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The faces that can sell a program

Some teams use past players to promote, most don’t reach out to stars of the past for help

Posted: August 14, 2009 9:06 p.m.
Updated: August 15, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Canyon Country's Santa Clarita Christian School purchased a billboard advertisement recently that displays its 2008 CIF-Division I 8-Man Football championship team.

 
There’s a billboard on Soledad Canyon Road heading north.But not just any billboard.

On it is a team photo of Santa Clarita Christian School’s CIF-Southern Section Division I 8-Man football championship team.

“Excellence in Academics & Athletics,” the advertisement reads.

New or old, fledgeling or elite, programs utilize more than on-field accomplishments to promote the school and team, namely student-athletes both past and present.

Most local schools don’t set out to use their athletes, past or present to promote their programs.

SCCS is somewhat unique, though it is a private school and needs to market itself.

The billboard is the first such advertisement the school has purchased. Last year, a third party donated banners to commemorate the football team’s division title, which were displayed around Valencia Town Center, says SCCS head football and baseball coach Garrick Moss.

“The school did it as one, advertisement for the school, and two, because of the championship. They wanted to honor the accomplishment,” Moss says.

The Cardinals are not the only school that features athletes for promotional purposes.

Far from it.

“They are the face of the program,” says 20-year Hart head football coach Mike Herrington. “For example, we come out with a poster (every year) with the schedule and team picture on it, and we always have the returning all-league kids on the poster.”

Student-athletes appear on school and team Web sites and in promotional materials such as welcome packets and game programs.

At the beginning of each school year, parents and guardians sign an emergency card as part of the “Parents’ Rights and Responsibilities” packet.

Upon signing, they agree to the terms stated in the packet, therefore allowing the district to use pictures of the student.

“The William S. Hart Union High School district routinely utilizes visual images of student activities to record the school’s history and to promote understanding of the district’s educational programs,” the policy reads. “Such information is considered ‘directory information’ which can be used in campus and community publications, Web sites and other appropriate venues.”

However, waivers must be signed if photos feature special needs students and, in extreme situations, legal guardians can elect to fill out the “Request of Exclusion” form, which prevents schools, the district and even the newspaper from using photos of their student.

“It is all or nothing so very few people use it,” says Pat Willett, community relations liaison officer for the William S. Hart Union High School District, in regards to the form. “(Guardians) have to go to the school office and pick it up. ... I would say if the school had one it would be unusual.”

Willett reiterated that use of such a form is generally reserved for extraordinary circumstances where the student’s image can in turn put him or her at risk.

The athlete is also excluded from programs and media guides.

These materials circulate to news outlets and the community at large.

Golden Valley is even planning on expanding its media guide to include all three athletic seasons.

This way, Grizzly athletes such as swimmer Michelle Duraj and distance runner Seth Totten get their names out to the community, where previously the program as a whole might go unnoticed, according to Golden Valley co-athletic director Robert Fisher.

“We are getting a lot more people looking at our school and what we have the potential to do,” Fisher says. “Athletes like Maverick Ahanmisi, Trevor Wiseman, Michelle Duraj and Jordan Yallen (who was drafted in the 47th round by the Chicago White Sox), the list goes on. We have a lot of athletes that have been going through that process of building our program to the level it should be in terms of the Foothill League.”

However, there are ways that athletes can promote their program non-visually.

One major way is through participation in community outreach programs.

“You want positive publicity,” Herrington says. “We got attention last year because our kids volunteered to go over and read to the elementary (school) so we got some positive response. The kids enjoyed doing it. (The players) weren’t looking to get recognition, they were just asked to volunteer and it was rewarding for them.”

Such activities create greater exposure for the program and school as a whole as players impact the lives of future enrollment classes.

Alumni games can do the same.

“I think that is kind of a cool deal because it ties in the past the present and the future of the program,” says Hart head baseball coach Jim Ozella of alumni games. “I’ve never really tried to use that situation (to market the program). We want our guys once they leave the program to be successful and understand that we are here rooting for them.”

Graduates return to play the current class of athletes.

But if they do, Ozella says they will be promoting the team on their own accord.

“Since I’ve gotten the job at Hart, I’ve never asked any of them to do anything in regards to assisting the program because I think it is their decision and what they want to do with their money and life.”

Many local high school stars turned college stars or professional athletes show up to games on their own.

Returning athletes can bring with them a high-profile status that fans and upcoming generations want to see.

It is sometimes an opportunity for graduates to speak to the athletes.

Throughout the year it is common for alumni to make appearances to motivate and inspire the team.

About a year ago, former Hart linebacker Dan Howell stopped by football practice.

Herrington says that former Indians and current NFL quarterbacks Kyle Boller and Matt Moore have made appearances in recent years.

On the diamond, Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher James Shields has also been back, in turn helping build the program from within.

“It spurs the younger kids to try to reach their dreams,” Ozella says. “It shows them, ‘Hey you can do it. If you really put your mind to it, you can do it. Hey, I was here a few years ago and I was in your shoes.’”

Former Canyon head baseball coach Brandon Montemayor brought Shields, his former Hart High teammate, and former College of the Canyons pitcher and professional baseball player Dana Eveland to Canyon High before the 2008 season to train on the Cowboys’ field in front of players.

Former athletes can also return for such events as West Ranch’s NCAA Night.

During the event, students and parents learn about the application and selection process from recent graduates who share their perspective on the transition, something West Ranch athletic director Dody Garcia says she hopes to see from the latest class of scholarship athletes.

“This is what we strive for, to teach these kids the positives that can come out of athletics,” she says.

The reality of promotion becomes less about building the program and more about building the athlete.

And as the athlete improves, so does the program.

Before long, the key element to success develops throughout the school.

Pride.

That’s the main idea when two former SCCS Cardinals use daily conversations to promote the school, Moss says.

Now embarking on their respective careers as a fireman and doctor, 2005 SCCS graduates Stephen Mercier and Orlando Pena commonly discuss their time at the school, according to their former coach.

“They are just great, hard-working kids that wherever they go, they let people know what the school meant to them,” Moss says. “And as our kids go on in life and be successful, it just promotes the school.”

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