Jerry White did not hesitate to go to bat for George Peraza, his prized shortstop at Hueneme High, when a counselor expressed concern that Peraza could not make it in college.
"Here I was trying to encourage him to go to college and this counselor was telling me I was wasting my time because they did not think he could do college work," White said.
Peraza not only made it in college--he graduated from Ventura College and Nevada Las Vegas--but he earned master's degrees in both Spanish and physical education. No one was less surprised by Peraza's achievements than White, who coached the All-Southern Section shortstop at Hueneme from 1963-65.
"I think he has proven a lot of people wrong over the years because his work ethic is so tremendous," White said. "I don't think anyone can measure the amount of heart and the work ethic that George has. I just wish I worked as hard as George does."
Peraza and White's association did not end after Peraza graduated from Hueneme. In fact, it was just beginning.
After playing baseball at Ventura College and UNLV, Peraza became White's assistant coach--a position he held for 12 years at both Moorpark and Oxnard colleges.
So, when White--who compiled a 235-100 record at Oxnard and Moorpark--resigned last summer as baseball coach at Oxnard, who better to replace him than Peraza?
"I think he deserved the position," White said.
Oxnard officials eventually agreed with White, but it took them a few months to reach that decision. Peraza was not hired until September--after fall baseball practice and the 1988 school year had begun.
White and Peraza agree that the delay in selecting a head coach hurt Oxnard's recruiting efforts. Still, Peraza scrambled after being named coach and, as of Tuesday, had guided Oxnard to fifth place in the 11-team Western State Conference with a record of 15-13, 10-8 in conference play. The Condors are in contention for a berth in the WSC's five-team Shaughnessy playoff tournament that begins Tuesday.
"There are some players who want to know who the head coach is and you are going to lose people like that, there is no doubt about it," White said of the recruiting snags. "They have been competitive all year, but throw in two more pitchers and a postion player here and there and they would have been right up there."
Peraza, 41, agreed that the delay in naming a successor to White probably cost Oxnard several key players.
"They could have gone out right away and found a coach, but that's just the way they do things," Peraza said. "We were lacking two or three key defensive players and not having a head coach probably cost us about five players who were necessary to win this thing."
Oxnard Athletic Director Don Brockett said last summer that the delay was necessary in order to comply with the Ventura County Community College District's affirmative action policy.
However, the Condors showed no ill effects at the outset of this season. The team got off to a fast start in conference play but has slipped in the standings the past two weeks.
A lot was expected of Peraza when he took over for White, who had coached at Oxnard since 1978, excluding 1986 when he took a sabbatical leave. Oxnard won five WSC division titles and made eight appearances in the conference playoffs under White, who had a reputation as a great motivator.
"Jerry has a kind of an aura around him," Peraza said. "He makes you feel like you want to go out and play every practice and game as hard as you can. He inspired me in high school and he's still inspiring me."
Peraza, a teacher at Thousand Oaks High, said he is not the same caliber of motivator that White was, but added that he has developed a good rapport with his players.
"I am more of a self-motivated type of individual," Peraza said. "I expect my players to also be self-motivated, but that is not always the case. As coach, you have to be able to find the right buttons to push."
For the most part, Peraza has been successful in firing up his players.
"He is a real spunky guy, very enthusiastic," said Gil Valencia, a freshman left fielder from Camarillo High. "No matter who the opponent is, you will always see that competitive look in his eye."
Vince Ebarb, a freshman catcher from Chaparral High in Las Vegas, said that he considers Peraza a friend.
"He would do anything for his players and go out on a limb for us any way he could," Ebarb said. "If I ever got thrown into jail, he is the one I would call. That's how comfortable I feel with him."
Yet not all the players give high marks to the first-year coach. John Stuart, a freshman right-handed pitcher, calls Peraza a "tireless guy" but says that he has made mistakes this season.
"He's not a Jerry White, who I heard was a winner here," Stuart said. "He has made a lot of mistakes this season, like leaving in a pitcher too long or not making a decision at the right time. But it's his first year, he will improve."
Peraza said that he is pleased with the Condors' performance this season and he is confident he can make Oxnard a winner, just like his predecessor.
"I am very confident that I can do the coaching at this level," he said. "I feel like I've learned enough throughout the years while working with Jerry."
Said White: "I think George has done a good job of getting the fundamentals across to his team. I have watched him at practice this season and I think he does a better job with them during practice than we did last year."