It was in the winter of early 2007 when I had an encounter at Burroughs High.
Then-Indians baseball coach Tom Crowther wanted to introduce me to someone. Crowther said the individual was a new coach at the school, and that he would be helping start a new Indians’ sport — boys’ volleyball.
That individual was Joel Brinton.
Although Brinton — a former Crescenta Valley player and assistant coach at his alma mater, as well as at La Cañada — seemed like a likeable guy, I secretly wondered if the new coach knew what he was getting himself into. Brinton was attempting to start a program literally from scratch, with really no player base, no feeder program and no substantial area club teams to draw from.
I wished him luck, and figured with the frustration and almost insurmountable amount of work in front of him, Brinton might last two years — at best.
Five years later, Brinton is still at Burroughs.
Not only was the coach able to start the Indians’ program, but he has transformed Burroughs into a league champion, as well as a CIF Southern Section contender. And he’s accomplished that at break-neck speed.
The five years of planning, toil and determination came to fruition Saturday, when No. 1 Burroughs took part in the Division III championship against No. 2 Cerritos Valley Christian at Cypress College. Although the Indians lost, 27-25, 25-27, 25-18, 25-16, just getting to the title contest is a huge accomplishment.
Burroughs was trying to win the first CIF team title in the school’s 63-year history.
But to even play for a title in just five years is nothing less than mind-boggling, astonishing, amazing, unbelievable — or whatever adjective you want to use. There are teams, in the city and around Southern California, that have been competing for decades and have never advanced to a CIF championship contest.
Brinton has been able to get the most out of his athletes over the past five years. In most cases, he has taken individuals who have little or no experience and turned them into volleyball players. The resulting success has been four postseason appearances and two straight Pacific League championships in the five-year span.
Led by senior brothers Tyler and Lucas Yanez, the Indians have made history this season. When you consider all the great athletes to come out of Burroughs over the last six decades, and all the quality teams the school has produced, to be only the fifth squad to play for a CIF crown is a monumental feat.
Historically, even getting to a CIF final has been struggle for Burroughs squads over the years.
It didn’t take too long for Burroughs to qualify for its first championship game, however. In 1955, a Bill Flora-coached Indians boys’ basketball team did make it to the major division championship game, losing to Alhambra, 46-35.
However, the past few decades, very few Indians teams have even made it to a final contest.
The Indians’ football team had a shot at two championships in 1981 and 1987. In a Northwestern Division championship game in 1981, Burroughs fell to Antelope Valley, 24-14.
In another Northwestern Division title game in 1987, the Indians were defeated by Arroyo Grande, 15-10.
The only other squad to earn the right to play for a CIF crown was the boys’ soccer team, which advanced to the Division III championship in 1994. However, the Mike Kodama-coached Indians fell to Bell Gardens High, 3-1.
To its credit, Burroughs has had a handful of individual CIF Southern Section champions over the years, including Ron Morris and Essa Sallinen in the boys’ pole vault, Carolyn Brown in the girls’ 800 meters and Emily Tubert in girls’ golf.
To be the first at anything is always something special. Despite Saturday’s loss, the Burroughs volleyball team should be proud of how far it came this season. That is something all the players can be proud of.
But if not for Brinton, the title shot might not have ever come about. Everyone at the school, and all those who have played sports at Burroughs over the years, should praise Brinton and his Indians players. They definitely deserve the accolades.