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Reflections on Week One

The first full Friday night of the season is in the books and I personally watched El Cerrito run up and down the field all night at Northgate’s expense. What the score doesn’t reflect, however, is that Northgate came into the game cold without the benefit of a scrimmage last week. El Cerrito, on the other hand, locked horns with perennial San Francisco power Balboa last week and tuned their engines up to peak performance.

What struck me is the speed factor that El Cerrito exhibited. In Eric McDaniel, Michael Hicks, Chris Moncrease, Marvin Shepherd, and even Don-Miguel Tutass, the Gauchos have an ultra-fast attack that they can mold into several different shapes. With a four-year varsity letterman in Tutass at quarterback, the run and shoot is alive and well in El Cerrito.

What remains to be seen is what the Gauchos’ defense will turn into in the coming weeks. That will obviously be the difference-maker for them. Also, don’t count out the Broncos just yet. Once they get their timing down and start coming together as a unit, I think you may see Blaine Johnson make some headlines as a pretty strong running back.

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Ups vs. Downs; baseball trumps football

"Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.

Football begins in the fall, when everything is dying."

— From comedian George Carlin’s "Baseball vs. Football"

Another football season begins this weekend, but something doesn’t seem quite right. It never does. As always, the old George Carlin routine comes to mind.

A year ago this month, the Baseball Hall of Fame brought its traveling exhibit, "Baseball as America," to the Bay Area for a four-month stay at the Oakland Museum. Last month at the same venue, the Pacific Coast League Historical Society held its ever-popular Northern California reunion.

Football never has such events — at least of that magnitude.

Baseball has Bill James, Thorn and Palmer, and other stats gurus. Football doesn’t know what a stats guru is.

Baseball has SABR — the Society for American Baseball Research. Football has no such equivalent.

Baseball is international, reaching age groups from kids to adults. The Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., comes to mind. But there are many other tournaments. Five years ago, a group of East Bay high schoolers calling themselves the Oakland Rattlers made a rare trip to Havana, Cuba. Every summer, an Alameda-based all-star team heads to something called the World Tournament. This year’s tournament was in Osaka, Japan. Next year’s will be in Culiacan and Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico. Also, a team of San Leandro players recently won a tournament in Puerto Rico.

Hawaii, Brazil, Australia, China, Taiwan. East Bay baseball players have gone to tournaments in all these places as well.

As for football. Well, NFL Europe doesn’t hold up.

Speaking strictly of the high schools, baseball has tournaments. The Willie Stargell Classic in Alameda, the West Coast Classic in the South Bay and the Bishop Gorman Desert Classic of Las Vegas are three that come to mind.

The nature of football does not allow for tournaments.

Baseball has a postseason. So does football. True, California high school baseball does not have a state championship. But so what? This year’s new state football "title" games are a mere contrivance.

Besides, baseball wraps up at the end of the school year, giving way to summer ball. Football starts at the beginning of the school year and ends at the onset of winter.

Truth is, despite baseball’s best efforts to self-destruct at the big-league level, the sport still thrives. Though it might not be the national pastime it once was, baseball honors its history better than any other sport and remains more ingrained in the national psychology.

Football is pretty much about a team’s last game.

Advantage, baseball.

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What’s in a scrimmage?

Fans of the De La Salle High School football team have been looking forward to this season for some time now. With a large group of experienced and talented players, many believe the Spartans can go unbeaten again and reclaim some of the glory that may have been lost over the last two so-called ‘down’ years.

But the team’s performance at the Pittsburg Jamboree last Saturday may have let a little air out of that balloon. The DLS offense looked good most of the time, but the defense gave up numerous touchdowns and often looked a little slow in reading what was happening in front of them. Spartans wide receiver John Hendershott said afterward that the team wasn’t nearly as intense as it should have been.

But by Wednesday, things appeared to be back on the right track for De La Salle as it prepares for Saturday’s opener against Serra. Wednesday night, coach Bob Ladouceur said he hoped people didn’t get too caught up in what happened during the scrimmage.

"I’ve seen scrimmages where we’ve played extremely well and I’ve seen scrimmages where we’ve been exceptionally bad. It doesn’t matter a whole lot when it comes to the game the following week."

Pittsburg, meanwhile, looked exceptionally dangerous. Pierre Mitchell and John Harrell could form the best running back duo in the Bay, quarterback Kraig Pifer appeared more poised and confident and the Pirates defense was fast and physical. Expectations in Pittsburg are high this year, and one couldn’t help but overhear the final chant as the players gathered together in a circle after the scrimmage was over. "STATE CHAMPS!"

 

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Ygnacio Valley’s new digs

The lesson is, if you want something bad enough, you have to go out and get it.

If you never thought that pool ol’ Ygnacio Valley High School would get a state of the art synthetic field surface, not to mention an all-weather eight-lane track, you’re probably not alone. But after a five-year struggle, the field is done, and the first football game will be played on it Thursday afternoon by the freshmen team.

The story is a testament to the hard work put in by the Ygnacio Valley athletic boosters. They’re not the wealthiest booster group in the East Bay, not by a long shot. What they are is incredibly hard working and persistent. Sometimes parents get a bad rap for being overbearing and intrusive when it comes to their children’s athletic activities. But the YV boosters showed that most schools would suffer if parents weren’t so heavily involved.

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Swim Lesson

I arrived to work on Tuesday morning after the Labor Day weekend, and was surprised to see the amount out E-mails from complete strangers waiting in my inbox.

When I decided to learn how to swim this summer and document it in the newspaper, I figured it would pass as an interesting inside look at someone who wanted to learn a new skill others took for granted. Never did it cross my mind it would garner such a response.

People wrote me to say they enjoyed and related to my story because they too couldn’t swim. Others commented on how brave I was for opening up and putting my embarassment on display for others to see. A few said I inspired them to learn to swim. Another reader asked if I could start a learn-to-swim program to teach under privileged children. I received notes from colleagues and phone calls from friends all giving me props.

I must say, it’s the best I’ve felt in my short career as a journalist. Many journalists say they want to "make a difference," in no way am I suggesting I did, but for the first time I wrote something with bit of an impact — even if the basis was learning how to swim as a 26 year old.