Nobody ever said pioneering was easy, as the Trabuco Hills High School football team discovered this week.
Orange County’s newest public high school opened its doors Monday in El Toro.
Shortly thereafter, Orange County’s newest football team opened its schedule--and had its first experience with something every team must experience: losing.
The Mustangs were beaten, 20-13, by Melodyland at Glover Stadium in Anaheim Saturday night.
Four of the Mustangs’ best players watched from the sidelines due to injuries or a week’s academic ineligibility. Additionally, the new school will have no seniors until next year, putting it at a competitive disadvantage in sports for now.
But that’s OK. Everything about Trabuco Hills is oriented toward the future.
Its buildings look out on Orange County’s southeastern frontier, where the new streets have happy-sounding Spanish names, where fixed-rate mortgages are a matter of considerable civic interest and every sparkling fast-food franchise has its mandatory red tile roof.
The football team was one of the school’s first transplants. The players introduced themselves to each other and their new coach in August and set about practicing several weeks before classes began.
The situation has had its unorthodox aspects, something any group of colonists has to expect.
In this case, Trabuco Hills not only has no pool and no tennis courts, it has no football field--or nothing that fits the bill if you’re picky enough to care about a silly little thing like grass.
“The grass is supposed to grow with us,” sophomore Carrie Guertin said.
A bulldozed scar on the hill behind the school is the Football Field of the Future.
“That’s the only drawback,” said Coach Jim Barnett, who left his job with the state’s No. 1-ranked team, Long Beach Poly, to come to Trabuco Hills. “That was something they didn’t tell me when they asked me to accept the job.
“I visited the school in June, and I noticed the grass wasn’t growing too fast--they weren’t even watering it at the time. I told them, the guys have got to have a football field before we start building something. But it’s going to take a while.”
For now, the players don their cleats and pads in the new locker room and then set off walking half a mile down the road to Del Lago Elementary School, the nearest available field.
Who needs wind sprints when you can hike instead? These Trabuco Hills players are not the types to complain.
They already feel a proprietary pride in their school--even if the hands on the classroom clocks occasionally spin, the bells ring at nonsensical times, the heating system acts funny and the sprinklers have been known to turn on and spray people in the face as they walk between classes.
It’s a brand new school, a brand new football season--all the bugs will be worked out soon, the students say with assurance. In the meantime, it’s exciting to play a part in creating a new tradition.
Appropriately, the yearbook theme the students recently selected was “Dare To Be Different.”
Their football schedule this season fits nicely within that philosophy. It includes an eclectic collection of freelance opponents including Melodyland, Bassett and Rim of the World.
With a schedule like that, the players could be exposed to more geography by traveling with the team than by watching any number of films in Western Civ class.
“Bassett . . . I’m not even sure where that is,” puzzled tight end Sean Naylor, formerly of El Toro High. “Last year, we (El Toro) played teams like Valencia and Fountain Valley. Here, it’s Rim of the World and Bassett.
“All my friends over there tease me. They said they wouldn’t let me come back if we lost to Melodyland.”
On Friday, the 32 new cheerleaders wore their navy blue and gray uniforms to school and each carried a single carnation for good luck.
They admitted to being nervous at the prospect of performing in front of their first live crowd. They also conceded being a bit disappointed there would be no pep rally to celebrate the school’s first game.
Members of the football team didn’t wear their jerseys to school, either.
“Coach Barnett said we have to win a game before we get to wear them,” said quarterback Brett Miller, formerly of Saddleback High School. “We’ll wear them next week.”
Or maybe the week after.
Surprisingly, about 200 newly-minted Mustang fans showed up at Glover Saturday, although it required a half-hour drive and few members of the underclass student body have cars. But there were still more spectators on the visitors’ side of the stadium than on the home team’s.
Despite the loss, Miller gave his fans reason to be interested in attending the next game. His first pass was a 70-yard touchdown to speedy Jeff Dooley for a brief 7-6 Mustang lead.
In the second half, Miller connected with Dooley again for the second scoring play. Defender Jason Harwood and running back Ray Walters also showed considerable promise.
Several of the players, like Miller and injured running back Joe Scienski, have attended as many as three high schools already. Like Walters, who said he felt he got off on the wrong foot at El Toro, they each came to Trabuco Hills looking for a special opportunity, a chance to stand out, to receive attention and make a mark.
The school and the team are in their infancy, but signs of progress were already visible Saturday.
There was no band and no jersey numbers by the names in the programs, but the stands were more than half full and the game came down to a one-touchdown difference. The cheerleaders have planned the school’s inaugural pep rally and dance for next week. And next year, there will be a homegrown crop of seniors, along with a genuine league schedule.