Coronado High School is just a five-minute, $1.20 toll ride across the Coronado Bay Bridge. But in terms of its athletic program, the distance from its South Bay cousins is immeasurable.
Faced with declining student enrollment in recent years, Islander teams have struggled in the major team sports--football and boys basketball--while still managing to excel in water polo and in individual sports such as cross-country, tennis, and golf.
Coronado's enrollment has dropped from nearly 1,000 eight years ago to 691 in 1984. However, as a member of the South Bay League, Coronado is competing against schools such as Chula Vista (1,478 students), Southwest (1,418) and Hilltop (1,389).
And Coronado has been losing the numbers game recently.
For instance, in football, Coronado started last season with 26 varsity players and ended with 15.
It was not surprising then that the Islanders started their 1984 football campaign with a 27-0 loss to El Cajon. During the season, winning games took a back seat to goals such as getting a first down and scoring a touchdown.
The Islanders ended up losing all eight games in which they fielded a team. They decided to forfeit their final game against Chula Vista because Coronado officials said it was for the team's own good.
"Our kids weren't happy when we told them we weren't going to play our last game," Coronado Athletic Director Ernie Dickerson said. "They wanted to play."
The Islanders were outscored, 240-12, on the way to their 0-9 mark, but according to Dickerson, they never lost their composure.
"Certainly they were disappointed," he said. "But they didn't hang their heads. Anybody who had any knowledge of the game could see how the odds were stacked against us. Opposing coaches told us they were surprised at the intensity of our players. They played just as hard as anybody else, even more so in some cases."
Dickerson said the players came away from the experience knowing more about themselves as athletes and people.
"In comparison with a Chula Vista High School football player, or a Sweetwater football player who played maybe half the time, either offense, or defense, our kids would go out on the field and play 99% of the game. They were taught to play three or four positions. By the end of a game, they were worn down to the point of being completely fatigued, physically and mentally.
"About that point, your pride is at stake, and our kids are taking it to the limit many, many more times than a Sweetwater kid. And they come off the field knowing a bit more about what they're made off."
But Coach Dave Tupek doesn't entirely agree with those sentiments.
"I'd say we've had more than our fair share of character builders," he said.
Which is why Coronado has gained approval to move its football team out of the 2-A Metro South Bay League. Starting this year, they'll play in a league that combines 1-A schools from the Mountain-Desert and Mountain-Coastal conferences, including Santa Fe Christian, Army-Navy, Holtville, Calipatria, Imperial and Mountain Empire.
The switch will not affect Coronado's other sports, which will remain in the South Bay League.
Coronado athletic officials say they're excited about the prospect of being able to compete in football with schools more their size, even if they have to travel a few extra miles to play them.
"Travel expenses shouldn't be too big of burden," Tupek said. "We'll only be making one or two road trips a year, just as long as our buses hold out."
Coronado's boys varsity basketball team has only nine players. Its first game was a 136-48 loss to Sweetwater, a game that damaged team morale, according to the players and Coach Doug Broback.
"Things are different now than when I was a kid," said Broback, who also is the athletic director for North Island Naval Air Station. "It used to be enough when you got into a fight with somebody, you'd knock them down and then ask if they've had enough. If so, then the fight's over. Nowadays, it seems when somebody's down, you kick him again to make sure and keep right on kicking."
Broback said he tries to help his players keep the game in perspective. The basic idea of sports, he said, is for athletes to compete and do their best.
"My team is a scrappy bunch of guys. There's no quit in any of them."
In a game last month against Chula Vista, Broback's team only trailed 25-18 at halftime against one of the county's best teams.
In the third period, things got out of hand. The Spartans jumped on them for 19 points, while the Islanders managed only two. The team's best players were on the court the entire game, but they tired in the final moments, although none of them quit trying.
"C'mon, play defense," Broback told his team. "Make that score respectable."
They did neither, and lost, 71-31.
Coronado's only player in double figures was senior Bill Ward, who had 16 points.
"Most of us just play as hard as we can," Ward said. "We just don't have enough people. Usually, I don't get a breather unless it's a blowout.
"All the teams we play are bigger than us. They always get two to four extra shots. It's like a tip drill sometimes.
The team finished its season at 3-16.
There are some teams that win at Coronado, primarily those that emphasize individual skills and competition, such as cross-country, golf and tennis.
The girls cross-country team was the CIF runner-up in 1984. And although the golf and tennis teams haven't recently won CIF titles, the school has a rich tradition in both sports that dates back to the late 1960s.
Robbin Adair, who has coached the boys and girls tennis teams since 1967, points out that Coronado wins 87% of its matches. For three consecutive years starting in 1976, the Coronado boys team was the runner-up for the CIF championship.
In the '70s, Coach Ron Nixon had three golfers who were CIF individual champions and one who was a runner-up.
Coronado's girls soccer team has narrowly missed making the playoffs the past two years.
But the school's biggest success by far has been its water polo team, which has won two consecutive CIF titles.
"We had as many kids on our junior varsity squad (36) this year as there were playing varsity football," water polo Coach Randy Burgess said.
Athletic officials have to keep an eye on expenses, since another problem Coronado faces is one shared by all schools in the post-Proposition 13 era--a decrease in funding.
In 1978, the Coronado Unified School District funded the entire $100,000 budget, but that has since been cut almost in half.
Coronado has tried to make up for the lost funding by getting into the long-distance running business. The Coronado athletic department formally took over management of the Coronado Half-Marathon two years ago, after helping to staff the event the past 12 years.
In the beginning, the school's efforts netted only $1,000 to $2,000 a year. Since taking over management of the race, Dickerson estimates the school has earned at least $10,000.
A second race, the Memorial Day 10K, was inaugurated last year, and the school is taking over management of another race that has been held on St. Patrick's Day the past four years. According to Dickerson, combined income from the three races is expected to be between $10,000 and $12,000 in 1985.
Local boosters such as Ron Baubien, a 40-year-old insurance agent and president of the Coronado Rotary Club, donate their time helping to organize and manage the events to keep costs down. Southwest Sports Sales, a Spring Valley sporting goods outlet specializing in the military, has donated more than $3,000 in equipment over the past two years, according to Dickerson.
Coaches, parents and students interviewed were generally positive in their statements about their involvement with Coronado athletics. Some, like Brad Coture, even return to begin their coaching careers there.
Coture, a three-sport letterman who graduated in 1976, is the junior varsity football coach.
"It's kind of hard not to be a three-sport letterman at Coronado," Coture said, laughing. "They need everyone they can get."
Nyle Douglas, 62, said he has never missed one of his son J.D.'s athletic events. J.D., a sophomore who has played three varsity basketball games this year (he played the rest of the season on the JV), is a talented youngster, according to coaches.
The elder Douglas, who moved his family to Coronado three years ago, said he has no regrets about having his son attend a school that's not noted for its major sports.
"We came here for the academics," Douglas said, firmly. "He (J.D.) is fully aware that academics are first and sports come second. I'm just happy to give our kids a little bit of both."
His explanation for Coronado's poor athletic performance in the big team sports: "They don't do any recruiting. They emphasize scholastics in the school and sports are secondary. They take the athletes they have and do the best they can and teach them to be good sports and good players."
With the football team going winless, and the boys basketball team finishing in last place in the South Bay League, it has been a rough season for those charged with the responsibility of keeping the students' spirits up.
"There's no money to fund the program," said Tracy Bower, the 17-year-old head varsity cheerleader. "They cut a lot of programs. Sports used to be good, when we had maybe a thousand students . . . It seems like the players don't have much enthusiasm because we aren't winning. We don't have any crowds . . . the spirit doesn't seem as high as when I was a freshman."
Junior varsity cheerleader Ashley Clarey, 15, said, "It's pretty much accepted here at Coronado that we don't win too many games. But that doesn't mean we don't have fun. We just have to go out there and try to keep the teams' spirits up and let them know we're behind them, win or lose."
There was a time midway through the basketball season when Broback thought the team was in need of a morale booster. They had just performed poorly and lost to a team they thought they should have beaten, leaving their record at 2-7.
" 'Wins are only one part of it,' " Broback recalled telling his players. " 'It's what you give of yourself to other people that counts.' So I told them each to go out and buy their mother a rose, give it to her and tell her how much you love her. And see how good you feel about yourself after that."
Broback said all nine of his players followed his advice, and the team's mood was much improved.
"Too many of us go about life being takers," he said. "But my players are learning, all nine of them, to be givers."