Charter school teammates shooting for greatness off the basketball court

Eric Sondheimer
Contact ReporterVarsity Times Insider

Juan Guzman is a high school senior enjoying life as a starting guard for the unbeaten basketball team from Sylmar PUC Lakeview Charter.

But his focus isn't solely on basketball. It's about becoming a doctor, and he has a deep appreciation for how education and sports helped him on a path to success after his father was deported, following domestic violence, when Juan was 6. The father could not be reached for comment.

Guzman, now 17, remembers his mother, wearing sunglasses, telling him his father had gone away to work. He began to doubt her. Then he saw her black eye. He confronted her seeking the truth.

"I could see there was pain in her heart," he said. "She eventually told me he was deported because she got hit by him. Of course, at first I felt shock, I felt sadness, I felt like I was lost. I felt great despair. But I kept pushing forward and found sports and basketball as an outlet.

"It was something I actually fell in love with because it filled a hole that I needed."

One of Guzman's teammates is Harold Aguayo Raya, a senior co-captain for the 11-0 team playing in a new 800-seat gym that opened in the fall.

Aguayo Raya has earned an academic scholarship to Pepperdine. Both his parents immigrated from Mexico and drove home a message to their son: "In order for you to become successful, you need to have a valuable education."

There's a debate underway in the Los Angeles Unified School District about how many more charter schools should be allowed at the expense of the district's regular schools. Charter schools are independently run and typically have greater flexibility in operations. Some have become so popular that waiting lists are required and a lottery used to fill spots.

A visit to Lakeview, one of the newest charter campuses, offers a glimpse into what the future might look like. And it's something to get excited about.

Guzman's mother put him on a waiting list to be enrolled at Lakeview's middle school. Once he got in, he discovered teachers who believed in him, encouraged him and challenged him. He has a 4.17 grade-point average.

"I want to be something great," he said. "I want to have my own life. They always tell me I'm special. That's something that really got to me because I've never been told that by teachers, and they kept on pushing me forward."

Aguayo Raya's older brother enrolled at Lakeview, and Harold followed on a sibling permit. The experience he's had could be talked about for years to come, because his goal is to become president of the United States. Watching him speak and interact with students and adults, you'd conclude he's already campaigning for hearts and minds.

"We were all dumbfounded by the camaraderie, the love and the compassion teachers had for us," Aguayo Raya said. He's a 17-year-old with a nonstop motor and a 4.06 GPA.

Before a recent game, Aguayo Raya was constantly giving high-fives to teammates. When the game was about to start, he gathered everyone in a huddle and put his arms around them. While playing, he never stopped hustling for loose balls and rebounds.

The opponent was rival charter school Triumph, which shares the same campus as Lakeview. You've heard of crosstown rivals and neighborhood rivals, well, Triumph students are in a building less than 100 feet from the Lakeview classrooms. The schools are separated by an outside quad area and the students are so respectful to one another that the Lakeview Lions mascot walked over to hang out with Triumph students during the game.

When Lakeview opens a 50-point lead, Aguayo Raya is on the bench standing up and cheering for the reserves.

It was four years ago that Aguayo Raya and Guzman were freshmen in the first-ever game for Lakeview. Reid Anderson was 23 years old and coaching. The team lost, 104-17.

"That was a reality check," Aguayo Raya said. "Looking back, we sometimes laugh and reminisce, but every time I step onto the court, I have that subconscious memory of, 'Oh my goodness, I don't want to be in that position again,' so I need to improve every single day."

Lakeview is ranked No. 1 in City Section Division V.

"I've always had that mentality, 'Why can't I be successful?'" Aguayo Raya said. "That's an attitude I've had, of perseverance. I always look forward to improving, look for ways to encourage others."

Said Anderson: "This team is really special because they work hard. They're doing things the right way."

Neither Aguayo Raya nor Guzman is likely to play basketball in college. But they've got big plans.

"I want to be a doctor," Guzman said. "Many in my community, I see there's not good healthcare."

Aguayo Raya wants to go into politics, and he knows what has helped him become a success.

"I strongly believe basketball is not just a game," he said. "It's an activity in which people can learn many life lessons."

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATSondheimer

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on January 22, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Achieving, on and off court, at their charter school" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
58°