April 30, 2008
Baseball needs new approach

As an African American who coaches high school baseball, Burbank's Alex DuPaty is sensitive to the issue of declining participation in the sport at the professional level by U.S.-born blacks.

In the 1970s, blacks made up 27 percent of Major League Baseball rosters. By 2006, that total had dropped to 8.4 percent.

DuPaty, a former Pittsburgh Pirates scout, agrees fewer African American kids are playing the sport and says MLB is partly responsible for the problem. He says the major leagues need to take more risks with African American players who have other options.

One of his own former players is an example.

Kiare Thompson, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound senior center fielder, batted .390, stole 46 bases and tracked down balls far and wide last season for the Titans.

But Thompson, a member of The Bee's 2007 All-Metro first team, wasn't selected in MLB's June draft. Instead, he went off to Grambling State on a full-ride football scholarship.

"I was really shocked that he didn't get drafted," said DuPaty. "Here you have a kid with all the raw athletic ability, who steals nearly 50 bases, bats close to .400 and runs a sub 4.3 (seconds) 40 (-yard dash). What more could you want?"

He says Thompson was a baseball-first player but couldn't turn down a chance for a free education.

"If he had been drafted, he would have signed in a heartbeat," DuPaty said. "The kid loves baseball. He's doing spring football right now at Grambling, and I know he yearns to play baseball."

-Bill Paterson

April 29, 2008
On the road again - and again

Carlos Meraz is piling on the mileage. His 2003 Jeep cruises the nearly 200-mile round trip these days through a chunk of Northern California for the good of the Elk Grove High School football program.

Meraz is the new Thundering Herd coach who must leave Alhambra High in Martinez and zip through he Delta and across part of the valley to get to Elk Grove so he can supervise spring football drills.

All that driving leaves him plenty of time to wonder whether he's going to land an Elk Grove teaching job anytime soon.

And that's a key point.

The job loses a lot of its appeal - heading the championship Herd program - if Meraz can't work on campus as a physical education instructor. Coach needs to be an on-campus presence, plus, he needs to cut the commuting before he gets burned out on the road before the season even starts.

It's that simple, and it's something the Elk Grove administration needs to work out. But finding a teaching opening during these tough financial times is not as simple as just creating a spot. Remember, the Elk Grove Unified School District is facing layoffs and cutbacks unprecedented in the district's rich history.

So Meraz remains in limbo. A teacher at Alhambra High in Martinez, a resident of Vacaville and a coach in Elk Grove.

"I definitely like working with the kids," Meraz said. "I hope everything works out. I haven't officially resigned my teaching job (in Martinez). The people there have been really supportive. Right now, I'm really focused on the kids here."

- Joe Davidson

April 29, 2008
On-, off-campus ins and outs

Jeff Wise is the baseball coach and girls basketball coach at Center High School.

A teacher at Wilson C. Riles middle school, Wise also is a loyalist for Center Unified School District, where he has been employed for 23 years.

"I live and die Center, right or wrong," said Wise, who lives in Roseville.

Wise is friends with John Paul, who recently was ousted as Center's football coach. He also is friends with Digol J'Beily, who reclaimed the Center football coaching job from Paul by filing a grievance about the process for choosing Center's coach.

So Wise admits he is torn by the controversy that has divided the campus.

"In this district, if somebody sneezes, you'll usually hear about it," Wise said. "I don't know what happened, although I've heard a couple of different stories. ... But if Digol went in and wanted the job, then I'm not going to be happy with him. John Paul did not deserve to lose his job."

He's also a little sensitive about the issue of an on-campus/off-campus coaching dilemma.

Back in the early 1990s, Wise was Center's girls varsity basketball coach. But when on-campus teacher Ray Gagnon wanted the job, Wise was bumped out of the position.

Wise coached the Mira Loma girls basketball program for 14 years, then took the Center girls job back last season when Gagnon switched to coaching the boys basketball team.

- Bill Paterson

April 25, 2008
Metro's football fortunes are rising

Last year, everyone expected the Grant football team to roll through the Metro Conference as it did in 2006 when the Pacers walloped their six league rivals en route to a 13-0 season and a Sac-Joaquin Section Division II title.

But coach John Heffernan's Burbank Titans upset the Pacers last season to win the Metro title and finish with a 6-0 league mark and 9-3 overall record. Grant finished 5-1 in league, 7-4 overall.

With Sacramento High also going 7-4 overall and 5-2 in league under former NFL tight end and second-year coach Doug Cosbie - the Dragons lost to Burbank in overtime during their regular-season meeting - the Metro turned into a fairly competitive league.

It might be getting even better next year.

Hiram Johnson coach Rick Redding thinks the Warriors may be ready for a breakthrough that could return them to the days when Max Miller and Mike Dimino had title-winning teams at the school.

He has more than 60 players involved in varsity football this spring and credits the administration for allowing him to add a non-mandatory seventh period class at the end of the school day.

"The class is open to anybody, but it just happens that we have all football players right now," Redding said.

He says it wasn't a difficult sell.

"It's all in the delivery," he explained. "We just told them that if they want to be successful, they really need to be here."

The class is invaluable for someone like Redding and his assistants who are trying to end years of losing at the school. The Warriors were 3-7 last season, although a respectable 3-3 in the Metro.

"It keeps the kids involved in football year round," Redding said. "It's an opportunity for us to monitor them academically, and it helps keep attendance in check."

The added commitment also means weeding out the malcontents and the uncommitted.

"We want accountability," he said. "We want them to be ambassadors for the program and for the school. Those who get in trouble, there's no room for them."

With study hall and weight training tossed into the afternoon mix, he says his players "are working their tails off."

And any good coach will tell that the football victories in the fall are actually won during the sweaty days of spring and summer.

- Bill Paterson

April 22, 2008
'Clipper' once roamed where Woodland preps play

Winters High School teacher and athletic director Tom Crisp loves baseball.

So when he saw our item Saturday about Joe DiMaggio once reportedly playing at Woodland's venerable Clark Field - and what a great place to watch a ballgame - in our coverage of Friday's game between Yuba City and Woodland High, the area baseball history buff was quick to confirm by e-mail.

"He did indeed play there on March 10th and 11th in 1934 (and possibly on other occasions as well). The San Francisco Missions did their spring training in Woodland at Clark Field for several years in the early 1930s (at least from 1932 to 1934 from what I have seen so far).

"The Missions played a variety of teams at Clark Field. The regulars played against the Seals (with Joe D.), the Pirates reserves, the NY Giants reserves and others.

"The Missions' reserves (or 'Yannigans,' as the reserves of that day were called) would even play some amateur teams, including the Woodland Oaks, who played in the Sacramento Valley (Semi-Pro) League."

Crisp says he is currently researching Winters High baseball, Yolo County baseball and Sacramento Valley baseball.

- Bill Paterson

April 22, 2008
Cooler heads - not headhunting - prevail in baseball battle

There were several heated and impassioned responses from readers online to our mention of the number of hit batters during the critical three-game Tri-County Conference baseball series between top-ranked Yuba City and then-No. 3 Woodland on Friday.

Nine players total - five for Yuba City, four for Woodland - were belted in Thursday's game in Yuba City and Friday's contest in Woodland. After the game, though, Honkers coach Jim Stassi and Wolves coach Javy Valdivia tried their best to defuse any talk of a beanball war between the two rivals.

The blow that ignited the most heat came when Wolves' reliever Cachot Duncan hit Max Stassi in the helmet in top of the seventh inning of a game the Honkers would win 5-0 to take the series two games to one.

Stassi, who hit three home runs and drove in all the runs in Yuba City's 10-5 win Tuesday at Woodland, also was hit in the leg on Thursday.

So when he pointed at Duncan as he slowly walked down the first-base line, something was said from the Woodland dugout. Stassi, who appeared to be a little stunned by the beaning, turned and gestured toward the Woodland dugout, then walked angrily toward it before a Honkers coach interceded and led him to first base.

A pinch-runner replaced Stassi, who caught the bottom half of the seventh inning and appeared to be OK when the game ended.

Stassi bumped fists with every Wolves player and had a handshake and hug for Duncan, a courageous senior who has only one eye and has missed most of the season because of troublesome hemorrhaging in it.

"A big game like this, there is a lot of emotion," Valdivia said. "We had some players on both sides lose their composure a little, especially when you have two teams fighting for first place. That's part of the game, as long as you're able to keep it from getting out of hand."

Added Jim Stassi: "That's just these kids competing as hard as they can. Sometimes you overthrow a little bit, and it gets away from you. And it gets a little too amped up. That's just part of the game."

- Bill Paterson

April 18, 2008
Big sport on campus

One of the most popular sports these days on the Christian Brothers campus is rugby.

The Falcons, who are unbeaten and playing the Mother Lode Rugby Club today for the Sacramento Valley Rugby Conference championship, have seen their program grow at an incredible pace since the sport was re-introduced three years ago after some students petitioned the athletic department to add a team.

"What began with a dedicated group of about 15 athletes has quickly become a campus favorite with more than 80 players taking the field on the school's three teams," said Kristen McCarthy, the school's communications director.

Win or lose today, Christian Brothers will advance to the upcoming Northern California playoffs.

- Bill Paterson

April 18, 2008
A need for speed, oh

The uproar over Speedo's record-breaking swim suit is a lot of hype as far as Sierra Marlins swim coach Jeff Pearson is concerned.

Media sources report that 36 world records have been set in the last eight weeks by swimmers wearing the LZR Racer full-body suit, otherwise called bodyskins.

It's led to some swimmers abandoning their sponsors' suits to wear Speedo's latest innovation.

But Pearson, whose United States Swimming club swimmers wear Nike gear, thinks it's much ado about nothing.

"All the manufacturers are coming out with new fabrics," Pearson said. "I think it is a marketing thing because 99.9 percent of what is going to happen in a swim race isn't because of the suit you're wearing."

Pearson, who coaches many of the area's top high school swimmers, says he is more concerned about parents of young swimmers shelling out hundreds of dollars - Speedo's full-body model retails for $550 - for a suit that sometimes might not hold up for more than one meet.

"Unless you are an elite-level swimmer, it makes no sense to spend that kind of money," Pearson said. "And (elite swimmers) usually get them for free."

Pearson admits that for top swimmers - who compete in an environment where a fraction of a second is the difference between first and second place - feeling good about what one wears can have a huge psychological benefit.

"There is so much compression with the suit, it's so extremely tight, that it helps a swimmer maintain body form," Pearson said of the bodyskins. "The muscles get evened out. It also helps enhance blood flow, and swimmers say it makes them feel better in the water."

Michael Phelps, winner of six gold medals at the Athens Olympics and arguably the world's best swimmer, said he "felt like a rocket" in his LZR suit.

- Bill Paterson

April 16, 2008
More art than science

Question: How do you determine your All-Metro teams? Do you come out and watch games? Do you watch video highlights? Would you come watch a player on a mediocre team? Do you look at MaxPreps statistics?

- Mark Jacobson

Answer: Unfortunately, we don't have time to watch video, and the number of games we see is limited, especially in the spring when there are so many sports. In girls soccer, we usually only have a chance to see teams if we cover the section finals or we are at a game in which we happen to be doing a feature story. While we do consider Maxprep statistics, our selections are most heavily based on coaches' input, all-league ballots and how well the teams fared in the playoffs.

- Bill Paterson

April 11, 2008
Support from her teammates/friends

Watching video of the NCAA women's national championship game, I noticed how much the Tennessee women's basketball team cared about injured teammate Vicki Baugh, and vice versa.

The former Sacramento High School standout tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee during the Lady Vols' 64-48 victory over Stanford on Tuesday. After she lay on the floor for about a minute, she was helped off the court. Immediately, she shouted at her teammates: "Lets go, Lets go."

To me, it showed Baugh was more concerned about the team winning the championship than she was about her knee.

She next proved to be the consummate teammate, coming out of the locker with the aid of crutches and her knee encased in ice. She watched the final three minutes of the game on the sideline, cheering her team on.

Baugh's support of her teammates explained why the team quickly got together and prayed on her behalf. Senior Nicky Anosike, who helped the freshman forward-center adjust to playing in the post this season, punctuated the moment when she cried after Baugh went down with the injury.

To me, Anosike's tears were symbolic of a big sister caring about a little sister.

- Quwan Spears

April 10, 2008
In with the new

Excitement can have a variety of definitions, and for an old-school newspaper scribe, one of those definitions is: new stories to tell, new ways to tell them.

Inside The Bee newsroom - and newsrooms across the country, for that matter - similar things are taking place. Talk of publishing "platforms" and "repurposing" and, of course, "doing more with less" is part of countless daily conversations.

Some people bridle at the changes newspapers are undergoing, others seemed resigned to them. Surprisingly, though, significant numbers of news pros are embracing the new wave - out of necessity, maybe, but fairly tightly nonetheless.

For us who cover high school sports, we are fully into a period of opportunity. Space in the print edition has become smaller, but that makes us assess the way we do things and determine better ways to present stories, notebooks, art, graphics - the various facets of coverage.

Specifically, starting Monday we will have a new set of standing stories for your consideration.

Here it is:

• Monday: Prep Lineup, a day-by-day list of games/meets/matches to watch.

• Tuesday: Preps Plus, a weekly package of various people, sports and statistics.

• Wednesday: Home Cookin', Joe Davidson's notebook about local athletes and their accomplishments.

• Thursday: On Preps, an analysis of issues.

• Friday: Preps Plus - The Weekly Report, a collection of notes, news and photos, a weekly poll and a look ahead to weekend activities.

Those scheduled daily pieces won't preclude the kind of features and breaking high school news we've always provided, but they represent a way to make sure something substantial about high school sports is there each day.

Online we will post The Morning Report. This compendium of information - important games to watch, assessment of current issues, offbeat items related to prep athletics, analysis and information we hope will just be fun - is meant to provide viewers with a one-stop chance to see what's happening every day in preps.

In addition, we're going to rename this blog Sac Preps and keep it cranked up with new stuff each day from our prep crew of Davidson, Quwan Spears and Bill Paterson. I'll chime in now and then, too.

We welcome your questions and comments. Please send them to preps@sacbee.com or call (916) 441-4100.

- Brian Blomster,

assistant sports editor

April 5, 2008
Close shave for a good purpose at McClatchy

Christine Rodness, athletic director at McClatchy High School, summed up nicely how strong a group of her school's baseball players feel about the cause they supported Saturday.

"They're high school kids, and you know how high school kids feel about their appearance," she said, as music, chatter and laughter carried along on a light breeze under perfect spring skies.

Those appearances were changing significantly as players, coaches, including head varsity coach Mike DeNecochea, and other members of the community let other volunteers shave their heads just outside the foul lines of the Lions' baseball diamond out behind the school. Participants raised money through pledges and were donating the money to the St. Baldrick's Foundation to help fight childhood cancer.

Jean Luigi, one of the events organizers, told the crowd there that 25 such events were happening throughout the state, raising money for cancer research to help kids such as her 12-year-old son, Tino, who received successful treatment for neuroblastoma. Tino, sporting a black eye and rugby gear during today's event, was pretty much all smiles. He and Chase Starr, 8, who is being treated for cancer, were special guests at the event.

Participants looked apprehensive as they awaited their turns in one of three chairs, surprised, sheepish, horrified and amused as they checked the hand mirrors they were given after they were shorn.

It was an event that really had nothing to do with sports, yet it had everything to do with the people who participate in them. The concept of team was palpable, guys hanging together for a common purpose.

As coach DeNecochea said in remarks before the cutting began, it was a heckuva purpose.

And despite their bald heads, the folks who participated, especially the kids, looked great when it was done.

- Brian Blomster

April 4, 2008
Boosters back Elk Grove hiring

The boosters are on board, and that's a good thing for the big picture of high school football in Elk Grove.

Key members of the coaching staff are ready to join forces with new Thundering Herd coach Carlos Meraz, including Charlie Beall, Tom and Jason Rossow and Wayne Dinwiddie, veteran holdovers from the Dave Hoskins/Jeff Carlson regime. That's Victory No. 1.

Now it's time to meet the boosters and parents.

Meraz, hired earlier this week with a resume of success from Illinois, will meet the boosters on Tuesday. And it's a club that was pushing for the Elk Grove administration to put Carlson at the head of a team for which he shared the reins with Hoskins for the previous two seasons.

"This could easily become a big mess because a lot of us wanted Jeff Carlson to get the job, but we're going to welcome the new coach and make this all work because that's how we do things," said Derick Harper of the Elk Grove Quarterback's Club. "I know Carlos is a little tense because of what's going on, but he has our support. We have to keep this great tradition going, and we will."

Meanwhile, we're still waiting for a call back from Herd athletic director Pete Archerda to comment on Meraz. He remains tight-lipped about the whole situation, an odd stance considering the critical nature of decisions that have been made affecting Elk Grove's football future.

- Joe Davidson

April 3, 2008
Good first step doesn't erase questions

The initial step toward acceptance came Wednesday night for Carlos Meraz.

Elk Grove High School's new football coach met with his staff for the first time on campus. There were nervous smiles and firm handshakes, and then, a lot of football talk to discuss strategy, personnel and expectations.

Meraz needs a staff. The players need their coaches. There has been the question of whether assistants from last fall's 12-1 team would come back and work with the new head coach.

The character of the men expected to remain and work with Meraz is strong in well-regarded alums Wayne Dinwiddie, Charlie Beall, Tom Rossow and his son, Jason Rossow. Tom played for the Herd in the 1960s; Jason suited up earlier this decade. Beall and Dinwiddie played in the 1970s. All have coached at different levels within the Elk Grove program for decades.

Meraz knows he is the outsider - from Illinois - and not an overwhelming popular choice. The Elk Grove staff has professed loyalty to the departing duo of Dave Hoskins and Jeff Carlson, who ran the show together in 2006 and 2007, Hoskins for eight years before that.

But the assistants also are loyal to the returning players and the program in general.

Dinwiddie said it was a "no brainer" that Carlson should have led the program, and I agree. Beall said he is "as curious as anyone to see what happens" but that Meraz deserves as much support as he can get. That also is true. Give the man a chance. No single community can support a coach and the team better than Elk Grove, and no region can as easily swallow a coach whole, either.

Now the Elk Grove principal and athletic director, who still prefer not to talk to The Bee, must hope they can find a teaching position for Meraz. At the moment, he doesn't have one, other than his current posty at Alhambra High in Martinez. And with wide staff reductions happening throughout the Elk Grove Unified School District, it's hard to imagine too many openings anywhere. If no teaching spot develops for Meraz, the whole thing could blow up.

Read more about it at http://www.sacbee.com/prepsplus/story/833137.html.

- Joe Davidson

April 1, 2008
Key meeting at Elk Grove

Carlos Meraz could get a taste of his immediate future Wednesday when he visits the Elk Grove High School campus to chat with Thundering Herd assistant football coaches.

Popular speculation places Meraz in a tough spot, facing fellows who worked with the guy, Jeff Carlson, who was a co-head coach for the Herd last season (sharing the helm with since-departed Dave Hoskins) and who really wanted the job.

Another angle on this, though, is that Elk Grove is one fine program and that these assistants could want to remain part of it. Getting in the new boss' face upon first meeting would be no way to guarantee a place on the staff.

It seems probable that the men with the whistles are wise enough to ignore some of the more shrill comments filed in response to The Bee's story about Meraz's hiring.

We'll find out Wednesday. Please watch www.sacbee.com/prepsplus and www.sacbee.com/blogs for updates on the meeting, and look for staff writer Joe Davidson's account of the meeting and challenges and opportunities awaiting Meraz in The Bee on Thursday.

- Brian Blomster, assistant sports editor

April 1, 2008
Honor roll

Rocklin's Steve Taylor and Sacramento's Derek Swafford have been recognized with statewide honors for the leadership they provided to their boys basketball teams this season.

Rocklin won the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship then lost in the semifinals of the California Interscholastic Federation Northern California Regionals

Cal-Hi Sports named Taylor the Division II Coach of the Year. Swafford earned the honor in Division III.

Rocklin won the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship then lost in the semifinals of the California Interscholastic Federation Northern California Regionals.

Sacramento lost in the section D-III championship game to El Camino but rebounded to win the Norcal championship then play for the state title, losing to Santa Margarita.

Dwight Nathaniel of McClymonds-Oakland was named Division I Coach of the Year. McClymonds was the state D-I champion.

Sheldon's Darius Nelson was named Cal-Hi's state Freshman of the Year. The 6-foot-6 forward averaged 19.7 points and nine rebounds for the 19-11 Huskies. Darius' older brother, Duke's DeMarcus Nelson, was Cal-Hi's 2001 state Freshman of the Year when he attended Vallejo.

- Bill Paterson

April 1, 2008
Coaching from experience

Elk Grove's three top pitchers from last season - Troy Watson, David Freitas and Nolan Cassidy - all graduated. Their replacements - seniors Josh McMahon, Cody Berger and Patrick O'Rourke - have been inconsistent.

But coach Jeff Carlson said he hopes new pitching coach Jason Jimenez will get the kinks worked out. Jimenez is a former Thundering Herd player who pitched in the major leagues with the Detroit Tigers and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

"He's doing a great job with our pitchers, especially the mental aspects," Carlson said. "He's a great role model for these guys because, as a high schooler, he wasn't a No. 1 pitcher and didn't get a lot of innings until he was a senior.

"But he worked at it, developed into a scholarship pitcher for San Jose State and made it to the major leagues."

Read more about the Thundering Herd baseball team and other high school sports highlights in Prep Notes on Wednesday in The Bee.


- Bill Paterson

April 1, 2008
How 'bout those Pacers?

Question: Grant High School always has a powerhouse football program, but the Pacers are losing some key senior players. How do you see them doing next year? Who will be the players to watch there?

-Mike, Sacramento

Answer: As long as coach Mike Alberghini is at the helm, the Pacers don't rebuild, they reload. They had a large group of juniors playing key roles last year, including seven junior starters on defense. Among the juniors who stood out last season were lineman Alesana Leban, quarterback Kipeli Konseti and game-breaking receiver-kick returner Howard Warren, younger brother of Paris Warren. The Pacers certainly will be in the D-II title race.

- Bill Paterson

Question: I heard a rumor that the Optimist All-Star Football Game was going to be played in June this year rather than the last weekend in July. Is that true?

- Fred Ve'evalu,

Sacramento

Answer: Yes. Optimist officials have decided to play the game this year June 28 at American River College.

- Bill Paterson


April 1, 2008
Many good teams grace several divisions

Question: Who will be the teams to watch in the top two divisions for high school baseball in the greater Sacramento area? Also who are some of the top players to watch in the greater Sacramento area?

-Dean Caskey, Fair Oaks

Answer: When you say the top two divisions, you are already eliminating three of the area's leading teams in Yuba City, Bella Vista and Woodland, all at D-III.

In D-I, Elk Grove, Franklin and Davis all will be in the mix in the Delta Valley Conference. Jesuit, Folsom and Pleasant Grove should lead a Delta River League race in which only two teams qualify for the postseason.

D-II appears wide open. Ponderosa looks intriguing in the Sierra Valley Conference, and it will be interesting to see which teams emerge from what should be a very competitive Sierra Foothill League. This list of players to watch only scratches the surface. But here's a sampling: Derek Benny, Roseville; Andrew Dilling and Chris Garrison, Rocklin; Michael Hagarty, Pleasant Grove; Max Stassi, Justin Lamb and Aaron Crouch, Yuba City; Justin Charles and Jake Rodriguez, Elk Grove; Michael Quesada, Folsom; Ryan Rieger, Woodcreek; Charlie Robertson, Cameron Barr and Byrce Bandilla, Bella Vista; Josh Silver and Tanner Muckey, Fanklin; Josh Dreier, San Juan; Mike Turay, Davis; Erik Currier, Center; and Travis Meza, Foothill.

- Bill Paterson



About the Prep blog

Bee staff writers Joe Davidson and Bill Paterson provide news, analysis and insight on the area high school sports scene in their Prep Blog. Have a question to ask them? Send them an email any time at jdavidson@sacbee.com or bpaterson@sacbee.com.

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