One of the top distributors at Corona del Mar High last season is passing up a chance to graduate from CdM this upcoming school year.
Ramon Mejia said he is not returning to CdM for a fifth year of high school. The 19-year-old said he plans to enroll at an adult school and at Irvine Valley College, where he hopes to play for the men's basketball team.
"It was really tough," Mejia said of the decision to leave CdM, a program expected to contend for a CIF Southern Section Division III-A title in the winter with guards Danny Cheek and Clayton Ragsdale returning for their senior years, and Marcus Bradley, a 6-foot-6 transfer from Beaumont High, joining the Sea Kings as a senior.
"I didn't want to give up on my teammates."
Ryan Schachter, the boys' basketball coach at CdM, does not feel like Mejia abandoned the team.
Schachter talked with Mejia about coming back for a fifth year of high school after Mejia helped the Sea Kings to a 24-4 record, the Pacific Coast League title and the quarterfinals of the playoffs last season. Schachter said Mejia's chances of being eligible to play for the Sea Kings in the winter were low due to his age and number of years in high school.
"To me, that would've been the No. 1 thing, regardless of basketball, to see him come back and get his diploma," Schachter said of Mejia, who transferred to CdM from Durfee High in Fall River, Mass., and went on to average 12.3 points and 2.3 steals per game and earn first-team all-league honors. "We knew that the odds of him playing were going to be slim. He would've had to petition [the CIF Southern Section for a hardship] on two levels, fifth-year eligibility and the age requirement.
"He wanted to move on with the next phase of his life."
Mejia said part of his decision to forgo a fifth year at CdM was because he felt awkward being around students younger than him at school. Schachter understood why Mejia might feel that way.
"CdM is different because we're a seventh through 12th school," said Schachter, a special education teacher. "We're surrounded by middle school students. He's going to be 20 in [March]. He felt too old to be around that setting.
"He felt like he wanted some more independence and he wants to try things on his own. I don't know if he's prepared for that, only he knows."
Mejia is unsure if he is ready for life after high school. He does not even drive.
Mejia said he's moving out of his Godfather Darryl's place in Newport Beach to be closer to Irvine Valley College. Darryl is the one who took in Mejia and gave him an opportunity to change his life after he lost hope in Boston.
Mejia said his godfather pushed him. On the IVC team, Schachter said there are two former CdM players, Joe Eberhard and Sean Donovan, to watch over Mejia.
"Jerry Hernandez thinks Ramon is one of their top point guards," Schachter said of the IVC coach, who last season led the Lasers to their first appearance at the California Community College Athletic Assn. Championship tournament. "Joe started for them last year and Sean came off the bench and contributed."
Mejia will have to wait for his chance to help IVC. Mejia plans to sit out his first year with the Lasers while he concentrates on his academics.
Schachter is hopeful that Mejia will earn his diploma, even if it's not at CdM.
"I just told him, 'Don't feel like you owe me anything, or that you're doing me a favor by coming back for a fifth year of high school. As much as I want to coach you, I want you to be excited to be back,' " Schachter said. "He thought about it. He felt his heart wasn't in high school."