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Eric Sondheimer’s top 13 memorable Southern California high school sports moments

St. Vincent St. Mary's LeBron James drives against Mater Dei's D.J. Strawberry during a game at Pauley Pavilion.
St. Vincent St. Mary’s LeBron James drives against Mater Dei’s D.J. Strawberry during a game at Pauley Pavilion on Jan. 4, 2003.
(Lisa Blumenfeld / Getty Images)

This weekend Los Angeles Times prep columnist Eric Sondheimer will mark 45 years covering high school sports in Southern California, the last 24 with The Times. He has not witnessed every memorable SoCal high school moment during that period, but it’s almost certain that he’s seen more of them than any other journalist. Here is a list of Sondheimer’s top 13 greatest moments for which he’s been present, listed in chronological order:

1. 1982:_Bret Saberhagen from Reseda Cleveland threw the only no-hitter in City Section championship game history at Dodger Stadium, coming within an error of a perfect game. I remember an argument in the parking lot afterward between Saberhagen’s parents over who was going to take their son to Channel 4’s Burbank studios to appear on the 11 p.m. sportscast.

2. 1987:_Granada Hills, under coaches Darryl Stroh and Tom Harp and behind quarterback Jeremy Leach (three touchdown passes), pulled off a football shocker, guiding the Highlanders (John Elway’s alma mater) to a 27-14 win over 11-0 Carson in the City 4-A final at East L.A. College.

No region generates high school sports stars like Southern California. Times preps columnist Eric Sondheimer has seen more of them than you’ve forgotten

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3. 1988: At 11:30 p.m. on April 13, the lead story on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” was about an L.A. Daily News report detailing a package accidentally opened at an air freight service that contained 20 $50 bills and with a videotape addressed to Claud Mills, the father of Fairfax recruit Chris Mills, and sent from the University of Kentucky. I had worked for weeks on that scoop with several L.A. Daily News colleagues to nail down the story.

4. 1994: Traveling to the Little League World Series to cover the Earthquake Kids from Northridge was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s where I learned then 12-year-old Matt Cassel would be a future star in whatever sport he chose (it turned out to be football).

5. 1995: For some reason, I was picked to cover UCLA in the NCAA championship basketball game in Seattle. The Bruins won basketball title No. 11. But my lasting memory was running into Seattle Mariners first baseman Jeff Cirillo waving to me from a car while I walked down a street. He’s a Burbank Providence grad.

Long Beach Poly's Marcedes Lewis tries to rush past Concord De La Salle defenders Alijah Bradley and Cole Smith.
Long Beach Poly’s Marcedes Lewis tries to rush past Concord De La Salle defenders Alijah Bradley, left, and Cole Smith during a game Long Beach Veteran’s Stadium on Oct. 6, 2001.
(For the Times)

6. 2001:_Long Beach Poly played Concord De La Salle in a football game that changed high school sports. A crowd of more than 17,000 packed Veterans Stadium for a nationally televised game matching the two top-ranked teams in the country.

7. 2001: Dorsey came up with a miracle finish, when Jesus Jimenez blocked a punt on the final play that Henry Madge recovered in the end zone to win the City Section football championship over Taft 19-14 at the Coliseum.

8. 2003: A highly regarded high school basketball senior named LeBron James came to Pauley Pavilion to face Santa Ana Mater Dei. ESPN made a big deal out it. Pauley Pavilion was packed. I just remember LeBron getting a hamburger from Burger King during a media conference instead of eating at Lawry’s.

9. 2015: The Division 2AA basketball final between Anaheim Canyon and Lawndale was pure madness. Behind Nick Anderson, Canyon came back from deficits of 28 points in the third quarter and 22 points in the fourth quarter to win 103-98 in double overtime.

10. 2016: In Sacramento, the Ball brothers completed a 35-0 season for Chino Hills with an Open Division basketball championship. All the hype and all the comments by LaVar Ball about how good his boys were turned out to be true.

LiAngelo Ball is flanked by his brothers Lonzo and LaMelo sit on the bench.
LiAngelo Ball, center, is flanked by his brothers Lonzo, second from left, and LaMelo, right, during a game against Immanuel High on March 12, 2016.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

11. 2017: The most fun basketball semifinal ever attracted a frenzy of fans to a sold-out Galen Center, where at least four future NBA players put on a show matching Chino Hills against Mater Dei and Bishop Montgomery against Sierra Canyon.

12. 2019: I’ve never seen anything like it. Roybal coach Danny O’Fallon collapsed to the ground after the final buzzer when his team won a City Division III title. His team came back to comfort him. He was dying of cancer. It was the greatest display of love for a coach I’ve ever seen.

13. 2021: Traveling to Texas to see my first Texas high school football game resulted in me realizing all the hype was true — big stadiums, passionate fans, best barbecue anywhere.

Jaden Rattay, who has scored eight touchdowns in the last 2 games, is using his intellect on and off the field to help Lincoln to an unbeaten season.


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