Scouting Guru goes down memory lane with South Hills principal Judith North, who announced her retirement

The Scouting Guru has been all over the San Gabriel Valley and beyond, and like always, he’s offered to share his thoughts, free of charge. Don’t hate, enjoy it for what it’s worth, which is one man’s opinion on the talent in the San Gabriel Valley.

The Guru Says: I had a column in my computer ready to get you updated on what is going on in the recruiting circles. My thoughts from the Nike Camp and Combine along with other interesting tidbits from throughout the area. But, I decided to change things up when the clock hit 1:20 p.m. on Friday afternoon. That was the exact moment that an era in the San Gabriel Valley had come to an end. It was the moment when South Hills High School Principal Judi North decided to retire in late June as the principal of South Hills High School.

We all knew it was coming. We had first heard of the possible rumors back in January. And some of us held out hope that maybe she would change her mind and stay at the helm for one more year. But, when the news came out, it shook a lot of people up… including myself. So for a moment, let me articulate why the news hit us hard.

Judi North is a special person. As far as she was concerned, South Hills High School was her team and she was bound and determined to make sure that her “team” excelled on a daily basis. The best way I can say it is that excellence wasn’t a one-time thing with Judi, it was a everyday thing. And she made sure that if you were part of the school, excellence was demanded of you.

I remember the first time that I met her in the spring of 2004. It was my first year at the school and even though I peppered her with questions about the history of the school on a daily basis, she was more concerned about me and she kept asking me about my coaching history and where I graduated and what my parents were doing for a living. She was one of the first people to make sure that I was part of the “South Hills Family.” And with it came a lot of responsibility. Not many people know this, but my first year at South Hills as part of the football program was akin to being a “graduate assistant.” I didn’t get paid a penny for my work (other than an occasional dinner with Bogan after practice – but it was my choosing). But, as I tell anyone that asks me, walking into the South Hills football office everyday in that first year was like going to a coaches clinic. I quickly learned to shut my mouth, sit in the back of the classroom and take lots of notes from some of the best assistant coaches in the business.

And when Judi North spoke, EVERYONE LISTENED!!! I remember one day talking to her after a practice and asking if I could speak with her for a couple minutes when she had a chance in her office. It wasn’t anything important I told her, I just wanted someone to talk to her. Her answer…”ABSOLUTELY.” And that began one of the most important habits that we did, we just talked! Was it about school business?… a little. Was it about football?….a little. Was it about USC football?….a little. Mainly, I felt that sometimes she used me as a sounding board, to let off a little steam about everything… and since I came from a family that liked to let off “a little steam” I was very much used to it. And we sometimes solved all the world’s problems. I do a lot of it with coaches in the area… sometimes you can have conversations (or as a recently hired coach in the San Fernando Valley calls it these days, “breakfast meetings”) and just be a sounding board. And no bloggers, you will not ever be privy to these conversations. I’ll miss those “talks” now that she is retiring.

And that is when you see the real heart of a person, when you just sit back, talk, listen and trust that what you are saying will never go public. And it was two-fold. I told Judi stuff about my family that I never told anyone else. When we were looking for that light at the end of the tunnel, people – like myself – looked to Judi North for guidance. And for 99.99999% of the time, she was right on the money. Not only did she care for yours truly, but she cared for every person that was on the football coaching staff at South Hills. And there were other time-honored traditions. One of them is having dinner with her and a lot of the football staff at Chili’s after a South Hills Football game. Or driving a van of high school football players to an out of the area passing league tournament (you tell me how many principal’s would give up a weekend for a passing league tournament… right after a school graduation the night before).

And how about this? How many principal’s would buy donuts for the ENTIRE football team the following morning after a game… win, lose or draw for the entire season? The answer is probably ZERO!!!!

And let me tell you this, when it comes to the game of football, Judi North’s knowledge of the game is undeniable. She knows the game, she loved the players that put the helmet and jersey on for the school, and she was not afraid to let the officials know when she didn’t agree with a call they made. That was most likely because the “coach” was coming out in her.

But her passion for sports didn’t stop with football. I’ve always said that the athletics department is the MOST important department at a school. It’s one thing to say that athletics is a priority, it’s another to show that athletics is a priority. The coaches that she’s hired during her tenure are now recognized as some of the BEST coaches in their sport, in this area. She has brought in coaches such as Charm Doyle (girls volleyball), Tiffany Liang (girls basketball), Chris Taylor (wrestling), Scott Mocabee (girls soccer), Kevin Smith (baseball) and many others. When you bring that type of coaching to a school that already had solid coaches like Paul Reed (basketball), Scott Fisch (softball) and others, you can see why South Hills’ teams are a mainstay in the Tribune Top-10 in every sport. These are coaches that have taken their programs to highest level of athletic competition in high school sports and some have reached the ultimate destination of winning CIF championships. She has developed an athletics program that can arguably be labeled as one of the top high school athletic programs in Southern California.

But, one of her lasting legacies is that she hired current head football coach Steve Bogan. She didn’t know it at the time, but when she hired “Bog” to be head coach, it forever changed the landscape for football in this area. I found it interesting that in Aram Tolegian’s story in this newspaper on Saturday morning that Steve said that he never felt any pressure from Judi to win a certain game. I can safely say that is very true. I can’t recall Judi ever walking into a team meeting the week of a game and telling the kids, “we have to win this game.” It just wasn’t in her DNA. She wanted to make sure that the players were well-coached and that they enjoyed their experience at South Hills. With her leadership – along with the box office appealing football style of Coach Bogan – the football team has taken the rise from a Division IX football team at the beginning of the 2000 decade to being in the Inland Division (Division II) when the 2010 season starts. There is not another program in this area that has seen a more “meteoric” rise in high school football in one decade than South Hills High School. I also find it interesting that the CIF-SS office has deemed South Hills to being one of the top athletic programs in the area as most of the sports have taken the jump to elite divisions in other sports. One thing that no one can argue, South Hills’ athletic program is the flagship athletic department of the Covina Valley Unified School District.

Ask any of the coaches that she has hired and they will all tell you that to be successful, you have to have a great staff beneath you. And that was the case with the administrators that she had working for her as well. For everyday of her time at South Hills, Judi North had some of the best people working for her in the front lines. People like Ron Burke, Jeff Goldberg, Jim Bastion, and many others. But if there was an “Assistant Head Coach” in the front office, it was Steve Arkle – who also announced his retirement on Friday. As far as many of us are concerned, Steve Arkle is South Hills HS. He played at the school, coached at the school (he was on the staff that won the first CIF-SS football championship in 1974 — and can tell you every play from their championship game “in the fog” at the LA Coliseum – against St. John Bosco), taught at the school and was assistant principal at the school for every minute Judi North spent as principal at South Hills. If you got to know Steve very well, he allowed you to call him “Ark.” And while it was Judi who got the headlines, it was “Ark” who took a step back to make sure that the ship was heading into the right direction. I totally agree with Steve Bogan when he said that if there is a person that deserves to be recognized for his work, it’s Steve Arkle. I just hope that when the final day of work comes, he will take that victory lap. It’s richly deserved.

And how good was “The Team” in the front office? How about four California Distinguished School honors during Judi North’s tenure. That’s akin to winning the Super Bowl of academics FOUR times. And we can go on and on about her unmatched success in school accreditations, but this is not the education blog… at least not right now.

And let’s not forget about one thing. In these times it’s easy for people to make accusations that South Hills “recruits” players to go to their school (I guess that’s what happens when you have successful athletic programs… funny I don’t hear people accusing Bishop Amat of recruiting – but we’ll leave that for another column somewhere down the road). Well, after hearing about the problems at some schools in Orange County — who can’t figure out what the definition of “open house” means — it’s should be noted for the record that South Hills HS has NEVER violated a CIF-SS rule and has never been under any sanctions from the CIF-SS office during her tenure. And – most importantly – no coach ever recruited a kid to play at South Hills.

And so an era has come to a close at South Hills High School. After holding down the fort as principal at South Hills for 22 years, Judi has decided to take “The Golden Handshake.” CVUSD will hire a new principal – and there will no doubt be some change when the 2010 academic year begins. The new principal will bring in his/her style of leadership. There will be a new atmosphere to the school. It’s just human nature. And the new principal will have one thing in his/her corner… the support of Judi North.

I can’t describe the scene at South Hills HS at the moment Judi announced her retirement last Friday. I’ve already shed way too many tears writing this column and my words wouldn’t do justice to the moment. So, here is the perfect alternative. In the book “Arnie and Jack” author Ian O’Connor describes the moment that Jack Nicklaus walks up to the 18th green at his favorite golf course – St. Andrews in 2005 – for the final time.

“Walking up eighteen with Tom Watson and Luke Donald, Nicklaus stopped on the fame Swilcan Bridge, propped up his left foot in the low stone wall and waved and blew kisses to thousands of saluting fans. He called up his playing partners, their caddies, and his own caddie and son, Steve, to pose with him. They resumed their march to the green, and Watson, the one who had haunted him at Turnberry, was practically sobbing.

“Nicklaus ordered him to knock it off. When he was done wiping away his own tears, the Golden Bear settled over the final birdie putt of his Grand Slam life. He had a left-to-right fourteen footer, and his aim and stroke were entirely moot.

” ‘I knew the hole would move wherever I hit it,’ Nicklaus said.

“At 6:00 p.m. the ball banked in off the right side of the cup. Nicklaus raised his putter skyward. He embraced his wife and children, and then he was gone.”

On Friday, May 7th, Judi North hit her final birdie putt and the students and staff gave her a standing ovation. Someone asked me over dinner Saturday night what Judi North’s leadership style was. The best way I can describe it are the final words from John Maxwell in his book “Talent Is Never Enough.”

“Talent-plus people give a little extra. You see it in the choices they make that multiply and maximize their talent. Because they have given more to develop their talent, they are able to give more to others with their talent…Choose to become a talent-plus person. If you do, you will add value to yourself, add value to others and accomplish much more than you dreamed possible.”

Exhibit A: Judi North

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