‘Program building, Harvard-Westlake style’

By Alex Leichinger

It was my first time at baseball’s sparkling new O’Malley Field, and the impact hit immediately.
This surely wasn’t the dilapidated Franklin Field of my memories, with its funky dimensions and decidedly Little League feel. No, this was the big-time. After all, it’s a high school stadium named after Peter O’Malley (Karen ’93, Brian ’95), a.k.a. the Dodger owner from better days.
Then I started watching the game, and the Matt LaCour intensity blazed over me as quickly as a Lucas Giolito ’12 fastball crossed home plate.

The Wolverines were playing Loyola in a crucial late-season game for the league title, which they would eventually claim over Chaminade for their first in school history.

Freshman phenom Jack Flaherty ’14 was on the hill, watched by a coaching staff that featured P.C. Shaw, a former assistant coach for a College World Series runner-up, and LaCour, whose defection from area powerhouse El Camino Real to Harvard-Westlake in 2006 was one of the most high-profile coaching moves in school history.

The big names. The flashy facilities. Its program-building, Harvard-Westlake style. Not many schools have three Olympic gold medalists as track coaches either (four until Johnny Gray left before last season).

Then there’s the daily grind required on the path to excellence. Baseball is a year-round commitment in the fullest sense. Even at the JV level, players rarely spend any time away from the field.

In the process, the school has gotten its wish. The baseball program is run like a professional team, and the glory of Mission League titles and CIF championships will be a mainstay for many years to come.

We’ve seen a similar course of development in most of our varsity teams: Major venue renovation, high-profile coaching hires, year-round training. But in the school’s fascination with Los Angeles Laker-esque program development, it seems to have dropped just one element of understanding: it’s still high school. Giolito may be bound for the major leagues, but how many others are?

We all love watching and playing for winning teams, but somewhere along the way, it seems winning and an emphasis on personal development have become irreconcilable. It’s almost as if the focus of our athletic program revolves around burnishing the reputations of athletic department employees, i.e. paid adults, over improving the experience of every kid on the roster.
Of course, some kids are just more talented than others. But on high school teams, every athlete should feel he or she has value, not just that they are cogs in a victory machine.
The athletic department philosophy has been very simple on this matter. If you can’t handle year-round training before you’re old enough to move out of your parents’ house, just quit the team. Who cares if you love playing the game?
If you don’t love every single second of practice, you’re not worthy of wearing the uniform of this school. And it’s not as if many other athletic options are available for these quitters. We don’t have intramurals. We don’t have organized athletic events for non-athletes. We barely have even have P.E.

If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen. That’s it. Frankly, it doesn’t seem anyone cares if you ever play your favorite sport again.

Honestly, I think the athletic department is a little worried that if it provided any alternatives, athletes would flee our hypercompetitive teams in droves. That would certainly be an issue for our carefully constructed and manicured reputation of sporting excellence.

Baseball won its first Mission League title, and that is certainly a spectacular accomplishment. But under the current model, who is really reaping the benefits?