Column: St. Genevieve High and its loyal senior leaders enter football playoffs unbeaten
Peering inside the fence at Panorama City St. Genevieve High, it looks as if the entire student body of 523 is cheering, giggling and having fun as football players coach female students in a powder puff flag football game on the school’s 50-yard turf field that has no goal posts.
Its principal, Dan Horn, was one of the first to adopt character education as a teaching component 10 years ago. He once sent 13 buses of students to the Hollywood Bowl to watch the musical “Hairspray” to teach students about good manners.
So it comes as no surprise that one reason the school’s football team is 9-0 and won the Camino Real League title is loyalty. Each of the team’s 17 seniors has been at St. Genevieve since they were freshmen. That’s extraordinary in this era of transfers, COVID-19 and family reasons to switch schools. It’s a hint how rare this team might be under seventh-year coach Billy Parra.
“They genuinely love each other and I love what I’m doing now compared to my career,” he said.
Parra is a former Granada Hills Kennedy High head coach who also served as an assistant at Encino Crespi High, Pierce College and Los Angeles Valley College.
“This is the second part of my career,” he said. “This isn’t how I felt the first part. It was about putting 55 points on people. It was about having the best receiving corps. It was about throwing the football. We run the football here, which is a big change for what my philosophy was. I had to realize running the football has been almost extinct with the spread offenses and seven on seven. We’ve gone back to the West Coast offense.”
Most importantly, he embraced the opportunity to learn about each of his students. Many come from lower socioeconomic environments.
“It has to do with spending time with kids and doing retreats,” he said. “Really doing things that have nothing to do with Xs and O’s. We have some great football players. Do we have 17 D1 senior football players? No, but all of them bought in and are leading our team. They tell the young people in the locker room, ‘We don’t do things like that.’ When it says 4 o’clock meeting, we have a 4 o’clock meeting. There’s no doubt the leadership of these seniors is why we are successful.”
Bryce Rainer, Duncan Marsten and Thomas Bridges are sophomore pitching standouts ready to help lead Harvard-Westlake.
It helped Parra that many of the seniors played youth football with his son, William, a junior, and his nephew, Billy, a senior. Their parents decided to give Parra a chance to coach their sons during challenging times.
“I think if you tell a kid he’s second-string, the kid will leave the school,” Parra said. “If you scold a young man, he’ll leave a school. If they don’t get their way, it seems like today’s kid likes to leave. Playing time is everything. That’s where we are losing something in society. Kids feel at times, ‘If I don’t get what I want, then I’m out of here.’”
Fortunately for the Valiants, players have stuck together through good and bad times. Running back Camdan McWright is averaging more than 13 yards per carry and also has 81 tackles on defense. Billy Parra has 73 tackles. Riley Morris has 12 sacks. Newcomer Xavier White, the son of Parra’s childhood friend and former All-American running back Russell White, has 84 tackles as a junior linebacker..
This is a once-in-a-decade team trying to win a championship in the first year of the Southern Section’s new playoff format that places teams in divisions based on this season’s performance instead of team records from past seasons. Under the old format, St. Genevieve would have been in Division 11. Now the Valiants are seeded No. 13 in Division 5 and open on the road against Chino Hills on Friday night.
“This is the best thing that could happen for me and the school to show if you truly buy into a program and you know wins and losses take care of themselves but you want to be in a program that gives you an opportunity and teaches you hard-nosed football that has community coaches with community kids,” Parra said. “… We may not have all the bells and whistles. We don’t even have goal posts on a 50-yard field, but we work extremely hard on building young men.”
Inglewood principal Debbie Tate issued a statement on behalf of herself and football coach Mil’Von James following Friday’s 106-0 football win over Morningside.
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