Hart coach Jim Ozella says he’s inspired by his students’ commitment

Below the scoreboard at Hart High School in Santa Clarita is a list of former players who reached the major leagues.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)
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It’s Jim Ozella’s 21st year as baseball coach and history teacher at Newhall Hart, and there never has been anything quite like this new one. He goes to Hart and teaches two AP history classes and two regular history classes from his computer in an empty classroom. Then he teaches his baseball class via video without use of the pristine baseball field.

“Guys work out in front of me,” he said. “I watch them jump rope. I watch them run.”

How long this will go on in a time of COVID-19 is anyone’s guess.

“We’re online for another five weeks,” Ozella said.

Then the district will reassess. Athletes might even be able to start working out with coaches sooner if the district approves.

Ozella makes it clear he knows how to adapt, something he learned long ago from his many years as a coach. But he’s even more fired up because of what he sees from his students as they find creative ways to stay engaged and in shape.

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“They do it all over the place,” he said. “Some go into a park. Some go in the front yard. Some go in the backyard. We’ve had a guy jumping rope in the living room. They’re in the garage with weights. I’m going to tell you this. The desire of our players to play and work out has never been higher. I’m very inspired by the efforts they’re making despite the obstacles.”

Hart continues to turn out major leaguers, including pitcher Trevor Bauer and infielder Pat Valaika. But the program is known more for producing players who are tough, fundamentally sound and play the game the right way.

Ozella enjoys coaching baseball but, even more important, he loves being a teacher.

“My fun class of the day is teaching,” he said. “I love teaching. It doesn’t matter if it’s on a screen. We’re still getting it done. I got my college degree in the ‘80s. There was no Zoom. Old dogs are learning new tricks slowly. I’ve got my second test in AP history this week. My kids are rolling.”