It was a storybook stretch for the Garcia family last spring, with hugs and triumphant tears of joy.
Eight days after watching daughter Gigi Garcia help lead McClatchy High School’s basketball team to a historic CIF state championship at Cal, dad Aaron Garcia, The Bee’s 1987 Football Player of the Year from Grant, earned his first head-coaching victory when the expansion Las Vegas Outlaws of the Arena Football League beat the Arizona Rattlers.
Four months later, that joy has turned to frustration and pain.
Gigi, The Bee’s 2015 Player of the Year, tore two ligaments, including the ACL, in her right knee during a summer league game. The injury likely means the nationally recruited 6-foot-2 power forward will miss her senior season, a tough loss for a team expecting to challenge for another title.
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I’m OK. The medication (from surgery) makes me really sick, so I’m just really down right now.
Then Sunday, with the Outlaws preparing for the playoffs, Aaron learned he no longer had a team to coach.
The league pulled the plug on the Outlaws and the New Orleans VooDoo a month after taking control of the teams because of mounting financial woes. Las Vegas was expecting to practice Monday. Instead, players, coaches and staff are scrambling to find work.
“Rough week,” Aaron said Monday morning from Las Vegas. “After watching my daughter win that state championship, a great moment, and then getting my first head-coaching win … and then to this. It’s tough. But we’ll get over it.”
Said Gigi, who shares her father’s disappointment and positive outlook: “I’m OK. The medication (from surgery) makes me really sick, so I’m just really down right now.”
The AFL is a great product, and it can succeed anywhere, but it has to be done right.
Aaron said he will return to Sacramento on Wednesday to visit Gigi and help plan her rehabilitation. He said he will spend a lot of time in Las Vegas in the coming weeks to tie up loose ends. He has another year on his coaching contract, but he’s unsure how that will play out. For now, he’s more concerned about his players.
“I feel really bad for our players,” he said. “They’ve worked so hard and gone through so much with ownership troubles, and to have it all taken away over a conference call is crazy. We thought we had the right combination to make it work in Vegas, thought we had the right investors in place. But when the money is not there, there’s not a whole lot you can do. The AFL is a great product, and it can succeed anywhere, but it has to be done right.”
Aaron said he has had informal talks about an expansion AFL team coming to Sacramento. He believes in the AFL, where he played quarterback for 19 seasons, passing for 62,180 yards and and a pro football-record 1,336 touchdowns through the 2014 season.
“Maybe we’ll get a team in Sacramento with the new downtown arena,” Aaron said. “We know there will be open dates to fill in that arena. There’s been some interest expressed on that end. But before we move into any new cities, we have to get other things done. And decisions like this (folding two teams) don’t help the league’s credibility.”
As for Gigi, her career is far from over. Scores of players receive scholarships despite knee surgery, thanks to how fast players recover now.
“I’ll be back,” she vowed.