Word leaked on the Corona del Mar High campus Thursday that Aaron White was losing his football coach.
White said he and seven other juniors met with Jason Hitchens during lunchtime. They wanted to find out if it was true. Was Hitchens really resigning almost eight weeks after he guided the Sea Kings to their second semifinal appearance in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division playoffs in three years at the helm?
Hitchens explained what was going on and it shook up White, who helped the Sea Kings go unbeaten in the Pacific Coast League and win the title.
Something happened this past season in which CdM claimed its first outright league title in 22 years that played a role in Hitchens' decision.
"He said he went to practice and missed his baby being born and it's not really something to be proud of," White said. "He said, 'You shouldn't miss your baby being born.' He wanted to be a father."
Hitchens has resigned as the Sea Kings' coach, citing family reasons, said White. News of Hitchens' departure shocked and disappointed players in the program.
But players understood why Hitchens chose to step aside after the Sea Kings finished 10-2-1, 4-0-1 in league in 2010. With the birth of his child last year, CdM Athletic Director Don Grable said Hitchens has four children, all under the age of 6.
Seeing Hitchens leave is still difficult for players like White to deal with.
"All of the juniors right now are disappointed because we were going to be his first four-year class," said White, who received first-team all-league laurels as a junior outside linebacker. "We had big things planned."
From the first time Hitchens stepped on the CdM campus in 2008, he believed the Sea Kings could win. They won more often than they lost in his three seasons.
The Sea Kings went 24-11-1 during the stretch, twice posting 10-win seasons. The program has only recorded double-digit wins in a season four times in its history.
The other two times were in 1988 and '89, when CdM won back-to-back section titles. The Sea Kings came close to reaching the section championship game in Hitchens' first season and last one.
The Sea Kings fell short in the semifinals each time as a No. 2 seed. They lost to Beckman, 24-3, on Dec. 4. In 2008, CdM lost, 14-6, to Mayfair of Lakewood.
The second trip to the semis was impressive, especially after Hitchens took a program that went winless in league in 2009 and turned it into an unbeaten one in 2010.
"He was taking us in the right direction," said Mitch Gardner, a senior quarterback. "Guys are pretty worried that [kind of success is going] to go away with him gone."
Gardner said Hitchens was the ideal coach at CdM because of his intense nature. He kept the Sea Kings in line and Gardner said he benefitted from Hitchens' hard-nosed coaching style.
The approach has worked for Hitchens at other schools. He led St. Margaret's to a CIF Southern Section Northeast Division title during his one-year stint in 2006. He also guided El Modena to three league titles from 1998-2003.
"There were times you almost got sick of going to practice and staying so late, but at the end of the day, he made us better," said Gardner, who earned Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Dream Team honors after throwing for 1,635 yards and 19 touchdowns, both totals led all quarterbacks in the area. "He's tough on you. If you do what he says, and don't take his criticism too personally, he will help you. We all expected him to be back. He built the program."
The next question for CdM's administration is who will take over for Hitchens? It might take some time before CdM makes a hire because there might not be any teaching openings at the school.
Hitchens, who teaches history at CdM, did not return a message left on his voicemail.
White is hoping it is a familiar face from Hitchens' staff from last season.
"I don't want to break up the coaching staff," said White, who suggested Scott Dodge and Fred Romo, a defensive coach and offensive coordinator, respectively, as possible candidates. "I talked to our principal [Tim Bryan] and he said he's going to pick two players to sit on the interviewing panel and pretty much represent the team [in the hiring process]. I hope [to be on it]."