All in the family at Pilot Cup

Steve Whittaker tries to make sure he doesn't shout too loud when he coaches his 10-year-old daughter, Lani.

He wants her to be the best and play her hardest in soccer. But he says he doesn't want to be one of those dads who works his kid too hard.

Whittaker does his best to balance tough and sweet. He admits he has a strong passion for coaching. He loves the game. He loves the sport.

His passion carries into his work, his family and the city of Costa Mesa. It has all meshed for the Daily Pilot Cup, the youth soccer tournament that is in its 14th year. Schedules and scores will be updated throughout the week at http://www.dailypilot.com/sports/pilotcup.

The Pilot Cup begins Tuesday in Costa Mesa, where hundreds of children will take over the fields at the Jack Hammett Sports Complex, Costa Mesa High and Davis Elementary.

Whittaker, a sharpshooter in his day for the Costa Mesa High boys' basketball team, is the coach of the Killybrooke girls' fifth- and sixth-grade silver division team. Lani is on the team. Whittaker's wife, Barbara, the former Trejo, was known as a hardworking point guard for the Mustangs.

But now husband and wife are all about soccer, especially this upcoming week. Barbara is the school's liaison for the Pilot Cup. She helped organize coaches and teams for Killybrooke leading up to the tournament, which has become an important school-year-end treat for the Newport-Mesa community's children.

"I've been very passionate about coaching," Whittaker said. "I had been wanting to coach in the Pilot Cup. The job I have now gives me the freedom to coach. And it helps me to encourage the kids to go and compete."

Killybrooke is a special place for the Whittakers, as is Costa Mesa. Steve and Barbara first met at Killybrooke, where they attended.

They were also classmates at Costa Mesa Middle School and Costa Mesa High. They were in the same circle of friends because they played basketball for the Mustangs. But it wasn't until they were in the same class at Orange Coast College when they started dating.

Steve saw the girl that would become his wife when he saw her in Steve Spencer's basketball class at OCC.

Whittaker learned more about the game of basketball from Spencer, the OCC men's basketball coach. Back then, Whittaker was coaching the freshman team at Costa Mesa High. He has loved to coach, recently he has poured his energy into soccer. He's on the board for Region 120. He guided the Spring Select girls' U10 team to championships at the Spring Select tournament and Costa Mesa Classic this year.

Whittaker, who works in construction and outdoor remodeling, enjoys the challenge of coaching a team that has Lani on it. He'll probably end up coaching the rest of his family, Isabelle, 8, Maya, 5, and Noah, 4.

"I love how passionate he is," Barbara says of her husband. "I think he does a lot for the girls. I think he's going to do a lot of wonderful things with the girls."

Barbara had a strong love for basketball back at Costa Mesa High, where she graduated from in 2001. She never played soccer, but she has quickly learned about the game through her husband and her children.

As for those moments when tough coaching comes from Steve, she'll sometimes play the good cop with Lani to soothe any negative feelings. Overall, she's just happy her family can enjoy activities together.

"They have our support," Barbara said. "I'm their No. 1 fan. I'm going to do whatever I can to be involved. This year with the Pilot Cup I'm involved as the liaison."

Whittaker was a star guard for the Mustangs before graduating in 2001. He once nailed nine three-pointers in a game, which had been the school record.

He also played soccer while growing up in Costa Mesa, but in high school, basketball occurred during the same season. Whittaker chose hoops.

He said he enjoyed sports and now he loves coaching. He said sports were important as a kid because he experienced what adult life can be like. Sports can be a model for what to expect in life, he said.

Whittaker always did his best to play with all his effort. That's a lesson now for when he coaches.

"I don't ask much from my players," he said. "All I ask of them is to play as hard as they can."

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