Good coaches can make a difference, and John Aponte is proof.
Thanks to his contributions, there were tears of joy from football fans of 12-time City Section champion Wilmington Banning on Friday night after the Pilots ended a 16-game losing streak against Carson, 29-19, improving the Pilots' record to 6-0.
"It was a special night," Aponte said. "The kids were excited. The great thing was it was more than the kids. I saw parents in tears. For the entire community, it was like a weight lifted off their chest.
Aponte grew up in Queens, N.Y., enlisted in the Marines when he turned 18, spent eight years learning about discipline and honor, then moved to California. He dreamed of coaching high school football. In 2013, he took over as head coach at Banning, a once-dominant program that won six consecutive championships from 1976 to 1981 under Chris Ferragamo.
The Pilots had become a nonfactor in City Section football. Aponte went to work and didn't seek a quick fix. Day after day, week after week, year after year, he changed the culture and taught his players some of the things he learned as a Marine.
"We talk about discipline, playing for something that's bigger than you," he said. "The wins and losses, they're not that important to me. I want to do things the right way, and if we do, I believe good things will happen."
It's happening. The Pilots are on course to play Harbor City Narbonne (6-0) for the Marine League championship on Nov. 4.
When you watch them play, you see a team that executes its coach's instructions, plays tough and plays with discipline. Quarterback Myles Porter has passed for more than 1,000 yards. Running backs Joe Villarreal and Sultan Moala keep picking up yards behind a competent offensive line. The defense, led by juniors Moala and Mark Tuufuli, shows lots of toughness.
Enjoying every minute of the experience is Aponte, who has a shaved head and can bark orders pretty loudly — just like you'd expect from an ex-Marine. He's married with a 3-year-old son, Tyson, who was probably the only person who didn't realize the ramifications of the Carson victory Friday night.
"He understands that Daddy is working but has no idea," Aponte said. "The best part of the night for him is after the game he gets to run onto the field and tackle me.
There's going to be lots of positive memories being created at Banning under Aponte, who is using Narbonne's Manuel Douglas as a model for where he wants to take the program.
"We can start our own streak now," he said. "There's been a lot of bad football. Every time we keep knocking down one of those streaks, it erases all that bad football and all the pain people have been feeling for years."
Little brother: Former Loyola High and UCLA standout Anthony Barr is busy these days chasing down quarterbacks on Sundays for the Minnesota Vikings, but he must be proud of his younger brother, Nicholas Barr-Mira.
A sophomore kicker for the junior varsity team at Loyola, Barr-Mira has kicked field goals of 49 and 50 yards this season. He's also a goalie on the soccer team.