Tag Archives: Burbank High

Rick’s Sports Corner: Burbank High’s Bob Hart, Coach, Teacher, Integrity

By Rick Assad

Bob Hart is totally and fully grounded, and this applies to his baseball philosophy, personality, standing among fellow coaches and players, both past and present.

“While I am fundamentally competitive, I don’t focus on numbers as much as I do players,” said Hart, the Burbank High baseball coach who begins his 16th season at the helm in 2021. “We try to get the players to focus on the process, knowing that the result will take care of itself. We promote competitiveness, but within the parameters of doing your job one pitch at a time.”

Hart played several sports at Burroughs where he graduated in 1978, and is in his 37th year as a coach.

The Bulldogs haven’t always won the Pacific League banner, but for much of the time under Hart, who has also coached football and basketball at the prep level, they’ve been competitive.

That’s because they are fundamentally sound, stress defense, pitching, situational hitting and running the bases with zeal.

Bob Hart has turned around the Burbank High baseball fortunes. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Longtime baseball coach Craig Sherwood, who is an assistant on Hart’s staff, knows him from both sides of the dugout.

“I have coached with Coach Hart and against him for many years and not only has he grown as a coach, but without a doubt gets the best out of his players and I have always felt they played above their capabilities,” he said. “They play above their heads and they are proud to play for him.”

With Hart’s guidance, Burbank has reached the CIF Southern Section playoffs nine times, including 2013 when the Bulldogs captured their last league title and also made the quarterfinals three seasons ago.

Hart, who attended Los Angeles Valley College and Los Angeles Pierce College, and his coaching staff have been working extremely hard during these unique times.

“Our guys are doing individual workouts as well as Google classroom assignments that we present to them each week,” he said. “In addition, I have some guys that play travel ball in different areas. Other than that, we are going to start when we are told to start by the powers that be. Not looking to be on the forefront of experimenting with players’ or coaches’ health.”

Hart also addressed how COVID-19 has caused so many people to miss out on the little matters that make life fun and exciting.

“As far as the team, it’s affected them, as with most,” he said. “Isolating and missing the things we ultimately take for granted. Connection and time with the things and the people we love.”

Winning is always important and it is for Hart, but whether the Bulldogs emerge with a victory or a loss, he wants his players prepared.

“I internalize everything and play it off. Well at least to some degree that’s probably true,” he said. “But what else is true is that I keep perspective and I don’t look at it as life or death. I see true accomplishment being playing your best baseball with honor. That doesn’t always equate to a win, so it’s the nuanced approach that grants me sanity.”

Longtime Bulldogs baseball mentor Bob Hart is well respected by players and peers. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

After a scary incident a few years ago, Hart knows a little something about life and death.

“I feel great,” he said, looking back at a heart attack he suffered. “I lost 17 pounds during this nightmare.”

Hart then added: “Appreciate your life and honor those before you by being the best you can be each day,” he noted.

A teacher in the mold of UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden, whose teams claimed an NCAA record 10 national championships including seven consecutive, Hart also wants his players to give maximum effort, regardless of the score or inning.

“Some of the best coaching takes place when your team is not successful. In my experience, to remain even keel is to instill that same value in your team. Consequently taking a more businesslike approach while having fun with it rather than inducing pressure and negativity,” he said.

Reaching the top-shelf when it comes to coaching isn’t a job for the meek or timid, he offered.

“Being a baseball coach or at least a good one is a challenge, but being an administrator of a high school program is a much bigger challenge” he said.

In a very real sense, it does take a village to be successful, regardless of the chore or task ahead.

Watching the action on the field, Bob Hart is always thinking. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

“It takes quite a few people in terms of support to make it work,” he said. “I have been so fortunate to have amazing parents and an administration. And the leadership I’ve had with my booster club has been off the chart.”

Sherwood knows Hart forward and backward.

“In my 40 years as a high school coach, I have worked with some of the best people around,” he said. “Bob stands out not only as a quality coach, but someone who really considers it his mission to do the right thing by the players. He demands personal responsibility and he helps build their character.”

Being on top as a player or coach requires the same attributes.

“It’s very similar to that of a player. The will to win. The commitment. The preparation,” Hart said of coaching. “The teammate. For the love of the game.”

Hart said that he has had assistance with regard to his coaching tenure. “My coaches, starting from junior high all the way through high school, were hugely impactful for me,” he said. “They include Mike Nugent, Lew Stone, Rich Grimes, Mearl Stone, Dave Jackson, Ken Tada, Bob Dunivant and Brian Hurst. Some legendary names. I could never name one. I think I took a piece of all of them. I didn’t know it at the time.”

Sherwood is among many that Hart trusts. “As a head coach, he appreciates all of his assistant coaches and discusses all aspects with us,” he said. “He wants to hear our opinions and is willing to change his if he hears something better.”

Like those coaches who came before him, Hart’s impact has been felt by many and will be for many years.

“The highlight of my career has been watching boys become men,” he said. “To watch the maturity process. Watch them accomplish their goals. To fail and get up and persevere. My biggest accomplishment is the pride I take in watching kids start their journey and become solid citizens who contribute in a positive way to our world.”

Sherwood pointed out what Hart has meant to Burbank baseball. “I think that what he will be remembered for is taking a struggling program that had a new head coach every year and not only bring stability, but respectability to the program,” he said.

Rick’s Sports Corner: Melissa Sanchez, Hard Working, Determined

By Rick Assad

Not many are lucky enough to know what they want to do professionally after college.

Melissa Sanchez doesn’t fall into this category, because the onetime Burbank High softball standout outfielder and Cal State East Bay graduate, had an inkling early on that she would be a coach.

“Reflecting back on when I played, my aspirations at the time were to play college level softball,” said the current Burbank High softball coach. “By hard work, dedication and commitment, I progressed into a college softball player. Throughout my college softball career, I admired my coaches for their persistent dedication and their devoted commitment to making myself and my teammates better. It was at that point I wanted to have an impact on young athletes that my coaches had on me. This led to my gravitation toward coaching young athletes.”

The transition from player to head coach has been smooth for Sanchez in her initial campaign.

Outfielder and Burbank High graduate, Melissa Sanchez swinging the bat for Cal State East Bay. (Photo courtesy Melissa Sanchez)

“The fact that I played my whole life, it helped me to understand to respect my coaches,” she said. “I would say it really helped me, not hinder. As a head coach, I look at every girl in my program and can relate to them. At one point in my softball life, I have experienced what they are experiencing. Therefore, I can relate and connect with the girls on a whole different level.”

But the softball season was interrupted in March.

“Unfortunately, we were all affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sanchez, who graduated from college in 2015 after spending two years at Glendale Community College and East Los Angeles College. “However, sometimes in life you need to take a step back in order to take two steps forward. These unusual times makes us appreciate how fortunate we are and how blessed we are to be able to go to school, work, play sports and have a numerous amount of opportunities and privileges.”

Being a coach can be trying, according to Sanchez, who started 105 games for the Pioneers across two seasons and batted .282 with 45 runs scored and 38 runs batted in while posting a .356 slugging percentage and a .342 on-base percentage.

“To be a player/athlete is difficult,” she said. “However, to be a head coach is much more difficult. As a player, I played for the girl next to me. As a head coach, I am coaching all players to play for one another. There are many components in order to keep harmony on the field and off the field. This is a lot easier said than done. As a head coach, I must be structured, organized and be able to earn the respect of all my players.”

Sanchez explained why it isn’t easy. “Being a coach is very tedious at any level,” she admitted. “There are a lot of variables which a head coach has to endure. In order to have a copacetic environment, a head coach must comprehend different players, different personalities and juggle egos. I believe parents get a bad rap. I happen to love the parents. They make it more of a learning experience and at the end, they are helping me and I am helping them.”

Sanchez spoke about what she wants the Bulldogs to accomplish on the field.

“At the level I have matriculated, my philosophy is to win,” she noted. “As a varsity head coach, we try to win at all costs because in the end, winning is most important at this level. The varsity girls practice hard, train hard and study hard. They mature, they grow as individuals and they overcome difficult obstacles. I push and test these girls to their highest potential on a daily basis.”

Sanchez went on: “They are constantly rehearsing their roles. When game day comes, that field is their stage where they understand the task at hand, which is to win,” she said. “At the junior varsity level, I truly believe development is the most important part. At this level, the girls learn the intricacies of the game. They learn how to mentally grow and prepare to get to the varsity level.”

Melissa Sanchez returns home as the former Bulldog player is now the head coach. (Photo courtesy Melissa Sanchez)

On the playing field, Sanchez prospered at every level.

“In order to be a successful player you must be coachable,” she said. “If a softball player is coachable, it means she is willing to do anything a coach asks her to do and the rest is history.”

How about being triumphant in the dugout?

“In order to be a successful head coach, one must take pride in everything that he or she does,” Sanchez said. “The way coaches represent themselves plays a big role in what you will get out of your players. A successful coach is patient and understands that coaching is a journey and not a race.”

Preparation before a game is crucial. “Emotional and physical preparation is everything. Understanding what my role is, taking good care of myself, eating healthy and working out. I study my opponent and the opposing pitchers, defense and offense,” Sanchez said. “I navigate the entire spectrum of which I will be playing.”

Even little details aren’t overlooked. “I always understood that the smallest things would give me the biggest advantages for game time,” Sanchez said. “As a coach I make sure my players prepare the way I prepared for games. Therefore, when the game starts, the players are ready to perform and execute to the best of their ability.”

Former Burbank coach Mike Delaney followed Sanchez’s career. “I coached Mely in Park and Recreation. She was a talented player who worked hard and wanted to learn the game,” he said. “She started out as a catcher, but she loved the outfield and she became a very good outfielder with great range and a strong arm. As I watched her through high school and travel ball, I always appreciated how hard she worked to get better.”

Delaney is pleased Sanchez became a coach. “When she got into coaching she became even more of a student of the game and a teacher of the game,” he said. “I am glad to see former players like her give back to the game and share their passion with younger players.”

Kris Jones coached Sanchez for two years. “The thing I remember about Mely more than anything else was just her desire to go out and get every ball,” he said. “She played center field for me and any time a ball was hit her way, I knew that she was going to give 110 percent. It was always an all-out effort. Even in practice she always wanted me to hit the ball as hard as I could in areas where she wasn’t so that she could practice giving that kind of effort. She was a great kid to coach.”

Sanchez can’t recall a time when softball wasn’t a significant part of her life.

“My high school career highlight would be making the varsity team as a freshman,” she said. “At the time, this meant the world to me. I worked endless amounts of hours in order to get a starting position for my first high school game. The hard work paid off.”

And despite not having a full season because of the coronavirus, Sanchez was able to find a high point.

“As a head coach for such a short year, my highlight would be seeing the girls get through such a tough first semester I put them through,” she offered. “I came in with so many guidelines and expectations. The tough hours of conditioning, study halls, practices, weights and no days off was an enormous workload on them. Seeing them go through all that growth was the most rewarding feeling.”

Sanchez is extremely appreciative for everyone who has had a hand in her development.

“There is an overflow of coaches that have made a difference in my life,” she said. “Every single coach that I have had has had an impact on me. I am truly grateful, blessed and thankful for each and every one of them. I strongly believe life is eclectic and success comes from a learning process.”

Rick’s Sports Corner: Jett Del Mundo’s Long Hoops Coaching Trek

By Rick Assad

When it comes to coaching high school varsity boys’ and girls’ basketball in Southern California, few have compiled more experience and success than Jett Del Mundo.

In his third season as the Burbank High girls’ varsity basketball head coach, Del Mundo enters his 24th season as coach of the boys’ or girls’ teams at nine different schools, including four at Pasadena where he guided the Bulldogs to the CIF Southern Section semifinals and the state tournament, something that had not happened in school history.

A stroke survivor, Del Mundo, who also ushered the La Canada girls’ squad to the second round of the playoffs, said there is no difference between the sexes when it comes to coaching the game.

“Regardless of boys or girls basketball and at every level, the foundation of my teams is rooted in competition,” he said. “It begins with the competition in tryouts, carrying forward to our intense practices where roles are determined and playing time is earned, to games where we define our team identity, and just as importantly, off the court, where my players achieve personal and career successes driven by excellence within.”

Senior small forward Erika Montoya, Coach Jett Del Mundo and senior captain, point guard Kimberly Pimentel. (Photo courtesy Jett Del Mundo)

Throughout his time on the bench, Del Mundo, who has been the girls’ varsity head coach for 15 seasons at six schools, knew it wasn’t always going to be smooth.

“I believe that coaching at any level is never easy,” he explained. “It’s a challenge for anyone to guide today’s student-athletes as they define who they are and are able to use the high school sports experience as a positive step forward into whatever paths they choose.”

Like many top-rank coaches, Del Mundo, who has worked as a junior high athletic director at Orange County-based schools, St. Joseph, Queen of Angels, St. Anne’s and St. Callistus for a decade and Dean of Students at St. Anne’s for two years, is more than a coach, but an instructor.

“My student-athletes are learning to use the high school team sports experience to provide them the opportunities to grow and develop their personal responsibility to not only learn from participation and experience, but to also gain an understanding and respect for the collaborative endeavor,” he said.

Del Mundo, who earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from USC in Exercise Science and Education, went on: “In so doing, comprehending that learning to honor the experience contributes to a growing sense of responsibility and moral reasoning that helps today’s student-athlete to become contributing citizens in their community,” he said.

Third-year Burbank High girls’ basketball coach Jett Del Mundo has 24 years of experience. (Photo courtesy Jett Del Mundo)

With COVID-19 still present, the virus has thrown a curveball for the upcoming girls’ basketball season.

“These unprecedented times reminds us all of how fragile life is and what an awesome responsibility we have to never take for granted,” he said. “This is a reminder to gain perspective and play each game with the understanding that more than winning a game, we want our student-athletes to be winners in their lives.”

Once the season begins, Del Mundo hopes it will be a success.

“At this point, I look forward to the opportunity for my team and especially our seniors to compete once again,” he noted. “In these uncertain times, my players are reminded that it is such a great privilege to play this game. I so look forward to sharing the court with them once again.”

The Bulldogs didn’t fare too well last season, going 10-18 overall and 3-11 in Pacific League play.

Burbank played better the previous campaign when it carved out a 15-13 regular season mark and went 6-8 in league action, but didn’t qualify for the playoffs.

The other times that Del Mundo has led a girls’ team to the playoffs as a head coach was twice at Cornelia Connelly and Arnold O. Beckman, where he tutored the girls’ varsity for four seasons and took the squad to its first-ever playoff win.

Though Del Mundo was at Brethren Christian for one season as the girls’ varsity head man, he was able to turn the program around into being competitive.

Del Mundo recalled how he began coaching. “I missed the feeling of being part of a team. The opportunity presented itself to work with a few different youth basketball programs in Southern California,” he said. “While doing so, I was approached by a high school coach who invited me to join his staff and from there I worked every coaching position in a high school program and learned to develop my coaching identity, learning from great high school coaches and attending numerous coaching clinics.”

Jett Del Mundo is standing between junior shooting guard Emily Mergerdichian (left) and junior point guard Christina Ohanians. (Photo courtesy Jett Del Mundo)

Even with more than two decades worth of coaching, Del Mundo continues to grow as a coach and person.

“The things that I have learned are that no two teams are alike. Treat them all fairly, but never compare them to one another,” he said. “And just as importantly, I am reminded every day of what an honor and privilege it is to be called their coach.”

Because no one accomplishes anything alone, Del Mundo said that he has been ably assisted along the way.

“The most helpful individuals in my coaching career are the tremendous assistant coaches and captains of my many teams,” he offered. “I have been blessed with individuals who share my passion and purpose and challenge me to grow. They are far too many to mention, but I know if they ever get a chance to read this, they can feel my gratitude and respect.”

When things get rough for his team, Del Mundo realizes that being a part of the game is in itself a treat.

“Every experience lends itself to an opportunity to learn one of life’s many lessons,” he said. “I often remind my student-athletes of the privilege to play this game. And when I do that, I remind them that it isn’t what happens that defines them. It is their character that develops in how they handle a situation.”

Del Mundo is rightly proud of his entire career, but says the high point was shaping a dormant Pasadena program to prominence, something that he hopes to do for Burbank.

“Turning around the Pasadena girls’ basketball program, taking them from the annual bottom place, insignificant team to a well-respected program with multiple 20-plus win seasons and leading them to the CIF semifinals and making a run at the CIF/State championship and earning multiple Coach of the Year Awards one year removed as a stroke survivor,” he said of the achievement.

Rick’s Sports Corner: How COVID-19 Wreaked Havoc On Local Sports Teams

By Rick Assad

Eight months into 2020, it’s safe to say that it has been an ugly and harrowing year.

It began ominously, when, just before Oregon outlasted Wisconsin 28-27 in the Rose Bowl Game on New Year’s Day, it was announced that David Stern, the longtime NBA Commissioner, whose 30-year reign helped popularize basketball around the world, had died at 77.

Twenty-five days later, on an overcast Sunday morning, Kobe Bryant, age 41, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others perished on their way to a youth basketball game in a helicopter crash in Calabasas.

The news didn’t get any better when in January, a mysterious virus was infecting and killing thousands of people.

The World Health Organization named this virus, COVID-19 on February 11.

A fall sport, football won’t begin until January. (Photo by Ross A Benson)

Nothing like it had been seen since the Spanish Flu infected 500 million people worldwide from February 1918 until April 1920 and killed between 17 to 50 million people.

It was one of the most deadly pandemics the world had ever witnessed.

On March 12, COVID-19 became real in the United States when the NCAA decided to cancel the highly-popular and highly-profitable men’s basketball tournament.

The NBA, NHL and MLS followed suit and suspended their seasons. MLB was holding exhibition games, but sent its players home, weeks before the baseball season was set to begin on March 26.

COVID-19 didn’t spare anything in its way and that includes high school sports. The following week, I was scheduled to cover a Burbank High girls’ volleyball match.

Patrick McMenamin, the Burbank co-athletic director and math teacher, said it would be played, but with no fans in the stands and no media.

High school classes in Burbank and elsewhere became virtual and all sports were put on hold.

I’ve covered high school athletics for three decades, including eight years at this website.

Basketball will be put on hold until March 2021. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

You get to know athletes, coaches and administrators. I started thinking how awful it must be for a senior to not be able to finish out their athletic career on the field or court.

Being a prep athlete isn’t easy, as it takes  skill to juggle sports, academics and a social life.

Doug Nicol, the longtime softball coach at Burroughs, chimed in with his thoughts on what it was like to have the season end.

“It’s been extremely hard. The bonds that you build and share with your players. It is hard to just put that aside,” he said. “It was an abrupt stop. Stopped us in midseason so that made it even harder. We were just starting to come together and build our culture back up. To have it stop so suddenly was really hard.”

Nicol also knew it would be difficult news for the seniors. “I feel for our four seniors because all four were performing at such a high level and giving me 100 percent,” said Nicol, who is in his second tour of duty as coach. “They were so bought in and invested and it was hard to not let them finish. Third baseman Memorie [Munoz], pitcher Sidnie [Dabbadie], center fielder Isabella [Kam] and right fielder Sabrina [Englebrecht] laid the groundwork last year for our foundation and any success we have next year, they will be a part of.”

Baseball was interrupted in March because of COVID-19. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

The football season, which usually begins in late August or early September, will begin in January.

Adam Colman, the Burbank football coach, said he expects his team to be ready, but realizes there will be roadblocks.

“It’s obviously been a challenge and very different, but we’ve tried to approach it with optimism and as an opportunity,” he said. “One of our core values is resiliency and what better way to work on that then in this setting. We’re focused on working on the mental side of the game and linking it to handling any adversity life throws at you.”

Colman feels confident that his players will be prepared when the games commence.

“Our team has responded tremendously. They’ve taken initiative and many are working out on their own, staying active and engaged, watching film and asking questions, reviewing the playbook and all that,” he said. “So as much as I miss being out there with our team, and I think everyone misses it, we’re really focused on controlling what we can control. Complaining and being upset about it doesn’t do anything, so we might as well use it as an opportunity to grow and get better.”

Allan Ellis, the Burroughs boys’ basketball coach, is looking and hoping for the best despite what lies ahead.

Softball hopes to begin its season in 2021, like the other sports. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

“COVID-19, the pandemic, quarantine, school closures, business closures, it’s taken a toll on me personally, and our team, players as a whole, as it has with a lot of people,” he said. “But myself and my coaches always try to teach our players that, we don’t make excuses and we don’t dwell on problems. We look for solutions. And we also must remind ourselves that there are people dying, suffering and livelihoods being affected at the same time, to keep everything in perspective.”

Ellis is fairly certain his team will bounce back from this adversity.

“I believe we’ve done a good job of keeping our kids connected with our coaches in general, keeping them informed and also trying as best as can be done to conduct workouts with many of our kids, whether that’s with Zoom workouts, emails, with specific personal information,” he said. “So I’m pleased with the overall efforts of my staff and the resiliency of our kids during this time. Nothing takes the place of actual gym time as a team, but we’ve learned to adapt, like most programs are doing across the country.”

Burbank baseball coach Bob Hart saw the Bulldogs’ season end prematurely. “Like everyone, we have been greatly affected. Team sports is about camaraderie and it’s hard to develop when you can’t be around each other,” he said. “Our approach is going to be that patience and resolve and as we tell the players, that will ultimately serve them well in life.”

Hart has faith in his players. “We will be doing individual training in the fall and adjust as we are able to. Predicated on decisions made by the powers that be,” he said.

Sports are going to be different, but at least the coaches and athletes will hopefully have a chance to finish the season on the field or court.

Rick’s Sports Corner: Burbank High’s Ben Burnham Has Speed Galore

By Rick Assad

Whenever Ben Burnham walked onto the football field or the basketball court for Burbank High, he had two secret weapons in his hip picket that made him tough to defend.

While playing on the gridiron, Burnham, a wide receiver, would line up and then blast off down the field and after running a nearly flawless pattern, would usually snare the ball and in some cases, make an acrobatic, eye-popping catch.

On the hardwood, Burnham, a shooting guard, was a young man constantly in motion, running up and down the court, looking to make a cut to the hoop for an easy bucket, or getting the ball to the open man for a wide open jumper.

When Burnham played defense, he was constantly hounding the man he was assigned to cover.

Burbank High wide receiver Ben Burnham made aerobatic catches seem easy. (Photo courtesy Ben Burnham)

A recent graduate who will attend Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, Burnham, a 6-footer who tips the scale at 175 pounds, will play football and perhaps hoops at the NCAA Division III level, knew exactly what his top assets were and used them to the utmost of his ability.

“My best trait for each sport was speed and athleticism, which really helped in all aspects of football and basketball,” said Burnham, who grabbed a team-best 43 receptions for 1,015 yards for a 26.6 average per catch along with team-high for receivers nine touchdowns as the Bulldogs advanced to the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division VII playoffs.

In terms of which sport had a higher priority for Burnham, who will be a pre-law major, it was basketball because he didn’t try his hand at football until his second year in high school.

“I actually only started playing football my sophomore year, so basketball was my first sport, but they both came pretty naturally,” he said.

Ben Burnham races down the floor for the Bulldogs. Speed was a key asset that made him excel. (Photo courtesy Ben Burnham)

Knowing that it’s tough both physically and mentally to participate in two sports, was there ever any doubt that  Burnham would engage in both?

“I played two sports because I loved the games and felt I could excel at both,” he said. “It [playing football] was not a pre-set goal coming into high school. It just kind of happened.”

Burnham’s football coach is Adam Colman, who played the position for the same school and is thankful it worked out that way.

“We take pride in being competitive. It’s one of the core values and Ben epitomized that,” Colman said. “He competed in everything he did. He challenged me to play him one-on-one in basketball if we had five minutes before practice started. He was always looking to compete.”

Colman went on: “That combined with his unselfishness made him special. When Aram [Araradian] and Kuba [Raymond] got hurt and we had to pivot to being a more run-oriented team, Ben became one of our best blockers,” he said. “For a 1,000-yard wide receiver to immediately turn all his attention to blocking is rare and speaks to his commitment to winning above all else.”

On defense, Burnham played cornerback and delivered nine solo tackles and had three assists as a senior.

Ben Burnham with his family on Senior Night. (Photo courtesy Ben Burnham)

There is a reason why Burnham wasn’t thinking of himself, but rather the welfare of the team.

“The main reason I try to be unselfish is because I want to win and sometimes the best way to do that might be through other people and I understand that,” he said.

Burnham, who finished with 1,377 yards on 66 receptions for a 20.8 yards per reception average and 12 touchdowns across his career, said the coronavirus threat has put a damper on his college choices.

“With COVID-19, I delayed my decision to make sure that everything would be open and safe before I made my decision,” he said.

Being focused on the task at hand helped Burnham to play at a high level, and was grateful for the student body turning out and lending support.

“The crowd noise really faded out once everything started, but coming out during timeouts and the start of games to the crowd cheering, definitely added to the hype,” he said.

Making spectacular receptions was the norm for Ben Burnham, who holds the school yardage reception record in a playoff game. (Photo courtesy Ben Burnham)

Sid Cooke, the first-year Burbank boys’ basketball coach, saw something special in Burnham and feels that the program is heading in the right direction despite not making the postseason.

“He had a great attitude and led by example. I had him only one year, but his leadership set the tone for the future of the program,” he said of Burnham, who tossed in an average of eight points while grabbing five rebounds and handing out three assists this past season.

The most difficult and trying part of playing two sports was making sure Burnham’s body was ready for the grind.

“It was a pretty tough transition from football to basketball since the conditioning is so different, but after a week or two, it was pretty much business as usual,” Burnham noted.

Burnham compared each sport and the challenge each presented. “Getting hit on the field definitely hurt a lot more being that it’s a much more direct sport,” he explained. “The physicality of basketball is more about leverage and positioning.”

Ben Burnham uses his speed to run past a defender. (Photo courtesy Ben Burnham)

Burnham pointed out the two sports do take a toil, even if it’s not obvious initially.

“It’s a lot of physical work as well as stressful mentally, but all that goes away when the game starts and that’s what I love about sports,” he said.

One football game and one basketball game are stuck in Burnham’s memory bank.

“The most memorable for football was definitely my senior year against Arcadia,” he said. “I had 308 yards and three touchdowns against the defending [Pacific] League champs, breaking the school record for yards in a game by almost 100 yards. The most memorable basketball game was at Crescenta Valley my junior year. We upset them and won a close game. I had a near triple-double in the game.”

In that football contest at the Apaches in September, the Bulldogs romped to an easy 48-7 decision.

For many, spending so much practice time and game time builds lifelong bonds. You can double this when two sports are involved.

“The thing I will remember the most are the people I played with and the memories we built along the way,” Burnham said. “From every spring practice to the last team lunch.”

 

Rick’s Sports Corner: Isaac Glover, Burbank High’s Tough-Minded, Running Back

By Rick Assad

Carrying the football and being the primary ground-gainer across the last two seasons for the Burbank High football team meant that Isaac Glover was going to get hit on almost every play.

And if you include being a key blocker in the backfield, the recent graduate took a significant pounding.

Now think of falling down a short flight of stairs and getting to your feet and then doing this all over again.

Isaac Glover was a tough-minded runner for the Bulldogs, who made the CIF playoffs every year he played on the varsity. (Photo courtesy Isaac Glover)

In a nutshell, that’s exactly what a running back does and usually it’s without much complaint.

“Being hit isn’t the most fun thing, but I find a way to just have the motor to just get up and keep going after being tackled and while blocking, just to protect and guard the best I can,” said Glover, who rushed for a team-best 1,128 yards on 202 carries and scoring 15 touchdowns last season, said of his role in the offense.

But game in and game out, Glover, who also snared 14 passes for 112 yards with one score and will attend College of the Canyons in the fall where he will also play football, was always available to run with the football.

But let’s make certain, it was never about Glover, a 5-foot, 10-inch, 185-pounder who liked to run through tacklers.

“I always play to win. I always like to make sure everyone has their shine and everyone has that smile on their face after these games,” he said. “Winning is best when everyone’s happy.”

A team-player, Isaac Glover wanted to win. Here he’s running against city rival Burroughs. (Photo courtesy Isaac Glover)

Across the last three seasons in which Glover was on the varsity, the Bulldogs have gone 22-14 overall, 16-4 in Pacific League games and have been in the CIF Southern Section playoffs all three campaigns.

In 2019, Burbank went 5-7 and 3-3 in league including a setback to Burroughs in what was a classic, 29-28, then drilled Don Lugo 40-20 in a Division VII first-round match, but lost to Serrano 35-13.

In the previous season, the Bulldogs carved out a 7-4 mark and forged a 6-1 record in league as they routed the Indians 54-20, but were knocked off by Glendora 56-35 in a Division V opening-round clash.

In 2017, Burbank ended its season 10-3 and 7-0 in league that included a 41-14 thrashing of Burroughs along with victories over Tustin 55-42 and South Hills 42-30 before losing to Don Lugo 28-7 in the Division VII semifinals.

A fine receiver and a solid blocker, Isaac Glover looks to run to daylight. (Photo courtesy Isaac Glover)

Despite the worldwide presence of COVID-19 which has changed the way people live their lives, Glover, who ran for 1,804 yards on 313 carries for an average of 5.7 yards per carry while scoring 24 touchdowns over his three-year stint, has tried to maintain a good and positive attitude.

“In the beginning of the quarantine, I wasn’t really able to work out efficiently, but now I’m back in the gym and getting better and running,” he said. “My classes are still fine.”

First and foremost, Glover is a team player who wanted to do what was best for the entire squad.

“I do enjoy being able to consistently run the ball and being able to help my team drive down the field, but I never mind blocking and watching my teammates score,” he offered.

Burbank coach Adam Colman appreciates what Glover brought to the dinner table.

Always looking to gain yards, Isaac Glover is seen leaping into the air in a CIF playoff game against Don Lugo. (Photo courtesy Isaac Glover)

“Isaac’s persistence and sacrificing for the good of the team stood out for me,” he said. “Early in the year [2019], when our team struggled, he had no problem stepping up in pass protection. He would do everything he could to give us time in the pass game and never complained about touches or anything like that.”

Colman continued: “At the end of the year, we had a bunch of injuries, so he had to play middle linebacker in addition to running back. That’s a huge task and yet he was able to run for over 200 yards in the first [CIF Southern Section] playoff game and really carried us down the stretch of the season.”

Football, like most sports, has the peculiar ability to bring people together, which is something that Glover likes.

“I love the bond it creates with people, the diversity it brings and just being able to show what you can do and I also like contact,” he said.

Glover looked at his job on the gridiron as being one in which he provided any and all services whenever they were needed.

“Just getting positive yards, anything I can do to help us move down the field,” he said of his role on the team.

As a junior, Glover carried the football 89 times and accounted for 497 yards with seven touchdowns.

And though Glover is a tough and rugged ball-carrier, he admitted that he would feel the pain afterward because it was accumulated over the course of a game and of course a season.

“Sometimes I’d be tired and to get it out of my mind, I’d just tell myself that we gotta score someway every single drive and to just keep going and pushing,” he said.

In Glover’s mind, a couple of games still resonate with him. “I’d say Don Lugo in 2019 because I set the [school] record for most yards in a playoff game and the  third most in any game and against Glendale in 2017 because it was my first varsity game where I ran the ball and scored a touchdown and had 132 yards,” he said.

It seems that Glover, who rushed for 179 yards on 22 carries while tallying two scores as a sophomore, is most proud of the fact the team played well and that he was an integral component of that success.

“I am pleased with how it went. I shaped a great bond with my brothers, won some games and overall just matured and had fun doing something I love,” he said. “At Burbank High, Coach Colman really tries to create the better person more than creating the better player, which is most important.”

Reflecting on his high school career, Glover has very few regrets. “If I could go back, I’d take the weight room more serious, but other that, nothing really because everyone has a story and I’m fine with how my four years went with Burbank football.”

Rick’s Sports Corner: Burbank High’s Aram Araradian Looks For Super Season

By Rick Assad

There is real uncertainty as to when the high school football season will commence its season. And that’s because of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic which has the world on pause.

But whether football begins in the fall or another time, Aram Araradian will be under center for the Burbank High team.

Burbank High quarterback, Aram Araradian, who will be a senior, looks over the defense. (Photo courtesy Aram Araradian)

“The expectation is that there will be a season and we need to prepare as such,” said Araradian, who completed 112 of 199 attempts for 56.2 percent and threw for 1,958 yards with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions in seven and one quarter games after suffering a season-ending injury. “Now, what we do to prepare may currently be affected and different from the norm, but we are all doing what we can. I think there is a great lesson in all this with learning to be concerned with only the things that we can control and doing what we can to effect the desired outcome.”

Araradian then added: “Our 2021 senior class is a tightly knit group of friends and we are all on the same page of what needs to be done,” he said.

The coronavirus outbreak has changed the way Araradian, who passed for more than 350 yards twice last season and accounted for one rushing score, has been able to prepare for the season.

With a clean pocket, Aram Araradian looks for an open receiver. (Photo courtesy Aram Araradian)

“The COVID-19 pandemic has really forced us to change everything we had planned for this offseason and summer,” he said. “I was planning on in-person visits to a number of colleges as well as participating in some showcase camps, but that will not happen. We are basically in a holding pattern waiting to see how things will unfold. Everyone is in the same predicament, so there is nothing we can do except wait.”

On July 20, the CIF Southern Section, the high school governing body, will try to render some clarity when it will announce a fall schedule.

Though Araradian, who was on the freshmen squad and junior varsity as a sophomore and played a few varsity games during that stretch, had a productive junior campaign, it was cut short because of an injury.

Aram Araradian drops back and surveys the field. (Photo courtesy Aram Araradian)

“I got injured in the beginning of the second quarter of game eight last year against Muir High [a 20-15 loss],” said Araradian, voted Offensive Player of the Year as a freshman and Player of the Year as a sophomore. “I rolled out to my left, threw a pass and got hit and landed awkwardly on my shoulder which resulted in the sprain of the AC shoulder [acromioclavicular joint].”

Araradian added: “Being on the sideline and not being able to play had to be one of the hardest things I have gone through,” he noted. “I did not want to let down my team and coaches and wanted to go back out, but I couldn’t move my arm and the sideline doctor did not allow me to go back in the game. I never imagined that would be the last game of my junior year.”

After losing to Muir, the Bulldogs then defeated Glendale 27-0, before being edged by rival Burroughs 29-28.

As a junior, Aram Araradian threw for nearly 2,000 yards and accounted for 14 touchdowns. (Photo courtesy Aram Araradian)

Burbank won a CIF Southern Section first-round Division VII playoff game versus Don Lugo 40-20, but then fell to Serrano 35-13 in a quarterfinal match.

Because football is a high-contact sport, getting hurt is a real possibility.

“I know injuries are part of the game and can happen at any time,” Araradian said. “That is why I do my best to take care of my body in the offseason by eating right and hitting the gym to get stronger and faster. I have two trainers, A.J. Moosa and Chris Aguado at District Sports with whom I work out with three to five times a week and they have really gotten me strong. I also have a nutritionist [Tommy Clarck] and a chiropractor [Dr. Sarkis Cholakyan and Dr. Sevak Ovsepyan] I visit regularly.”

There’s some pressure, but Aram Araradian gets off the pass. (Photo courtesy Aram Araradian)

Burbank coach Adam Colman, who quarterbacked the Bulldogs a few years ago and graduated from UCLA, leaps high praise on his senior field general, who has claimed the Student-Athlete Award every year.

“He’s the ultimate leader by example,” he said. “He is so focused and works so hard, it’s impossible for others to not follow his lead. He helps create a culture of competitiveness and determination. Every day is a chance to get better.”

Moving the Bulldogs downfield and scoring a touchdown or even a field goal is challenging, but thrilling for Araradian.

“My thoughts are more on the execution of the play,” he said. “I trust my coaches and teammates and as we are marching down the field my concern is about making the right reads and executing on the play and protecting the possession.”

When the opportunity presents itself, Aram Araradian will run with the football. (Photo courtesy Aram Araradian)

For Araradian, there is something special about football.

“I think it is the perfect parallel to life and everything it throws at you,” he said. “Football teaches you to be prepared, be a team player, be accountable and stay sharp both mentally and physically. It also teaches you to strategize and look at the long-term goals and how to set up your next move.”

Though Araradian has been on the varsity fulltime for one season, he proved the stage wasn’t too grand.

“I think my success comes from the fact that throwing has become second nature and I do not have to think about the mechanics of throwing,” he said. “I have been working with my quarterback coach [Anton Clarkson] since I was eight years old and have repeated the correct motions of the quick release, the accurate throw, the finesse throw, the strong throw, the timing on the throws and the proper drops for each throw. So, when I’m playing in a game, I do not have to think about anything but dissecting the defense and taking what it gives me. I also spend a lot of time breaking down film and looking at tendencies so I can make my decisions faster.”

Because of Araradian’s 4.0 grade-point average and football acumen along with skill, several colleges are interested in the left-hander thrower.

They number Whittier College in Southern California, Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas and Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, who have offered Araradian football scholarships along with eight others who are interested and they partially include Yale University, Columbia University and the University of San Diego.

“I would love to have the opportunity to play at the next level,” said Araradian, who isn’t sure what he will major in, but is leaning towards law or business. “That is my goal. I believe my determination, work ethic and attention to detail are the things that will set me apart. I take pride in what I do, regardless of what it is and get laser focused on the task(s) at hand.”

Looking to the future is certainly fine, but Araradian has an important job right now and that’s leading the Bulldogs on the football field, whenever that is.

Rick’s Sports Corner: Emily Seidel, Softball Sensation, Prep, College Coach

By Rick Assad

One of the last songs that The Beatles recorded was “The Long And Winding Road,” which was the group’s final No. 1 hit in the United States.

Written by Paul McCartney, but credited to John Lennon and McCartney, in it McCartney reflects about his own life and the fact the band was coming to an end.

This classic tune could be Emily Seidel’s theme song after what the Burbank native has been through.

Seidel was a four-year starter for Village Christian School, mostly as a pitcher who posted a 1.61 earned-run average over her decorated career.

Burbank resident and Village Christian School star, Emily Seidel, making contact as a hitter for Mt. San Antonio College. (Photo courtesy Emily Seidel)

Seidel was named All-CIF, Cal-High All-State, was a two-time Olympic League Most Valuable Player, three-time All-League and helped the Crusaders make the CIF Southern Section playoffs four times, including reaching the semifinals as a sophomore and junior and the quarterfinals as a freshman.

After one year at the University of Nevada Reno, Seidel, who also played third base, transferred to Mt. San Antonio College where the right-hander went 27-4 across 187 innings with 251 strikeouts and had a 1.83 ERA.

Seidel, who was selected Cal Segundo Tournament MVP in 2011 as a senior, capped her collegiate experience at Abilene Christian University, where she graduated in 2015 with a bachelor of science degree in Convergence Journalism after working two years on the school newspaper as a sportswriter and copy editor.

Seidel was an assistant coach for former Burbank High softball coach, Mike Delaney and became an assistant coach at Los Angeles Mission College before heading to New York, where she is currently an assistant coach for the Hamilton College women’s softball team, which is a Division III program.

Emily Seidel (second from right), a coach for former Burbank High coach Mike Delaney, shares a fun moment with some of the players. (Photo courtesy Emily Seidel)

“I made my verbal commitment to play for UNR when I was a junior in high school and I signed my National Letter of Intent in November of my senior year,” said Seidel, who is halfway through a master’s degree in Kinesiology. “I ended up leaving because it wasn’t the best fit for me. When I committed, it was a Top 25 program and seemed like the best offer I could ask for, so I jumped on it.”

Looking back, Seidel wishes she hadn’t.

“If I could go back, I’d tell myself to do some more research and wait for other schools who may have recruited me,” she said. “It would have been beneficial for me to weigh my options and find a better fit for myself.”

Seidel, a four-time National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-Academic, a two-time NFCA All-Area and two-time NFCA All-Region, said that playing at three colleges has been helpful.

“I’d say that I’m a better coach because I had such an atypical experience,” she said. “I believe I’m more empathetic and prepared to talk to recruits and players because I’ve been through everything an NCAA athlete can go through and working under so many different types of coaches taught me a lot about the kind of coach I want to be.”

Emily Seidel and her teammates at Abilene Christian University, huddle up to discuss strategy. (Photo courtesy Emily Seidel)

Being on the softball field was Seidel’s refuge.

“I would describe myself as an athlete as having a high softball IQ. I know the game and I know the strategy,” she said. “I couldn’t steal many bases, but in any situation, I could tell you what both the offense and defense were doing.”

Seidel, who holds the Village Christian School strikeout record of 29 in a tournament no-hitter as a sophomore, continued: “I was very competitive and focused during games, but I think my best traits were my leadership and my awareness,” she noted. “I also worked really hard to bring my best for my teammates every time we touched the field.”

When COVID-19 struck, Seidel was in New York.

“Our entire season was canceled before we got to play any games,” she said. “We were all devastated because we were only two days away from our Spring Break trip to Florida for our first games. The coaching staff managed to put together an intrasquad Senior Day game for our seniors the day before students had to leave campus. Now we are working on virtual recruiting until in-person events begin again and our campus reopens.”

Delaney was impressed with Seidel. “As a player, Emily set goals and worked hard to achieve them,” he pointed out. “She would stay after practice or come in over the summer to hit, condition and work on pitch mechanics. But most of all, she was a great teammate.”

Emily Seidel and one of her mentors, Mike Delaney, during a special moment. (Photo courtesy Emily Seidel)

Knowing what type of person Seidel is, Delaney jumped at the chance to put her on his staff.

“We had spent some of middle school and all of high school talking softball strategy, pitch count philosophy and she showed a general interest in learning and teaching,” he said. “Her senior season, she asked me not to retire from coaching so that she could coach with me after she graduated college.”

Delaney added: “I thought she was not really serious, but when she did graduate she called and asked,” he said. “Since she already understood what my philosophies were and how I coached, it was a no brainer. She took to coaching with the same determination and drive she had as a player.”

No one succeeds in a vacuum, and as such, Seidel wanted to thank those who were most influential and helpful during her long and winding road.

“I have about 10 “parents” who have been with me the whole way and are there to encourage me throughout my coaching career,” she said. “I would say those I have leaned on are my parents [George and Susan], Mike and Lydia Delaney, Kris and Jenny Jones, Chuck and Laura Phillips and John and Mary Stansbury.”

Relatively new to coaching, Seidel didn’t think it was in her future. “Coaching is not something I always wanted to do. We are told as softball players that college softball is as far as we get to go since we have such a small professional league, so we are always preparing ourselves for the real world,” she said. “I studied journalism in college and wanted to be a sportswriter, but my time coaching at BHS was the first time I realized I could still have a career in softball.”

Seidel now has her own softball philosophy. “Working with Mike and the other coaches at BHS was a terrific experience,” she said. “I had three great mentors with tons of experience who helped me find my own coaching style and supported me as I grew.”

Seidel went on: “Because our culture was built around respect and love of the game, I believe we gave ourselves and our players a great experience and it made me want to build my career around coaching because I found it so rewarding,” she said.

Rick’s Sports Corner: Julia Duarte’s Incredible Softball Ride

By Rick Assad

Athletes hardly ever think about getting injured, and even if they do, injuries happen to other people.

Julia Duarte had a wildly productive softball career at Burbank High, but fell short of duplicating those incredible feats as a member of the University of Pennsylvania women’s softball team.

For much of the time, Duarte was sidelined because of an assortment of injuries that included two concussions, two herniated discs in her back, a sprained ankle and a sprained UCL [ulnar collateral ligament].

“I think that getting hurt my freshman year was difficult,” said Duarte, a four-year starter with the Bulldogs as a first baseman/third baseman, who was named All-Pacific League first team three times and second team once, was a four-time Scholar-Athlete and Female Athlete of the Year as a senior.

Burbank took the Pacific League title three straight seasons (2013-2015) and made the CIF Southern Section playoffs four times.

Julia Duarte (second from left) is a former Burbank High softball standout and recent graduate from the University of Pennsylvania. (Photo courtesy Julia Duarte)

“I had never really had to be on the sidelines before and really learned the meaning of being a teammate,” Duarte said.

Duarte, a recent college graduate who earned a bachelor of science degree in Economics with a concentration in Finance from the Wharton Business School, continued: “Although I was injured for the duration of my career and knew that a majority of my role would be from the sidelines, I always tried to pick up my teammates whenever I could whether it be by offering advice, keeping score or helping with drills I could no longer participate in,” she said.

Duarte, who will begin her professional career in September as an investment banking analyst for Cowen & Company in its Healthcare group in New York City, wanted to return to the field.

“I tried to do physical therapy and cortisone shots for my back injury, which was the one that kept me out. I recovered from my concussions after a few months for each one, but the injury never really healed. I was very immobile my freshman year, but every year got a little bit better,” she said. “Softball is a very repetitive sport and I found that I didn’t have the range of motion to field anymore. I tried to just hit [designated hitter] my senior year and although it was still painful, I was able to get through what season we had before COVID-19 sent us home for the first time in my career, as I was unable to play through a complete season my other three seasons.”

Duarte was devastated that the pandemic halted her career. “Sadly, COVID-19 cut our season short and the in-person academic year at Penn was canceled the day that we came back to Philadelphia from our week-long tournament that we had in Orlando, Florida (March 11),” she said. “We had the opportunity to play games in Virginia and Florida before the season was canceled, but we did not get to play any Ivy League games.”

Julia Duarte in her cap and gown after graduating from college. (Photo courtesy Julia Duarte)

Does Duarte ever look back and wonder how it would have gone minus the injuries?

“It is hard to say how I would have done had I not been injured, but I don’t like to ponder that,” she said. “I choose to focus on my experience at Penn as a whole and how I have come out a stronger person because of my experience. I think that my situation was unique and not a lot of people can say that they have gone through what I did, which gives me a different perspective on what it is like to be a Division I athlete.”

Duarte has no second thoughts about her time at Penn.

“Although my softball career didn’t go as intended, I do not have regrets given that the situation was out of my control,” she said. “I think that my position really taught me perseverance and the meaning of being a teammate. I think I would have had more regrets if I would have quit or stopped trying to play.”

So Duarte’s best times on the softball field occurred in high school. “I would say that just given my situation at Penn, I do cherish my moments that I had on the field at Burbank,” she said. “We were a really good and a scrappy team and had a level of determination and intensity that I miss.”

Duarte pointed at the city rivalry. “I don’t think I have been in such an intense game since Burbank-Burroughs,” she said. “Although I miss softball and remember specific games and plays, I think that Burbank also gave me some of my best friends. I am still close to both Lily Winn and Caitlyn Brooks, who were my best friends and teammates until they left for college after my junior year. But I also think that my experiences at Penn were very valuable – I learned a lot about myself through the process and wouldn’t have traded my experience.”

The Quakers’ women’s softball team with the Philadelphia skyline in the background. (Photo courtesy Julia Duarte)

One game between host Burbank and Burroughs during Duarte’s sophomore year is etched in stone.

“We rallied hard in that game, coming back from a few run deficit to win in a walk-off by Lily [Winn] in extra innings,” Duarte said. “The team had such incredible energy and determination to win that game. I think that the Burbank-Burroughs games in general were my favorite just because of the hype that surrounded the game.”

Mike Delaney, the former Burbank softball coach, knew that he had a special person and player in Duarte.

“Julia was an excellent role model both in the classroom and on the field,” he said. “Julia was a player you could count on to show up, work hard and compete daily. She was confident in her ability and was one of a handful of players that I’ve coached that really understood the mental approach to the game and could make game adjustments to the situations she was facing.”

Delaney added: “She won a couple of big games for us by making adjustments and trusting her talent,” he said.

Julia Duarte (far right) and her Bulldog teammates slap hands after a win. (Photo courtesy Julia Duarte)

It’s not as though Duarte doesn’t  have any fond memories of her time at Penn.

“Although I wasn’t in the lineup for the game, I think that our last game of this season against ranked, the University of Florida, was one of the most memorable of my career,” she said. “We went in as the underdogs, but really held our own and only lost 3-1, although we had bases loaded a few times and had the opportunities to take that game from them.”

Duarte continued: “I think that was proof of how strong our team was this year and how much chemistry we had,” she noted. “I wish that we would have gotten the opportunity to show that in Ivy League play, but our season was canceled less than a week from our league opener against Yale.”

The Quakers failed to make the NCAA tournament during Duarte’s tenure there.

Still, Duarte cherishes her time as an athlete. “I think that down the line I won’t remember the specific plays or scores of the games as much as I remember being with my friends and teammates both on and off the field,” she said. “I know that I have made life-long friends at Burbank and Penn. I think that being a part of a team is something really special and that all the hard work and grueling practices makes a special bond.”

Rick’s Sports Corner: OakLee Spens, Burbank High’s On-Field Catalyst

By Rick Assad

Maybe it’s because OakLee Spens batted leadoff and played center field for the Burbank High baseball that he was an on-field leader.

“I knew that I needed to be there day in and day out to help my team,” said Spens, a recent graduate who will play baseball at Lakeland University in Plymouth, Wisconsin, in the NCAA Division III, where he will major in Criminal Justice and Communications. “I was actually one of the captains of the team for my junior and senior year.”

Leadoff hitter, OakLee Spens following through. (Photo courtesy OakLee Spens)

Spens continued: “I knew that leading off a game with a base hit or a walk would get the team rolling early,” he acknowledged. “I knew that everyone counted on me and trusted me to be in that spot to get on base with the most at-bats possible. I viewed my role on the team as a leader and a bar-setter. If I could get going early, it would only help the team.”

Spens was on the varsity for three years, collecting 30 hits, scoring 23 runs, driving in 16 runs with 13 walks and was a premier outfielder.

“I knew the pitchers and coaches had trust in me that whenever a ball was put into the air, that I would be there to catch it,” he said.

Bob Hart, the Burbank coach, thought Spens was the finest at the position.

“OakLee was the ultimate competitor,” he said. “Quiet, but measured. Always someone you could count on to work hard every day. In my opinion, he was the best center fielder in the [Pacific] league.”

Spens was a two-time winner of the Defensive Player of the Year and Utility Player of the Year and was recognized by the California Baseball Coaches Association.

OakLee Spens was a versatile baseball player for the Bulldogs. (Photo courtesy OakLee Spens)

“That’s a tough question because both are fun, especially when you love the game, but I’ll have to go with defense,” he said of whether he preferred being at the plate or in the outfield. “Sitting out in center field or really any position knowing that anything could happen is just exciting. Making diving catches or jumping the fence to catch a ball, or even throwing a guy out at home plate, just gives you a little bit of swagger in your mindset and it can really energize the team.”

Spens helped the Bulldogs reach the CIF Southern Section playoffs in 2019, a first-round loss, and said he was disappointed the season was cut short because of COVID-19.

Spens batted .273, with a .346 on-base percentage, scoring three runs and knocking in four across seven games this season.

“Having my senior year get shut down due to COVID-19 was horrible,” he said. “You grow up with dreams on how you want to live out your season. I went through a lot before the season this past year and to have it cut short due to the pandemic was gut wrenching.”

Spens went on: “I went through a knee surgery the first week of school and I was going to be lucky if I made it back by senior night, but I trained and worked through hours of pain with a great trainer in Claire [Coudray] and she helped me get back to the field just before the end of December,” he said.

Practice is over for OakLee Spens (on the right). (Photo courtesy OakLee Spens)

Spens added: “Mentally it has been very challenging, but physically it has made me want it more. I’ve been working out and running a lot to stay in shape. I’ve been doing drills to keep my game up and I have been finding places to go hit every so often so I don’t lose any progress in my game,” he said. “It hasn’t been easy, but it’s not impossible.”

Spens came to love and appreciate the game because of his grandfather, Vergil and his father, Randy.

“My grandpa started teaching me this game when I was two years old,” he pointed out. “Growing up having both my grandpa and my dad by my side to guide me into being a better player really made me fall in love with the game. My grandpa actually passed away on my 10th birthday and ever since then it was more than a game to me, it was my life.”

Baseball can humble even the best and Spens is well aware just how tough it is.

“I learned that it is okay to fail, in fact, you have to fail in order to succeed,” he said. “I play a sport where a great player is still failing 70 percent of the time. You have to fail to realize you need to work harder or keep working on a certain skill. I learned that it’s just like life. Sometimes you are going to fail and you are going to get beat down to the ground, but you have to be resilient in order to push back toward the top.”

Spens talked about being moved into the leadoff spot late during his sophomore season and going hitless in his last 17 plate appearances.

OakLee Spens seems pleased with the result. (Photo courtesy OakLee Spens)

“It really sucked, but I learned that I had to get back up and keep trying and keep working because failure is a part of this game and it is a part of life,” he said.

Spens said he tried to make baseball easier, if that’s possible.

“Slowing it down came with a lot of practice in the cages and on the field,” he said. “It takes a lot of repetitions to be confident that you can play this game. I really just took it one pitch at a time and tried to just focus my mind on that. It really helped me.”

Spens said a game during his junior season, one in which he batted .250 with 12 runs scored and a .343 on-base percentage over 23 games, still brings chills.

“One of the most important games I’ve played in was against Crescenta Valley,” he said. “We needed to at least split to help us get a playoff spot. We were playing at home under the lights and it was one of the best games I have ever played in my life.”

Spens added: “I scored two runs, one very important run in the fifth to tie the game at two a piece,” he said. “Then I believe in the top of the seventh, I threw one of their runners out at the plate, keeping the game tied which later ended up as a walk-off win for our team.”

Though professional baseball in America dates to 1869, it has changed, which is part of its appeal for Spens.

“Baseball is always evolving,” he noted. “Nowadays, pitchers are throwing faster and have more movement to the pitches, while hitters are working on proper launch angle to hit a home run. If you master one thing, it evolves and you have to remaster it, even at that you always have to keep practicing or you will lose your skills.”

After playing baseball four years including one at the junior varsity level, Spens said he will look back fondly on this time.

“High school baseball was what I envisioned it to be,” he said. “Besides the ending, I loved every moment that I was able to spend out on the field. It is something I will never forget for as long as I live. It was a great ride while it lasted.”