Help can come from the strangest places, and in Long Beach, it came from across town.
The baseball program at Poly (Long Beach), which vies for Atlantic Avenue bragging rights with Jordan (Long Beach), has raised and donated about $5,200, plus equipment for its crosstown rival.
This isn't just any program, either. Poly and Jordan are the two Moore League opponents who seem to battle every year for the league's final automatic playoff berth.
However, Poly coach Toby Hess grew up a Dodgers fan who took to heart the wisdom of Jackie Robinson, who once said that, "A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives." So Hess did what he thought was the right thing. His program, blessed with being a member of the "haves," made a full-blown effort to help a program that clearly is playing for the "have-nots."
"I really do believe that maintaining a meaningful baseball experience in the community is more important than maintaining a competitive edge with a league rival," Hess says.
In Long Beach, Jordan's needs were easy to spot: A story appeared in the Long Beach Press-Telegram that included the plight of the Panthers. One option Marc Prager considered in his 10th year of coaching Jordan, although he couldn't bear to do it, was eliminate the frosh-soph team.
Jordan's immediate needs were fundamental: Bats, balls, helmets and uniforms. In fact, the freshman uniforms were from 1974, and the school's newest uniforms were 10 years old.
"It was awkward to say the least, but if we didn't do it, we'd be in serious trouble," Prager said of his plea, which began as a search for corporate backing. "At some schools fundraising comes very easily. At our school it doesn't."
For years, the deficit – created partially by Jordan athletes unable to cover uniform costs – had been picked up by Prager, but in this economy, the well was dry. "There were times when we had four to six baseballs at a practice," he says. "Needs and wants are different. A uniform is a need. A pitching machine is a want. I just want to make sure every one of my kids has a glove and cleats."
Since receiving the donation from Poly, as well as other community entities, Jordan has purchased enough balls to conduct practices at three levels, matching tops, batting tees and some gloves. The teams played on March 30, a game Poly won, 11-0. "That was an appreciation of their generosity," Prager quipped of the lopsided score.
Actually, Jordan team captains Robert Hurtado and David Aispuro made a pregame plaque presentation to Poly in recognition of their extraordinary show of sportsmanship. Accepting on behalf of Poly was its captains, Trevor Kellogg and Thomas Walker.
"The generosity those guys have shown, and the sportsmanship, it goes right back to the statement the CIF reads before each football game about the pursuit of fair play," Prager said, referring to the principles of the Pursuing Victory with Honor credo. "It's one of the most generous things I've been part of – in a non-life threatening situation, like Haiti, or Chile, or Make-A-wish – I'm speechless, almost.
"You don't see that. You don't see other schools helping other schools who are fighting for a league playoff spot."
This is not the first time that Hess let the spirit of Jackie Robinson guide him. It began when he was an assistant to head coach Mark Clabough in 2005 at Los Alamitos, which donated $800 to Paramount struggling program. "We called it the Jackie Robinson Initiate Change Project," Hess recalled, though that's really an informal title rather than being anything concrete. It was born by having players put their spare pocket change into a kitty and having coaches and boosters kick in on top of it.
When he became head coach at Poly in 2007, Hess took the concept with him. In 2008, one of his assistants, Erick Bryant, became coach at Cabrillo (Long Beach) and Poly raised $400 to help that program. Then on Senior Day, instead of Jackrabbit seniors receiving a gift from the baseball program, each Jackrabbit senior gave Compton a piece of equipment he or his family had purchased. Both Cabrillo and Compton are members of the Moore League.
The beneficiary of several gifts, including donated lockers in a donated clubhouse, it was easy for Poly players to get behind the initiative. "We have a clubhouse, Jordan has no uniforms," Hess recalled telling his players. "I didn't even have to ask. They came up and asked, 'Coach, where do I put the spare change?'
"Our juniors and seniors, this stuff has been preached to them. They have so many tangible things in front of them that I think they feel fortunate to have. It might have been a tough sell if I asked them to donate to Lakewood or Wilson, but they've seen the field at Jordan, they know what they have and what they don't have."
Coming into the week, Jordan had won three of its last four. Seven of its losses have been by three runs or less.
"We've had quality practices, we're teaching kids how to play, we're having fun and regardless of wins and losses, we're competing hard and teaching sportsmanship," Prager said. "We're teaching kids how to do the right thing in a tough area. We are building something."
Poly has been more successful on the field. The Jackrabbits are 9-7-1 overall, 3-0 in league – and they have karma on their side.
Wood bats and Crespi are big winners
Besides wood bats, the big winner at the Diamond Sports National Classic was Crespi (Encino), which defeated host El Dorado (Placentia) 2-1 in nine innings to claim its second championship in three years at Cal State Fullerton.
Jack Colick's shallow sacrifice fly scored Scott Heineman with the winning run with one out in the bottom of the inning. Colick had scored Crespi's first run, also on a sacrifice fly as teams relied on fundamentals – the winning run was set up by a sacrifice bunt by the No. 3 hitter Ryon Healy – to get the job done in lieu of the long ball..
"It was the best game we've played in in a long time," Crespi coach Scott Muckey told the Orange County Register.
Two Celts, Josh Mason and Ryan Brockett, were named the tournament's MVP and outstanding pitcher, respectively. Brennan Fulkerson of El Dorado was named the outstanding offensive player.
With its victory, Crespi improved to 15-3, and El Dorado – still looking for its first championship in 21 seasons hosting the event – dropped to 8-8. The Golden Hawks' victory over Edison (Huntington Beach) in the semifinals was one of the biggest surprises of the week. "We're a better team for doing what we did this week," El Dorado coach Dave Moore said after his team won three of four one-run games.
Lutheran (Orange, Calif.) rocked Edison 12-1 in the third place game.
Marin Catholic (Kentfield), which was so much a part of the tournament story because wood bats were used to accommodate the team, was beaten by Palm Desert, 3-1, in the consolation championship. Marin Catholic has given up on metal bats this season in the wake of the injury to junior pitcher Gunnar Sandberg, who was hit by a batted ball and suffered a fractured skull.
Home-run production was down significantly with the use of wood bats for the first time in the tournament's 21-year history. There were reportedly only seven home runs in the tournament, including four the final day. Last year, Matt Hobgood of Norco had three by himself.
Overall scoring was down significantly from 2009, which made for shorter games and the tournament to run on schedule. Among the 31 games played in 2009, there were 27 games in which 10 runs were scored; this season, in 32 games, there were only eight, and four of those came on the final day when pitching had been exhausted.
"It forced teams to bunt more, hit-and-run more, manufacture runs rather than sit back and wait for the aluminum bat to do its damage," said tournament director Steve Gullotti, who had coached El Dorado for 28 seasons prior to becoming athletic director this year.
Gullotti has sent out feedback forms and, by Monday, had received two responses, both of them favorable to the all-wood format.
"One thing it rewards is the kids who get the sweet spot of the bat on the ball and it doesn't reward anyone who hits off the end of the bat or gets jammed," Gullotti said. "That's the way it should be. The sweet spot should be the sweet spot."
The wood bat movement may be picking up momentum. State assemblyman Jared Huffman, whose 6th District includes Marin County, announced plans to introduce a bill this month that will put a three-year moratorium on the use of metal bats in California.
Michelle Carew Classic
Valencia (Valencia, Calif.), led by Tennessee-bound Madison Shipman, flexed its muscle at the Michelle Carew Classic with a 4-0 victory over Norco (Norco, Calif.) in the championship game at Peralta Park in Anaheim Hills. Shipman had three hits and three RBI in the final. Sophomore pitcher Carly Mortensen was named the tournament MVP for Valencia (16-3-1), which won CIF-Southern Section Division I titles in 2007 and 2008. Mortensen struck out 52 in five games and pitched two no-hitters.
It was a very impressive week for Norco (13-6), which starts four freshmen and two sophomores after winning last year's Division I title behind pitcher Teagan Gerhart, who is now at Stanford.
Ayala (Chino Hills, Calif.), which won the prestigious Faster to First tournament tournament behind UCLA-bound pitcher Jessica Hall a couple of weeks earlier, took third place with with a 4-0 victory over Marina (Huntington Beach). Norco had defeated Ayala in the semifinals, 4-1, in nine innings after getting three consecutive hits against Hall. Norco had eight hits overall against the Ayala pitcher. Marina was a surprise semifinalist after beating Canyon (Anaheim), 2-1, in the quarterfinals.
The next big softball tournament, the Santiago Spring Fling, figures to have Santiago (Corona) and Mater Dei (Santa Ana) in the title game on Saturday. That's a major matchup as Santiago is undefeated and Mater Dei is, likewise, regarded as one of the nation's top teams.
In track and field, there's hardly a chance to take a breath after Arcadia before going on to another one of the major events of the spring in any sport, the 52nd Mt. SAC Relays on Friday and Saturday at Mt. San Antonio College.
Goals for greenbacks
Lower-level soccer players at Redlands East Valley had an arrangement with an outside party to get paid for each goal scored during the season, according to the Southern Section office, but the situation has been resolved by the players returning the money.
The school self-reported the issue, but school officials steered clear of any meaningful comment to the Riverside Press-Enterprise, which reported that offending players were members of the girls junior varsity.
"The section got wind of it and our findings are that (REV) took care of it on their end," said section spokesman Thom Simmons. "It was an isolated event. The people paid the money back. There is no violation of the amateur rule because the money was paid back."
Simmons noted that school representatives were not involved in the payment of the athletes.
Former Chatsworth pitcher David Lira, a junior left-hander who transferred to San Fernando, has been granted a hardship waiver by the City Section. He threw a shutout in first game for San Fernando, then had to wait while the City Section investigated.
Gabrielino (San Gabriel), in the semifinals of the AA Division at the St. Paul Easter Tournament, trailed St. Anthony (Long Beach) after one inning, 12-1, but scored nine runs in the fourth inning and four in the 11th to come from behind and win, 21-17. Angel Acosta pitched seven innings of scoreless relief to get the victory, and Keith Clapp had four hits, two home runs and four RBI; it was Gabrielino's first-ever multi-homer game. The Eagles lost the title game, 8-1, to Glenn (Norwalk).
Best of class
Josh Mance won a silver medal in the 400 meters last summer in Italy at the IAFF World Youth Championships, but it wasn't until last week that someone at his new school inquired about getting him into the Arcadia Invitational. He had transferred from Chino Hills to Don Lugo (Chino) and wasn't cleared to compete until late January. Meet officials told Don Lugo that it was too late to get into the seeded event on Saturday night, but Mance did get into the day meet earlier Saturday.
He ran the fastest time in the nation this season, 46.7 seconds. After that, he was placed into the seeded 400 and backed it up with a 47.11, the nation's second-fastest time. By comparison,m Michael Berry of Rainier Beach (Seattle, Wash.) won the invitational in 47.35; the next fastest Southland runner was third-place Matthew Bedford of Harvard-Westlake (North Hollywood) at 48.60.
Also at the Arcadia Invitational
Michael Woepse of Mater Dei (Santa Ana) won the pole vault at the Arcadia Invitational by 17 inches, with a 17-feet-even vault, six inches below his personal best. He told the Los Angeles Times he was disappointed by the performance because the conditions were good. However, he is optimistic about what the rest of the season may hold.
"My 16-6 third attempt, my 17-foot jumps were good, so I should be rolling pretty soon, so it should be fun," Woepse said. "Eighteen feet is definitely there. I made 17-6 earlier this year and had a really good shot at 18. That's the goal, and if I make 18, I want to get that national record, it's 18-3. So that's what I'm going for."
Perhaps an even more outstanding effort came from Agoura junior Jonathan Cabral, who won the 110 hurdles in 13.94 and the 300 hurdles in 36.83 – from Lane 9, no less – to post the third-best mark of the year. "My dad (John) said, 'Don't let those guys disgrace you by putting you out in Lane 9,' so I'm really proud of this," Cabral told the Los Angeles Daily News. Cabral had not broken 38 seconds in the 300 prior.
Claremont senior Kori Carter was named the girls athlete of the meet after winning twice, clocking 13.55 seconds in the 100 hurdles – the best time in the nation – and 42.52 in the 300 hurdles, which is No. 3. It is the second year in a row she has doubled in those events.
Other performances among the national bests belonged to Redondo girls in the distance medley relay, 11:54.75; Vista Murrieta (Murrieta) boys in the distance medley relay, 10:11.26; Rancho Verde (Moreno Valley) girls 400 relay, 45.68; Rio Mesa (Oxnard) boys 400 relay, 45.68; Melia Cox of Poly (Long Beach) in the triple jump at 41 feet, 2 inches.
One of the major upsets of the day came when Trabuco Hills (Mission Viejo) junior Jantzen Oshier won the mile in 4:12.80 by a tenth, beating a couple of favored runners, including third-place Loyola (Los Angeles) junior Elias Geydon (4:13.39).
Ryan Kasdorf of Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks, Calif.), one of the outstanding quarterbacks in the Southland who was the Gatorade State Player of the Year as a junior, has committed to Pace University, an NCAA Division II college in New York. ... Kameron Jackson, a cornerback at Poly (Long Beach, Calif.), has committed to Washington.
And football transfers
Brock Booth, a quarterback at South Hills (West Covina, Calif.), has transferred to Bishop Amat (La Puente, Calif.).
Shenanigans at Pomona?
Junior offensive lineman Makale McCobb and sophomore wide receiver Jared Kough have transferred from Colony (Ontario) to Pomona. The two received all-league honors last season. For what it's worth, Anthony Rice resigned as football coach at Colony and applied Jan. 25 for the same position at Pomona after John Brown resigned on Jan. 8. The reason Brown resigned, he said, was because Pomona had already offered his job to Rice – a detail Brown reportedly learned from Rice himself but Rice denied.
Rice officially became the football coach on April 13 when he was approved by the school board. Interestingly, a rule in the Southern Section precludes following a coach to a different school without it being recognized as undue influence, which would make the athletes ineligible for a calendar year.
According to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Southern Section office declared that Kough had made a valid change of address in February and McCobb in late March. However, the section's Blue Book recognizes "any transfer within one calendar year of the relocation of his/her high school coach," which, presumably, could be before the coach's relocation as well as after it.
In this case, Rice was not the coach officially before the transfers were made, but there was significant reason to believe he was going to become the coach. According to Simmons, "(Commissioner) Jim (Staunton) is going to have to make a decision."
Comings and goings
After getting only one application for a position that was initially advertised within the school district, Banning has opened its football job to outsiders. John Stockham resigned after going 4-6. The program was 14-18 during his three seasons.
Mike Vanta, boys basketball coach at Poly (Riverside), has retired. Vanta will also retire from teaching at the end of the school year. He coached Poly twice, for 11 years beginning in the mid-1980s, as well as the past three seasons. He won 203 games, at Poly, but also coached boys basketball at Riverside Notre Dame, and the men's and women's teams at Cal Baptist.
Webb (Claremont) athletic director Steve Wishek told the Ontario Daily Bulletin about his initial response to former Cypress coach Ray Fenton, a physical education teacher who was eventually hired as Webb's football coach: "We don't have P.E., so I kind of gave him the cold shoulder. Then I noticed on the OC Register Web site that Cypress had a coach in the top 10 coaches of the decade and thought, 'Didn't I get a call from a guy from Cypress?' "
The Battle of the Valley all-star basketball games are set for 5 and 7 p.m. at Cal State Northridge. The girls tip off at 5. ... The seventh Tribune/Star-news All-Star Baksetball Classic will be played April 24 at Damien (La Verne). The game features boys and girls from the West and East sides of the San Gabriel Valley in senior all-star games. ... The L.A. Watts Summer Games has been canceled for lack of funding, according to the L.A. Times. The program, organized by the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce, had run continuously since 1968.
Martin Henderson began covering Southland preps in 1993 for the Los Angeles Times. He contributes to the Orange County Register, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and San Bernardino Sun, and offers up motorsports opinions at Racescribe.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.