In the cynical world of high school sports, where players want championships, parents want scholarships and coaches want peace of mind, there's a feel-good story unfolding at Santa Ana Foothill.
The baseball team has gone from last place in the Century League a year ago to league champion under a coach, Vince Brown, who walked away from the game 10 years ago.
"I needed to spend time watching my own children play," Brown said.
Last July, he decided the time was right to come out of a retirement and he took over a program going nowhere. Foothill's three top players had transferred to San Juan Capistrano JSerra. Seniors met with Brown and asked for two things: They wanted to have a winning season and make the playoffs.
Both goals have been achieved, and now Foothill (18-10) doesn't have a worry in the world. The players can start dreaming big, such as trying to earn a trip to play in the Southern Section Division 1 championship game June 6 at Dodger Stadium. Playoff pairings will be announced Monday, with first-round games Friday.
"They were tired of losing and wanted a chance to win," Brown said. "We focused on fundamentals and tried to make these kids believe that they are quality kids and quality players. They bought in and worked hard."
Foothill even overcame a freak injury to their No. 1 pitcher, Sebastian Lopez, who was in the dugout getting a drink of water when he was hit in the head by an overthrow and suffered a concussion. He sat out nearly a month and was cleared last week and should be available to pitch in the playoffs.
The top player has been Hudson Hughes, a senior who has a 6-0 record and is hitting .351 with four home runs.
Brown's son, Dillon, is a sophomore pitcher-infielder and three-sport athlete who's making his father proud with his commitment to juggle so many responsibilities. He's 2-1 with a .286 batting average.
Brown, Foothill's former athletic director, is enjoying his return to coaching.
"It is fun," he said.
But times are different.
"You get thrown many challenges and have many things happen during the season and you have to find ways to overcome," he said.
He's happy for the players who stayed, got better and are experiencing success because of their hard work.
"People make a lot of personal decisions," Brown said. "We're raising kids through the 'Me Generation.' Playing for your high school, friends, community is really one of the last places where team is still out there. We're playing for all the right reasons — team and for each other."
Division 1 intrigue
Maybe Warren Buffett will offer $1 million to anyone who can accurately fill out a perfect Southern Section Division 1 playoff bracket. It could be as difficult as an NCAA basketball bracket.
Studio City Harvard-Westlake, Long Beach Wilson and Santa Ana Mater Dei will be among the big-name schools not in the top seedings.
The only certainty is whenever Jack Flaherty of Harvard-Westlake pitches, he usually wins. He's 9-0 this season with an 0.69 earned-run average and 22-0 over the last two seasons.
Saturday's Southern Section track and field finals at Cerritos College will be held without two of the all-time great athletes.
Distance star Sarah Baxter of Simi Valley has ended her senior season to prevent a possible stress fracture in her leg.
Long jumper Adoree' Jackson of Gardena Serra will be in the Division 4 200 but was disqualified from the long jump at the prelims when his coach showed him a video during the competition. Several opposing coaches filed protests and the meet manager agreed.