Superstition Fouls Out : Mater Dei, Woodbridge in Fast Break for Oakland

Times Staff Writer

Before last Saturday, it was considered a serious faux pas at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana to mention or make travel plans to Oakland.

Now they're hardly talking about anything else. Travel agent Patty McElenney is trying to book as many hotel rooms and airline and bus seats as she can for the expected rush from Santa Ana to the Bay Area.

It would have been easier if she had been given more time, she said.

Not a chance, said Stephen Sellwood Sr., president of Mater Dei's basketball boosters. Back in 1983, when Mater Dei was playing Crenshaw High School in the statewide basketball semifinals, "we had a plane already scheduled" to take team and fans to the finals. But Crenshaw won.

"So we didn't do that again," Sellwood said. "It's a little superstitious, but it turned out to be bad luck, so nobody mentioned anything this year."

And in this year's large-school semifinals, held last Saturday at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, Mater Dei won at last. So did Woodbridge High School from Irvine, in the medium-size-school division.

The victories put Orange County boys' teams into the state basketball championship finals for the first time. (The girls were there first--a team from Mission Viejo that lost the medium-school finals in 1983.)

The finals will be played Saturday in the Oakland Coliseum Arena, which left less than a week to make arrangements. "My phone started ringing off the hook Sunday morning," Sellwood said.

Flyers were distributed on the Mater Dei campus Tuesday offering travel packages to students, parents, boosters and alumni.

For about $185--the price is still uncertain--you can have one of the 200 airline seats that have been hurriedly reserved, stay in a Hyatt Hotel room in Oakland, go to the game, attend an all-you-can-eat celebration (or wake) that night back at the hotel, then tour San Francisco Sunday before flying home that night.

For $50, a bus aimed at the student clientele will travel directly from Santa Ana to Oakland in time for the game, then to the hotel party, then home that same night. "We have a feeling it will be a popular trip," said Paul Marks, the Mater Dei pep squad coach.

Sellwood said boosters are passing the hat to help some of the team's volunteers make the trip, too. The California Interscholastic Federation pays travel and accommodation expenses for 15 players and two coaches, but the Mater Dei team has 17 players, four coaches, two student managers and eight student statisticians, Sellwood said.

He said he is sure that the money will be raised. "The enthusiasm at school is unbelievable," he said. "The camaraderie among the parents is just unbelievable.

"Maybe because it's a Catholic high school. It's a lot different from public school. They like us parents to get active. It's like one big, giant family. Unbelievable."

Greg Cops, principal of Woodbridge High School, said there is "a great deal of general excitement" at his school, too. Lots of parents have been stopping by "to buy tickets and just be on campus," he said.

He said no one at Woodbridge is coordinating travel arrangements for his team's fans. "It's just every person for themselves as far as I can tell," said Miles Keefe, boys basketball representative for the Woodbridge boosters.

"We're referring people to the various airlines," Cops said. "We've made arrangements for our team and pep squad, coaches, trainers--we're taking about 40 in one group--but there's a potential liability factor if we make arrangements for others."

Cops said the price of victory is considerable. "What we learned is the more you win, the more you lose in finances. You recover about one-third of what your costs are. We get $2 a mile from the CIF--$1,800. Our bill runs in excess of $100 a kid.

"But at this point," Cops said, "we're just happy to be there."

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