What: Ortega Family Fundraiser
Who: Covina vs. Charter Oak, 2 p.m.; Northview vs. South Hills, 5 p.m.
Where: Azusa Pacific University, Monday Jan. 19
Cost: Minimum $2 donation, with all snack bar sales benefitting the Ortega family
Darren Murphy grew up in Covina, attended Northview High School and coached his alma mater to a CIF-SS divisional baseball title last spring.
But the reasons Murphy, South Hills’ Kevin Smith, Charter Oak’s Tom Quinley and Covina High’s Pete Loaiza coach are for moments like today, when the four high schools gather for an exhibition doubleheader on Martin Luther King Jr. Day at Azusa Pacific University to benefit the Ortega family, who lost nine members in the impossible-to-fathom Christmas Eve Massacre in Covina.
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It’s a story that shook families across the country, a disgruntled ex-husband showing up in a Santa Claus suit on the doorstep of his ex-wife’s parents’ home in Covina on East Knollcrest Drive, then opening fire on an 8-year-old girl as she answered the door and continuing through the house firing his semi-automatic at other family members.
The ex-husband, Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, lit the house on fire with a homemade flamethrower, burning it to the ground. He left nine family members dead before later killed himself.
“This hits you on two fronts,” Murphy said. “If you’re from Covina, most of us have been up and down every street in the neighborhood, it’s your home, it’s where you grew up.
“The other is that Christmas Eve is personally one of my favorite nights of the year. I can’t imagine this family going from that super-high feeling to the lowest of lows. It’s unimaginable. For the people that live in that area, and for a lot of us who grew up here, we’ll be thinking of their family on Christmas Eve the rest of our lives.
“You start asking yourself, what can you do? What can you do? It’s not much, but we felt we had to do something.”
Today’s doubleheader begins with Covina and Charter Oak at 2 p.m., followed by South Hills and Northview at 5.
Both games will be nine innings and there will be a minimum $2 donation, but patrons are encouraged to donate more. There will 50-50 raffles, and all revenue from snack bar sales will also benefit the Ortega family, whose funeral services were held Friday in San Dimas.
“You play for league titles, for CIF titles, but as important as those things are, there is nothing more personally important than getting together and helping this incredible family during this tough, tough time,” Murphy said. “If you’re going to be in a public position, whether it’s as a teacher or coach, this is one of your responsibilities — to act when you have an opportunity to act.”
Gunthers Athletic Service in Anaheim donated black wristbands for all the players and coaches to wear, and there will be a ceremony featuring Covina Mayor Kevin Stapleton and several city council members between games (roughly 4:30 p.m.) to honor the family, which will include Covina Mayor Kevin Stapleton and several city council members from the city council.
All four teams have already donated $150 each, with players chipping in $10 apiece.
The Los Angeles Angels have donated two autographed baseball bats from outfielders Garret Anderson and Vladimir Guerrero that will be auctioned off.
In addition to the $600 raised by all four teams, there is a huge donation from a major league player who graduated from a local high school that will be announced following the first game.
“It’s a sizable donation,” Murphy said. “He really reached into his pockets.”
One of the victims of the Christmas Eve Massacre was 17-year-old Michael Ortiz, a varsity baseball player from Ontario High School.
At Friday’s funeral, several teens who attended Ontario High School and played baseball with Michael Ortiz donned their school jackets.
“He’s Michael around the same age as a lot of the players. It hits home in that respect,” Quinley said. “It’s absolutely tragic what happened. If you have the means to help, even just a little, it’s the least you can do.”
This is Loaiza’s first year as Covina’s head baseball coach, but he too grew up in Covina and attended Northview.
Loaiza said he couldn’t think of a better way to start his coaching career with the Colts.
“You talk to kids all the time about responsibility and taking advantage of opportunities, and this is an opportunity for all of us to do something,” Loaiza said. “We constantly talk about doing the right things and living your life a certain way. You’re supposed to use athletics to teach life skills so when it’s time to walk the walk, you need to do it. This is definitely one of those times.”
In another month when the baseball season officially begins, this would have been a heated doubleheader.
All four schools have proud high school baseball traditions. Charter Oak won a Division IV championship in 2007 and Northview won the Division IV title last spring.
Covina also owns a CIF title and South Hills, which advanced to the Division III title game last year, has arguably the richest tradition of all.
But all four coaches agreed that the final scores don’t mean anything. Pitchers won’t be allowed to pitch more than a few innings, and players have been encouraged to just play, have fun, and to remember what they’re playing for.
“Winning has never been less important,” South Hills’ Smith said. “There’s a family hurting right now. None of us can imagine what they’re going through. It’s horrific. But maybe in our little way we can help and do what we do best, and that’s play baseball.”
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