Column: Mira Costa’s Thomas Southey shows high school athletes are smiling again

Mira Costa's Thomas Southey holds his hands up while teammates walk behind him across a field.
Mira Costa’s Thomas Southey celebrates an upset of No. 1-seeded Cathedral in the Division 1 soccer playoffs.
(Heidi Walter)

There’s a photo of Thomas Southey smiling with his arms raised triumphantly after Manhattan Beach Mira Costa upset No. 1-seeded L.A. Cathedral in the Southern Section Division 1 soccer playoffs.

It’s a moment in time that resonates with every high school athlete who has participated during a 2020-21 sports season that almost didn’t happen because of COVID-19.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” Southey said. “It’s so much fun.”


High school athletes are smiling again. They’re having fun again. They’re dreaming of championships again.

The Southern Section is awarding 92 divisional titles in 19 sports this spring. The City Section is giving out 48 titles in 15 sports.

Southey is having the time of his life as a three-sport athlete.

In March and April, he scored 12 touchdowns as the top receiver for the Mira Costa football team during a six-game season. He’s the leading scorer for the soccer team that will play Los Angeles Loyola next weekend for the Southern Section Division 1 championship. And he has 15 goals for the lacrosse team that opens the Southern Section playoffs Tuesday.

His father, Charles, looked at the photo of his 18-year-old son and got emotional.

“It’s so much fun, and it reminds you how much fun high school sports are,” he said. “They went from nothing to everything.”

For months during California’s shutdown of high school sports, Southey would train in the family garage, which became his fitness center. He would join friends running at the beach. He didn’t know when or whether the all-clear sign would be given to resume his senior year, but he intended to be ready.

“There was no end in sight,” he said. “We had no idea. We heard there wasn’t going to be any season at all. It was discouraging.”

Then football season was approved. Then soccer and lacrosse. Suddenly Southey faced the challenge of playing on teams during overlapping seasons. It was as if he were 10 years old again, when he played a variety of sports in the street with neighborhood friends. And he loved it. Two weeks ago, he put on his soccer uniform and played Redondo Union for the Bay League championship. Then he switched to his lacrosse uniform and played on the same field.

“I always go back to the thought: Look how far we’ve come from the moment we had no idea it was going to happen at all,” he said. “We weren’t lucky enough to get playoffs for football, but I was stoked to join soccer and lacrosse.”

High school boys’ soccer: Southern Section playoff results and updated pairings

At 6 feet, with speed and athleticism, Southey is riding the wave of euphoria for as long as he can.

“They’ve learned more than other generations of athletes how special they are,” his father said. “It brings tears to my eyes every game he plays.”

There have been so many sacrifices made to pull off this 2020-21 sports season, which has featured pain-in-the-butt COVID-19 testing, repeated changing of schedules, abbreviated seasons and a mad scramble to find officials.

But the playoffs and championships are happening, and so are photos of smiling athletes.

“That’s going to be one in the scrapbook,” Southey said. “Words couldn’t explain that feeling. It’s an awesome feeling to be out there. That was an insane feeling. I was so stoked to celebrate with my teammates. We’ve known each other since grade school, and it makes it so much better doing it with guys you’ve known all your life from AYSO through club.”

Southey was scheduled to attend a football camp in two weeks at Southern Methodist while trying for a walk-on college football spot. That will be postponed because Mira Costa has qualified for the Southern California regional soccer playoffs, and Southey isn’t about to leave his best friends behind.

Win or lose in the coming weeks, Southey has a photo that will lead to a story explaining the smile and the ups and downs he has experienced during his senior year. Any time he sees that photo, he’ll be able to tell the story about why he’s smiling.

“The smile was because that was crazy for us,” he said. “We were over the moon.”