A touching moment took place at the conclusion of South Pasadena High’s season-ending 38-8 victory over Temple City last Friday night, lifting the spirits of all involved.
With the game safely in the hands of the Tigers after Temple City scored its only points of the night on a 10-yard touchdown pass as the 4th quarter clock ticked down, young Deon Lam was called on to run the ball three yards for a two-point conversion for the Rams’ final points on the day.
Lam isn’t your typical player. Popular among his teammates, he has been part of the Temple City football program for four years and was given little chance to play.
It was agreed upon by opposing coaches before the kickoff that the senior, a special player with special needs, would carry the ball into the end zone.
“At a time like that, it’s more than a game,” explained South Pasadena High coach Jeff Chi. “Looking at the bigger picture, it was great that the kid have that experience. It was great.”
Surrounded by teammates and opponents, Lam went into a celebratory dance after scoring. “He was just so happy,” noted the Tigers’ coach. “Our kids were cheering for him, their side was cheering for him. He was high-fiving our guys, their guys. It was great to see. To end the season like that was just wonderful. The players were very supportive of that athlete. I think our kids learned a lot by doing that. It was great for everybody.”
By the time Lam ran the ball in for the Rams’ 2-point conversion, the Tigers had already racked up all of their 38 points, helped by two touchdowns by Jack Riffle, and one each by Jason Hong, Devon Robinson and Noah Aragon – all on the ground.
Senior Tino Nguyen, getting the start at quarterback for South Pasadena, controlled the offense and “and moved the ball pretty well for us,” said Chi. “I was really happy for him. He threw some good passes. We were very excited and happy for him. He stuck it out over the four years and was given the opportunity in his last game as a senior and performed well. I think it was great for him and his family.”
A couple of days prior to the game, Nguyen, who works for Mamma’s Pizza in town, showed his appreciation for being a part of the SPHS football program by having pizza delivered for his teammates to enjoy following a practice.
“It’s great to see kids like Tino do good things,” Chi said. “I appreciate it and enjoy being a part of something like that. I think it’s great.”
The Tigers finished the COVID-19 shortened season with a 2-1 mark following wins over La Cañada and Temple City, and a narrow loss to San Marino. They are now looking ahead to spring and summer practices, coupled with weight training, in preparation to playing a usual 10-game fall campaign.
“We actually have four months before our first scheduled pre-season game,” Chi said. “One thing we’ve emphasized is that we need to get bigger and stronger. So a huge priority for us right now is to get into the weight room. In order to beat La Cañada, Monrovia, San Marino and Temple City, we’re telling our players they really need to hit the weights. Hopefully they will put in the effort to get ready for those guys.”
After downing Temple City, the Tigers’ coach huddled with his players, told them to enjoy the night, especially thanked the seniors, before stressing to the underclassmen to start gearing up for their second season of 2021 beginning in late August. “We competed with all the teams in the league, except Monrovia [the game was cancelled], and as we continue to get better, we know we have a chance to possibly beat those teams, so we told them, ‘If you can have that opportunity, it starts now with a lot of hard work by hitting the weight room. You have to get physically bigger and stronger to compete. The talent is there. We’re very excited to get going again. Our guys really have a shot at competing for the league title next season. But they have to put in the time and effort. Hopefully they got the message they have to work hard for the next four months in preparation for the fall schedule.”
Chi, reflecting on an unusual season – only three total games – simply likes the idea his team ended it all with a victory. “A win is always good,” he said. “It makes everything feel better.”
Better, that is, about their chances of potentially winning a Rio Hondo League title for the first time in more than 40 years, starting in just four short months.
“We’re excited about getting going again,” said the coach.