The volleyball program at Sacred Heart of Mary High in Montebello typified the financial troubles of the all-girls’ school last year. The team practiced and played its home matches outdoors, and players were even required to pay for transportation for contests away from the campus.
But, since Sacred Heart merged this fall with Cantwell, an all-boys’ school located across the street, the team has a gym to play in and free transportation to games. And, as a result of the merger, students and administrators talk proudly about improved conditions in general at the Catholic co-ed school, known as Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary High.
“About the only people who used to be at the matches were the players, and it seemed like nobody else in the school cared,” said Sandra Jimenez, a senior volleyball player. “Now the stands are all filled up. There are cheerleaders and a lot more spirit at our games. There are more (school) activities and opportunities to meet new people. I like the change.”
The merger of the two schools has brought other changes. There is a new athletic director and a new football coach. The school has a girls’ cross-country team this fall and girls will be able to play on the boys’ soccer team. Girls’ basketball and track teams will also be formed for the first time. Volleyball and softball were the only sports offered at Sacred Heart.
“It’s definitely been a positive change,” said Stephanie Marrero, volleyball and softball coach. “We have more funding and there are a lot more girls interested in sports, because we have a much wider spectrum to choose from.”
Because of escalating operating costs, which saw Sacred Heart facing a $200,000 annual deficit, the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, which owned and operated the 49-year-old school, had determined that the 1990-91 year would be its last.
Enrollment at Cantwell, which had been run by the Irish Christian Brothers for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles since its inception in 1947, had steadily declined from 526 in 1979 to 229 in 1989.
A merger was approved a year ago by Archbishop Roger Mahony. Nearly $300,000 in repairs and renovations at Cantwell, including the addition of a girls’ locker room, were made over the summer to prepare for the new students.
Enrollment at Cantwell-Sacred Heart has soared to 634, 332 girls and 302 boys. More than 100 applicants were turned down because of lack of classroom space. There were 304 students at Sacred Heart and 253 at Cantwell last year.
First-year football coach Joe Canales was also caught off guard by the turnout for the team. The varsity team has 52 students, nearly twice as many as last year.
“When I first started here, I saw a lot of positive things,” said Canales, a 1978 Cantwell graduate. “Parents and family have been supportive, and we have had the biggest crowds in years. I thought there were kids here wanting to play, but we just had to go out and build enthusiasm in the program.”
Chris Loustaunau, a senior tackle on the football team, which had a 2-4-1 record through seven games, said the addition of girls to the campus required adjustments.
“All the guys are more conscious of their behavior and about messing around now,” he said. “Everyone has accepted the girls on campus and is starting to get used to it.”
Royal blue has been added to the Cantwell school colors of red and gold to symbolize the merger with Sacred Heart, whose colors were blue and white. The Cantwell nickname “Cardinals” has been retained, but it may be a while before all uniforms reflect the new colors.
“It’s just too expensive to buy everything at once; we are going to have to phase it in over several years,” said Athletic Director Greg Gonzalez, a 1983 Cantwell alumnus.
Gonzalez has begun work on next year’s football schedule and is trying to arrange games with nearby public schools to help establish the school’s identity in the area.
Nevertheless, a strong sense of identity appears to have already developed on campus.
“It’s becoming more and more of a family,” said Denise Nuno, a freshman cross-country runner. “I see a lot of pride and unity. People are becoming involved in more activities. Everybody wants to help make our school rise and make a name for itself.”
Sports Notes: Belmont High, which became the first school to win boys’ and girls’ City Section cross-country championships in the same season last year, will attempt to defend those titles Nov. 23 at Pierce College. The boys will be trying to win their ninth title in 10 years and the girls will be seeking their third in a row . . . Grace Padilla, who transferred to Glendale College after East L.A. College dropped its cross-country program this fall, won the Irvine and Mt. San Antonio College invitationals. Padilla, a South Gate High graduate, went undefeated in three Western State Conference meets to lead Glendale to its first women’s conference cross-country title in 10 years....The Marshall High football team beat Wilson, 49-26, last month for the first time since 1952.