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Albert Einstein Academy athletics: Elements of success

Einstein is area’s ninth high school with full varsity sports

Posted: December 17, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: December 17, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Some of the key people involved in Albert Einstein Academy athletics are, top row from left, Principal Edward Gika and boys basketball head coach Greg Patterson. Middle row from left, Athletic Director Ken Erenber and volleyball player Sabrina Hinojosa. In the bottom row is basketball player Sahil Rai.

It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say Santa Clarita public charter school Albert Einstein Academy’s athletics program rose from the ashes of the demise of Montclair Prep.

Montclair Prep’s proud and successful sports program was dismantled in 2011 before the Van Nuys private school closed its doors officially on July 15, 2012.

In August 2010, Albert Einstein Academy opened in an industrial park on Kelly Johnson Parkway under the guidance of former Dean of Students at Montclair Prep Edward Gika, who has been the only principal the school has known.

It started as a seventh-through-ninth-grade school that has built to include 10th and 11th graders. In 2013-14, it will have its first senior class.

The emphasis was and has been academics first and foremost.

But the desire was there early to have athletics at the charter school.

The plan was to start small and grow.

And that plan was to be carried out by Athletic Director Ken Erenberg, a former teacher and soccer coach at Montclair Prep.

Now in the 2012-13 school year, Albert Einstein Academy is a bona fide CIF-Southern Section sanctioned sports program — making it the ninth in the Santa Clarita Valley.

“We believe athletics have so much to teach kids. We believe in a balanced approach. That athletics teaches commitment and work ethic and accepting challenges,” Gika says. “It was always part of the vision to have athletics part of (the school). We’re not just looking for wins, but larger lessons that athletics provide.”

Football is next

AEA is known as the Rockets — a name Gika came up with that he admits is not very popular.

He says he didn’t want to go with “Neutrons” or “Quasars.”

Rockets works, he says because it’s a sort of link — rocket science and Albert Einstein.

The Rockets have varsity teams in cross country, girls volleyball, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls basketball, baseball, softball and track and field.

With the school housing just 340 kids with a cap on 75 per grade, the pool of athletes is small.

Therefore, the school competes at the higher numerical divisions in the CIF-SS reserved for schools of lower enrollment.

AEA’s best comparison in terms of competition and size is Trinity Classical Academy — which has 465 kindergarten through 12th-grade students.

Both schools compete mostly in the Omega League, made up of small academies and Christian schools.

Erenberg says his school would like to add golf next year.

It will add varsity football.

In 2012, AEA fielded an 11-man junior varsity football team consisting of 17 players.

It was an ambitious step, as Trinity and fellow small local private school Santa Clarita Christian went the 8-man football route first.

“That was the big push. Our coach John Greaves and we decided we were going to start right from inception,” Erenberg says. “You would not believe how tired the kids would be going both ways and giving their all. But there are only two or three games where we were taken out of the game.”

The team went 2-6 and its coach was a major story at the small school.

“John came up to me (a couple of years ago), I coached many years ago with him at Montclair Prep, and he said, ‘We need to start a football program at your school because my son is in eighth grade.’” Erenberg recalls. “I said, ‘John, look how small we are.’ He’d be a great used car salesman because he sold me.”

Greaves coached this season with leukemia.

On Sept. 29, when the team was playing at Viewpoint of Calabasas, Erenberg says Greaves was receiving treatment.

He took a cab from the hospital to the game to coach his team.

“The kids responded and saw how much he was willing to put into the program,” Erenberg says. “The bravery I witnessed was unbelievable.”

Erenberg says Greaves is already making plans to coach the first varsity team in 2013.

The first sports

Varsity play has already begun, though, for some sports, including volleyball.

Einstein has played varsity girls volleyball for two years running now.

Its second-ever varsity team had a respectable showing in 2012, finishing in sixth place (out of 11 teams) with six wins in the Omega League.

It also pulled off a rarity.

Despite finishing that low in the standings, the league Most Valuable Player was junior Sabrina Hinajosa.

“Honestly I’m kind of surprised by it all,” Hinajosa says of becoming the school’s first-ever league MVP. “I feel really good about it. At Valencia it was hard to be recognized. There are so many people who didn’t get recognition.”

Hinajosa was a club volleyball player as a youth and started as setter on the Valencia freshman team in 2010.

She is like many kids who started at another school and made their way to Einstein.

Hinajosa says a major difference between the high school athletic program she participated in before and the one she participates in now is Einstein isn’t as focused on wins and championships as much as it is focused on participation.

“I think a long-term goal is to win a CIF championship here and there, but we’re not in the Valencia or Hart place where every year it’s expected,” says Erenberg, who also coaches the volleyball and baseball teams. “My expectations are we’re in a small league, (CIF-SS) Division VI and VII in the Omega League. My feeling is league championship, if we win league titles I’m ecstatic. Especially with the kids we have.”

More than wins and losses

Those expectations are shared by Greg Patterson — kind of.

Patterson is the boys varsity basketball coach.

And if that name sounds familiar, it’s because it is for those in the Southern California prep basketball circle.

Patterson coached Montclair Prep from 1995 to 2001 and 2004 to 2010.

His teams won CIF titles in 1996, 2005 and 2006 and a state championship in 1995.

So obviously he’s a competitive guy.

“It’s not the wins and losses, but the improvement and the chance to work together by giving these kids a positive experience through sports,” Patterson says.

But Patterson says he’s going to put his best kids on the floor and the plan is to build the boys basketball program into a respectable one.

Patterson says he was mentally checked out after the experience of seeing Montclair Prep shut down. He was the athletic director when it happened.

But Erenberg and Gika convinced him to come to AEA.

“It didn’t take much convincing,” Patterson says. “It felt like the right spot — a first-year program, the chance to build something from the ground up, to work with Edward and (Vice Principal) Michael McDonnell, it felt right. I got the motivation back.”

The team is 6-1 through its first seven games this season.

The only loss of the season came in the opener against Santa Clarita Christian — a 60-55 setback on Nov. 29.

The future of AEA athletics

AEA people don’t talk about the distant future and big ambitions.

It’s a small school and will remain a small school, at least for the immediate future.

There is no gymnasium or practice field for its teams.

In fact, the basketball team practices outdoors on a lot behind the charter school on hoops that one would find in someone’s backyard.

There are hopes to expand a Santa Clarita independent league, that junior high programs from Trinity, SCCS and AEA all participate in, to the high school level.

The football team wants to schedule SCCS next season.

Athletics is low on the list for funding at the early stage of this school, so it will rely a lot on fundraising, Erenberg says.

But it’s a start.

And regardless of what people think of the name, like a rocket, there’s no where to go but up right now.


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