The first good sign was the parking.
There wasn't any.
I pulled up to Avila's El Ranchito Mexican Restaurant in Costa Mesa on Nov. 17 and could barely get into the lot. So I parked a couple of blocks away.
The minor inconvenience was a sign of a healthy crowd, I thought to myself, as I walked toward the Estancia High Football fundraiser sponsored by the Daily Pilot, Los Angeles Times and Estancia boosters.
There were streamers, cheerleaders, banners and a crowd packed as tight as any huddle at the door, on the patio and in the foyer. There were players and families, politicians and business leaders, and alumni from many classes filling the place.
The event would be a success, I thought.
And now that the receipts are in, I can say that it was.
The restaurant plans to donate $1,000, about 20% of the profits that night, to the football program, said owner Maria Elena Avila, a Westside saint if there ever was one.
Raffles and personal donations added $1,857 to the pot, said booster club President Steve Mensinger, a city planning commissioner who helped organize the event.
Some folks on the business sides of The Times and Pilot told me they are going to kick in personal donations that should bring the total to about $3,000.
Not a bad haul in hard times.
For those who don't know, the football team had to borrow $10,000 to buy uniforms. The fundraiser aimed to retire some of that debt.
The timing was nice, as Estancia had won its first unshared league title in 21 years. But we planned this fundraiser well before the Eagles won the Battle of the Bell and, to be honest, would have done this if they had gone winless.
Estancia is coming up, both in athletics and academics, and the community clearly wants to see it continue to head in the right direction.
Evidence of that is the school spirit that permeated the event. Not only were people talking football, they were talking academics, good teachers, great coaches, strong administrators and school pride.
Estancia has improved so much, the faithful told me, there was no reason for good football players to try and make the teams at Mater Dei or Edison high schools.
And, they added, that the academics are getting so good they saw little reason for parents to seek transfers to Newport Harbor or Corona del Mar high schools — even if many still do.
You wouldn't have heard those sentiments even a few years ago.
There was an energy in that restaurant — that same energy that was on the field all season — and has always been in the people of Costa Mesa. They gave to one of their schools in a time when it's not so easy to give.
JOHN CANALIS is the editor of the Daily Pilot, Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot and Huntington Beach Independent. He can be reached at (714) 966-4607 and email@example.com.