From the Scouting Guru, AKA, James Escarcega
The 2015 high school sports season is over.
For people like Fred Robledo, Aram Tolegian, Steve Ramirez and others, when a season begins, you hope for storylines. The ones that keep you on the edge of your seats.
In 2014-2015, there were plenty of storylines that kept area fans on the edge of their seats.
Bishop Amat football fans can attest to that.
The November playoff drive will be talked about for ages. After losing to Crespi in October, the Lancers proceeded to make an improbable run that saw them win a share of the Mission League title and come within 2 yards of playing for a Pac-5 championship. While some questioned whether the Lancers belonged in the most competitive division in football in the United States, the Lancers didn’t “listen to the noise” and gave their fans memories that will be talked about for ages.
Speaking of subjects that will be talked about for ages, Damien High School basketball fans will smile and give that wink of an eye when you talk about the season. Their basketball team won the school’s first CIF-State championship. When you do stuff like that, people take notice. The people at St. John Bosco HS did, and basically made an offer that Damien head coach Matt Dunn couldn’t refuse. He went off into the sunset, trading in his green and gold of Damien for navy blue and gold of the Braves.
If that wasn’t enough to make you scratch your head, here’s another one. If there was a marriage of a coach that was the bedrock to a team and a program in the San Gabriel Valley, it was basketball coach Mike LeDuc and Glendora High School basketball. For 35 years, they were two to the hip. It was LeDuc, such a tall thrashing presence you had to make sure you were not looking at Tom Selleck, that helped launch the basketball careers of Tracy Murray and Casey Jacobson. You want to see the results of his work, just stop by the Glendora HS gym, his works of art are littered all over the gym with banners.
There is a saying that goes, ”Change is inevitable.” Sometimes, it can put people on their edge of the chairs reading it on blogs such as this. So you can imagine what people in Glendora felt when Fred Robledo posted an article on May 18th that was titled, “Breaking News: Glendora’s legendary basketball coach Mike LeDuc is leaving to return to Damien.” Yup! Put down to that Venti sized cup of coffee from Starbucks, Mike LeDuc is making news again. He was replacing his red and white of Glendora for the green and gold of Damien.
While that was going on, the Spartans were making more headlines on the athletic field. Their Track and Field team finished 2nd at the CIF-SS Divisional Finals and the baseball team made one of those patented late season baseball runs and made it to the 2nd round of the playoffs. The architect of that “patented” late season baseball run?… Andy Nieto. The same Andy Nieto who did the same thing at Bishop Amat for years, including 2014 that led them to being conquering champions in Division 3 at Dodger Stadium.
Sports has a great way of galvanizing a community and a school’s student body. That was never mode evident than at South Hills High School. Earlier in the year, the school was in the headlines that had nothing to do with athletics. From reports of money being stolen to arrests made for off-campus activities, the school took a devastating beating everyday in the electronic and digital media.
On the night of February 25th, there was no talk of arrests or reviewing credit card receipts. There were no TV cameras at this event. There was one local reporter, one photographer and one videographer. What they recorded would be school history. The Huskies girls basketball team defeated Antelope Valley by the score of 50-47 to advance to the semifinals of the CIF-SS playoffs for the first time since 1992. The student section, which for one night sounded like a student section you would see at a Mission League basketball game, made it’s presence felt. In four quarters, they cheered and willed their team to victory. When the game was over, it rushed the court that would have made ESPN proud. For all the pain and grief that the school had suffered, for one special night it had a right to feel good about itself.
That’s the great thing about high school sports. When you go to a game, you never know what you’ll see or experience. For these student athletes, they’re making memories that will last them a lifetime. Just ask anyone associated with the football team at Pomona High School. For the last 35 years, they haven’t smelled the sweet scent of a CIF-SS championship. That streak ended on Friday, December 5, 2014 when the Red Devils defeated Paraclete 37-29 to win the CIF-SS Mid Valley Division title. Fans, parents, players and coaches could finally stick their chests out and say they were champions.
Sports also has a way providing hard lessons that must be accepted and learned. A night after Pomona had won their CIF-SS title, Los Altos HS was attempting to do the same. A school that once won CIF-SS football titles with the regularity of USC Football, had fallen on hard times with the departure of head coach Greg Gano. However, here they were, standing on the doorstep of destiny, with fans hungry to get back to the top of the mountain in high school football. In football games, there must be a winner and a loser – and on this night – Colony was the one hoisting the gold CIF-SS Central Division plaque with a 35-7 win over the Conquerors.
One game doesn’t define a group of players or a team. When coach Dale Ziola looks back on the season when his coaching career is completed, he’ll have memories that will make him smile. Just like the football teams at Bishop Amat, South Hills, Rosemead, Azusa, Covina and Charter Oak that all won league football titles.
There are those were occasions when both destiny and disappointment arrive at ground zero. It happened on one special day at San Dimas HS on Tuesday June 2nd. On one side was San Dimas High School. For 31 straight baseball games were the team that conquered every foe. They were going for that rarified status of going undefeated and being National Champions (according to USA Today).
Standing in their way, Walnut High School. They knew they were the underdogs. They knew the cards were stacked against them. The team appreciated the status. In the age of social media, they took to Twitter and started their own campaign with the hashtag of #whynotus. Even the school principal did a little talking on his own on Twitter. Yes, times have changed.
Experts said that if Walnut had played San Dimas ten times, Walnut would have lost nine. On that Tuesday afternoon, the one time happened. The Mustangs scored the games first four runs in route to a 4-1 win. The contrasting scene at the end of the game would have been perfect for a Hollywood producer. On one scene, the feeling of disappointment and sadness that a team that was considered one of the best teams in the United States had to put away their gloves and bats for the season. On the other side, players and coaches hugging each other knowing that they were one win away from winning a CIF-SS D-4 title. Even though the Mustangs failed to win in the championship game against Redondo Union four later, few will ever forget the day at San Dimas High School.
In the same way that Sports can give you the ultimate rush of athletic competition, it can also put life is perspective. Unfortunately for the fans of the area, it happened twice during the same season. In a November 2014 of a CIF-SS Water Polo playoff match, a Nogales HS player was found at the bottom of the pool when the team noticed him missing at the end of the period. Actions were immediately taken and he was able to survive.
In the spring of 2015, Damien High School football player Xavier Mendoza collapsed in the middle of a team spring conditioning program. Medical personnel who arrived on the field all agreed that if the coaches hadn’t performed CPR on the player, he might not have made it. All reports indicate that Mendoza will make a successful recovery.
Despite those stories, tons of athletes from the area will be moving on to bigger and better things. Many received athletic scholarships or were drafted by pro sports teams. It’s the great thing about covering sports – or coaching! The day when the athlete you have coached signs a scholarship or gets drafted. It’s not only a great day for the player – but also for the coach as well. There are no better words than when a player comes up to a coach and says these powerful words, ‘Thank you!”
It happened to this author. Recently, I got a text saying to go on the Chicago Bears website. When asked why, the person said, “just go on there.” After logging on to the website, there it was! A headline that put me on the edge of my chair, “Bears sign Umodu to a 3 Year Deal.” Former South Hills Wide Receiver (and 1st Team All-Area in 2009) Ify Umodu had signed a three year contract with the “Monsters of the Midway.” I had the pleasure of coaching Umodu for 4 years at South Hills. Believe me, it was a pleasure. He was my Brigham Harwell, my Keith Smith, my Jason David.
When he signed with Northern Arizona University in 2010, he was barely on the recruiting radar. He had no stars next to his name on Rivals.com and Scout.com. But he had made it to any football player’s ultimate dream… The National Football League. That night, I posted a picture of him performing a play during his days at South Hills (taken by the one and only Keith Birmingham) on my Instagram account. In the caption I wrote that I was extremely proud of him and that he better make the 53 man roster. His reply is why some of us are coaches today.
“Couldn’t thank you enough coach. All the time we spent together, getting ready for this is going to pay off in a big way. You mean a lot to me and my family. Hope to see you when I’m back in California.”
Yup, my life is great – and so is the preps sports forecast for this area.