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Prep sports: Why some are stepping stones

Only a handful of local high school sports consistently turn out top-level athletes

Posted: June 8, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 8, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Sports like football, baseball and softball have seen several athletes with local ties move on to the NCAA Division I and professional ranks, while sports like tennis, boys soccer and girls volleyball haven’t experienced the same type of success outside the Santa Clarita Valley.

 

Quick, name the top five most successful athletes to come out of the Santa Clarita Valley’s high schools.

Think about the ones who had prominent college careers and the ones that competed professionally.

The list would probably include at least one of the Hart High products to quarterback an NFL
team — former Minnesota Vikings Joe Kapp or one of the current NFL players, Matt Moore and Kyle Boller.

You’d have to throw in the Major League Baseball guys too — James Shields (Hart), Tommy Milone (Saugus), Danny Worth (Valencia) just to name the ones who have seen big league action this season.

And of course, you can’t leave the softball standouts, including but not limited to two-time Olympic gold medalist Crystl Bustos, who played at Canyon High.

As the list grows, patterns start to emerge.

Certain sports turn out top-level NCAA Division I college and professional athletes year after year.

Local high school have produced major football, baseball and softball players in large numbers, while sports like boys volleyball and girls soccer have seen their fair share of stars go beyond this valley.

Some sports, like tennis and boys soccer, haven’t seen nearly as many high-level athletes.

“It is just natural. Partly it’s the nature of the sport and part of it is the culture of the area here,” said Annie Kellogg, head coach of boys and girls tennis at Valencia. “It just hasn’t been a big-time sport for a long time.”

In her time at Valencia, Kellogg has guided her teams through an undeniable run of prosperity.

Under Kellogg, the girls team has won nine Foothill League championships and the boys team has won 10 in the past 11 years.

The boys team won 61 straight league matches and just finished one of the most dominant campaigns through league play, going a combined 177-3 in sets through 10 matches.

Yet, there is no Matt Moore and there is no James Shields for tennis.

There’s no Valencia grad going toe-to-toe with Rafael Nadal or Maria Sharapova in the Wimbledon finals.

Why?

“I think it’s getting kids at a young age and getting athletes, and also getting teams that are competitive and that compete outside of the valley,” Kellogg said.

And let’s not pick on tennis.

Ray Sanchez has coached a Valencia girls volleyball team that has won 10 Foothill championships in his 13 years with the program.

In that time, the school has produced only a handful of NCAA Division I college players — but it’s rare.

Sanchez offered a simple explanation. There are just a lot more options for young, aspiring softball players than there are for volleyball.

“It’s like a pyramid. The bigger the base, the higher your peak,” Sanchez said. “It’s a numbers game. It’s an absolute numbers game. You give me a thousand athletes. I’m going to find one.”

Even the prep coaches who have seen eventual pro athletes pass through their programs agree.

Hart baseball head coach Jim Ozella talked about kids becoming involved with the sport at very young ages.

And it helps to have someone to look up to.

“I think success comes from tradition and the leadership like Jamie Shields,” said Ozella, who coached Shields as a senior at Hart. “Look at guys we have in big leagues. For a small valley, we’re pretty successful in baseball for a little hometown, USA. I see a tremendous amount of dedication by a lot of athletes out here.”

For SCV players turned big leaguers, it started long before high school.

The locally based William S. Hart PONY Complex houses baseball and softball leagues that allow kids as young as 5 years old to play.

It seems to take just one or two kids to reach the top levels of their sport for an entire community to rally around the idea.

“I think the parents see the past successors,” said Hart softball head coach Steve Calendo. “I go back to the very beginning with 8-year-olds at the Hart complex and they see the high school players, and I think they just are enthralled with the players at the higher levels.”

In 2007, Calendo coached Hart to a CIF-Southern Section Division I championship game, where the team lost 1-0 to Valencia.

That game included a host of players who would go on to become elite NCAA Division I college softball players.

“I think us high school coaches get way too much credit sometimes,” Calendo said. “I just try to stay out of the way.”
But is that it? Will this valley forever be known for its football, softball and baseball?

Can girls volleyball, boys soccer and tennis build the kind of tradition and excellence needed?

“I don’t think it’s impossible, but kids and parents have to be dedicated to the tennis clubs here,” Kellogg said. “But I don’t know. I don’t know exactly what the answer is.”

Though she might not have the answer now, coaches like Kellogg are certain to keep trying.

661-287-5535
Signal Sports Editor Cary Osborne contributed to this story.

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