believe that everything that can be done is being done. I believe they started the process early enough to not have this problem. You would think out of your three top candidates, you would be to secure the services of any of them. Especially when you started in April.”

With no coach and no organized practices, the player pool has subsequently dwindled. In the meantime, parents like McClain are frustrated by the lack of action and answers from Blair principal Trudell Skinner and athletic director Saul Rico.

The closest Blair’s players have come to some form of practice is an open weight room that the school has provided for another program not related to football, according to Logan McClain. So instead, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound college prospect has mostly worked out at home.

Another problem standing in Blair’s way is that even when a new football coach is hired, it’s questionable that there will be enough players to field a starting 11. Logan McClain estimates through his own correspondence with classmates that only eight players remain in the program. Blair will also welcome in a new freshmen class later this summer, but getting those players ready for any level of football competition will be an uphill battle even if a coach is named soon.

The CIF-Southern Section requires teams to have 14 practices before it plays its first game. Each individual student must have had at least 10 practices before being allowed to compete in a game.

With time running out, Blair needs to act fast in getting both a coach and enough players to field a varsity football team. Despite the concerns of many, school officials aren’t ready to pull the plug on the season.

“I’m confident that they’re doing the best they can,” Cooper said. “Are they in danger of forfeiting their games and not having a team? I spoke to the principal and she didn’t seem to feel that. She didn’t express that level of concern. She feels that they’re going to get this taken care of and I’m going to take her opinion.”

Meanwhile, the McClains are left to wonder whether they should trust the school or scramble and figure out Plan B before it’s too late.

“He wants to play at Blair,” Carl McClain said of his son. “He says ‘Dad, I want to finish what I started’ and that’s understandable. He says ‘Dad I want to graduate with the kids I went to junior high school with’.

“But I told him that if you want to play football and this is what you want to do, you may have to give all that up and go somewhere else.”

Follow me on Twitter @ChemicalAT

Maranatha Football Challenge Camp …

Maranatha Football Challenge Camp 2012 is July 23-26 from 8:30-12 noon. The cost is only $95 and it is open to players of all skill levels from grades 4-9.

This is a great opportunity for young athletes to prepare for their upcoming season, whether it be high school, pop warner, or flag football. The camp will include position specific drills on both offense and defense, team competitions, speed work outs, and more! For more information and to register for camp go here.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact Maranatha Assistant Athletic Director Eddie Arnett (e_arnett@mhs-hs.org) or Head Football Coach Pete Karavedas (pkaravedas@gmail.com).

Alhambra, Muir headline Saturday’s Wolfpack Challege at Claremont HS …

Wolfpack Challenge at Claremont HS
Saturday, first games at 9 a.m.

Pool A
Claremont, Burroughs, Ontario, El Rancho

Pool B
Summitt, Muir, Crescenta Valley, La Serna

Pool C
Charter Oak, Lawndale, Alhambra, Woodbridge

Pool D
Bishop Amat, Culver City, Northwood, South Torrance

Aram’s take: This is the last biggie (locally) of the summer, so get on out there and see your teams.

Top 10 Games of the Year in the SGV(N) …


I’ll ask you again: Is this the year?

1. Bishop Amat at Charter Oak, Sept. 14 — This one needs no introduction, but nonetheless we’ll try. No comparison between programs has sparked more debate in the Valley over the past few years than this one. These two programs are rivals, although they rarely actually step on the field against each other. Pretty unique. But finally, in what should have been an annual game all along, the two teams will be on the field against each other for the first time since 2004 and the entire Valley will either be there or have one eye on their own game and one eye on this one. Is Charter Oak capable of beating a “Big Boy” opponent? Is Amat still capable of showing another SGV team what “Big Boy” ball is all about. From here, it appears that even though CO is technically a D-2 team and Amat has had precious little playoff success for a while in D-1, most people still view this as David vs. Goliath. And there’s the rub. The stakes are extremely high for both teams. If CO beats Amat, the argument is over. If Amat waxes CO, nobody will ever want to hear the argument ever again. Crowd should be electric, but we must warn you that both teams face difficult challenges before this game, so record-wise, this one may not be so sexy. Early prediction: Charter Oak 16, Amat 14.

2. Bishop Amat at Chino Hills, Aug. 31 — It’s as if Bishop Amat head coach Steve Hagerty said to me “Here Fat Man, you make the schedule.” Ahh, the Lancers ditch their pillaging ways in East L.A. for a lid lifter in the 909. Prayers are answered. Anyway, as of now, Chino Hills is what I consider to be the top-ranked team in all of the SGVN-land. The Huskies have the best QB east of the 605, but west of Vegas (OK, maybe not west of Vegas) in Matty Ice Simko. The Huskies will be playing their SECOND game of the season while Amat will be playing its first. They’re confident out in Huskieville that last season’s solid, but overall disappointing by Chino Hills standards, showing was nothing more than a transition year after losing one of the best senior classes in school history. Amat can ease fears that having to replace its leading passer, rusher and receiver will mean the ongoing in party in La Puente will be broken up by the cops. Early prediction: Chino Hills 27, Amat 20.

3. Orange Lutheran at Damien, Aug. 31 — Something special could happen on this night. It could be the night Damien turns the corner under coach Greg Gano. The last time Gano played O-Lu, he picked up the signature win of his coaching career by beating the Lancers in the 2003 Division 6 title game. Damien is one of the top teams in the area, but will be looking for bigger accolades than that. Although O-Lu isn’t quite up to previous standards, a win for Damien would still be a signature moment and could send Sparty on its way to a monster season. Early prediction: Damien 30, Lutheran 20.

4. Monrovia at St. Francis, Sept. 28 — There seems to be a lot of doubters around the SGV as to whether Monrovia can withstand a hefty quality test. The ‘Cats did themselves no favor by sounding off all last summer, then looking pooping the bed vs. Arcadia and South Hills. A win at St. Francis gives M-Town the chance to really show the Valley that it can handle a rise in class. Not only that, there’s a legit chance that Monrovia could be bowling if everything breaks right this year. Beating St. Francis would be a major resume builder and it would also give the ‘Cats any sort of added confidence they might desire for what may lay ahead in the quasi-beefed up Mid-Valley Division. For St. Francis, the Knights will pick up several new fans if they can shut up Monrovia. And beyond that, if for some reason St. Francis can show it can run around the field with M-Town’s class of athlete, then things may work out just fine in the Mission League. Early prediction: Monrovia 31, St. Francis 17.

5. Loyola at West Covina, Aug. 31 — Gotta give the Bulldogs coaching staff credit, they always take at least one swing at a “Big Boy” every nonleague season. And who knows, maybe one of these years they’ll win one. Last year, West Covina was depleted vs. Loyola after a grueling a game against Covina the week before. Although the Bulldogs are replacing several key cogs, they have plenty of experience back and ample talent waiting in the wings. After winning back-to-back Southeast Division titles, the next thing the Bulldogs need to further stamp themselves as one of SoCal’s elite programs is a win over a “Big Boy”. Interestingly, word was that Loyola was one of the programs that badly wanted the services of new WestCo QB Antonio “Noodles” Hull. Early prediction: Loyola 35, West Covina 20.


6. Mater Dei at St. Paul, Aug. 31
— Just how far have the Swordsmen come in one offseason under new head coach Elijah Asante? We’re gonna find out on this night. Imagine if Asante leads St. Paul to a win over Mater Dei, the fan base would go crazy. St. Paul has bolstered its talent level considerably this offseason via transfers. Then again, so has Mater Dei. If the Swordsmen somehow pull this off, the season will be sent on its merry way. Keep in mind, Asante proved at Carson that beating Mater Dei ain’t no thang. Early prediction: Mater Dei 21, St. Paul 20.

7. Charter Oak at Damien, Nov. 2 — As if “Farrar vs. Gano” needed any help being one of the great coaching rivalries in the Valley, last year’s 41-28 loss in Covina left an especially bitter taste in the mouth of the Spartans. There were rumblings that Charter Oak was intercepting Damien’s play calls. Players were overheard telling coaches “they know what we’re running”. And for some reason that defies understanding, Gano decided to call the game from the press box … at least for the first half … Anyway, the mere timing of this game being Week 10 and the final game of the regular season sets the stage beautifully. Something, perhaps a Sierra League title, figures to be on the line that night. Of course, Chino Hills may have something to say about that. By Week 10, the Damien offense should be humming, but wish them luck anyway against what should be an epic CO defense. Early prediction: Charter Oak 17, Damien 16.

8. Muir vs. PHS, at the Rose Bowl, Nov. 2 — Is this the year? Will PHS finally get over the Muir hump? Well, some of us (right here) thought that the combo of Bulldogs QB Brandon Cox and a Muir program in turmoil would be enough to get PHS a win last year. Didn’t happen. Not even close, in fact. Well, depending on who you listen to, things at Muir still aren’t great. The ‘stangs lost their best offensive player Darick Holmes Jr. to Oaks Christian and best defensive returner in LB Denzel Talifero to Duarte. But, other than Cox, PHS was ripped by graduation. Nonetheless, the Arizona-bound Cox is a special talent and he just might be good enough by himself to end the drought. And if he does, the kid becomes a instant legend in Bulldog Land. Not to mention, the Pacific League looks absolutely wide open this year and there’s no reason to think either Pasadena school doesn’t have as good a shot as anybody, therefore a rivalry game on the final night of the regular season could be a very special setting. Early prediction: Muir 28, PHS 21.

9. La Habra at St. Paul, Sept. 7 — I dunno, I was torn between this and Amat vs. St. Paul on Sept. 21, but ultimately I sided with this game because of its meaning to the Whittier area. St. Paul needs a win in this spot to show who’s boss in the area. La Habra, which lost a nice player to St. Paul via transfer this offseason, needs a win to derail all the Asante momentum. With Servite, Amat and Mater Dei also on the nonleague schedule, this game looks like a must-win simply because at this point St. Paul might be a slight favorite and you can’t say that too often when looking at most of the Swordsmen nonleague schedule. Conversely, after a down season by LH standards last season, the Highlanders could use a win as a major confidence builder. Even without the back story, this should be an excellent game between two quality teams. Early prediction: St. Paul 24, La Habra 14.

10. Arroyo at El Monte, Oct. 5 — When was the last time anybody beside Arroyo or Rosemead won the Mission Valley League? Eh, it was South El Monte in 2007. OK, that wasn’t so dramatic. But so what, it feels like a thousand years ago and you could still win some bar room trivia by asking that question at a watering hole at the end of the Santa Fe Trail … if for some reason you were at a bar at the end of the trail. Point being: to most of us, it feels like Arroyo wins it every year (maybe because they’ve won it three straight). And if for some reason they didn’t, then that was because Rosemead knocked them off. Well, this year the possible upsetter also wears the tag of preseason league favorite and that’s none other than El Monte. Led by QB Brandon “B-Mart” Martinez, the Lions have a veteran team and the league’s top offensive weapon. But what they don’t have is anybody’s confidence that mentally they can clear the hurdle that is Arroyo. This will be the league opener for both teams and you couldn’t ask for a better start. Maybe for one season the strange thought of a new era in MVL football could be upon us. Early prediction: Arroyo 27, El Monte 20.

Follow me on Twitter @ChemicalAT