Just how big was South Pasadena High’s boys’ championship in last Saturday’s CIF Southern Section Track and Field Finals at Estancia High School in Costa Mesa?
Go no further than asking CB Richards, coach of the Tigers’ team, calling the feat “crazy good stuff,” especially in face of the pandemic.
In the nights following what he called “the biggest sports accomplishment for South Pasadena High teams in recent years,” Richards said he was tired but couldn’t sleep, thinking about what had just taken place. “It’s unbelievable to think that we pulled this off!”
To do it, South Pasadena — a tiny town by comparison to other communities, some with multiple high schools and much larger populations — had to overtake some parochial dynamites the likes of John Bosco, Servite, and Notre Dame among its division 3 powerhouse opponents.
It took a big finish near the end of the meet for South Pasadena to clinch it, Andrew Villapudua holding off all those in pursuit, including the favorite Mateo Bianchi from Laguna Beach, to win the boys 3,200 meters in 9:21.16, and Dominic Ramos going 13-feet, 6 inches to take the pole vault title. Ramos won it at the same time Villapudua was rolling to victory, just ahead of the final event – the 4×400 meter relay.
At the conclusion, South Pasadena came out on top with 72 points, followed by John Bosco, 66, and Cathedral, 64, to round out the top three. Adding further evidence to how remarkable it was, the closest South Pasadena High had ever come to a track and field divisional team championship was a runner-up spot back in 1943, or 78 years.
Efforts to stage a state track meet and Masters Meet, two major events to showcase track talent, were shelved again this year as a result of coronavirus concerns, so Saturday was the main attraction for athletes to shine at four different divisional championship sites.
Huge performances came from a collection of South Pasadena athletes supporting the effort, including Nicolas Iwankiw winning the shot put gold medal with a throw of 54 feet, six inches while Noah Leider claimed sixth overall with a toss of 49-11.50.
The Tigers picked up 18 points in one race as Villapudua, headed to UC San Diego in the fall, finished second in the 1,600 with a time of 4:14.28, followed by teammate Andrew Parkinson, just behind in third (4:20.53) and Patrick Latting coming across in fifth at 4:24.54.
Eleven more points came South Pasadena’s way in the 800 with Latting picking up a third place finish in 1:59.54, narrowly nipping Parkinson (1:59.61) in fourth. Terrance Sweetman took home fourth place in the boys’ triple jump with a leap of 44-5 while Ferrel Mansano grabbed a fourth place finish in the 200 with a time of 22.09.
Following the huge triumph for the school, Richards, highly respected among track coaches in the Southland for his ability to get the most out of student athletes, joined his team in a track and field celebration not seen since South Pasadena High’s girls’ unit claimed the CIF crown back in 2012.
“Having an amazing coaching staff with a real passion for the sport, surrounded by dedicated athletes who bought into our culture of working hard, having fun and staying focused, made the difference,” said Richards. “They turned what was a pandemic season into a championship season.”
While the Tigers’ coach said many school districts shut down track programs during the spring due to COVID, locally he insists administrators, including the school’s athletic director, Anthony Chan, did everything to keep athletes safe and healthy. “They created a blueprint for other districts on how to do it safely and successfully, from the strong support of athletics at SPUSD level, the unwavering leadership of Superintendent Geoff Yantz, Assistant Superintendent Dave Lubs, to our amazing principal Janet Anderson, who came to the CIF track finals to support our run at the championship,” said Richards.
Anderson, who recently announced her retirement and will soon be leaving the South Pasadena High campus, was the recipient of a big send off by Richards, coaches and athletes. “Our SPHS students wanted to badly give her the best retirement gift they could – a CIF boys track team title,” he said. “Seeing her on the fence cheering on the team was inspiring to say the least.”
Along with her was Chan, who has managed to keep athletics “humming through these unsettling times,” noted Richards, “His support of all athletics during the pandemic was beyond description and very much appreciated. I don’t think the SPHS teams would be here without him.”
Success wouldn’t have come the Tigers’ way, insisted Richards, without the support of Julius Murphy in his role as athletic trainer. “He’s dedicated, knowledgeable and was extremely helpful in maintaining the good health of our athletes, especially in light of having a much smaller team, some playing multiple sports this year. Julius helped get our athletes back in action faster and safer.”
Sharing the athletic facilities with other sports teams trying to get their seasons in at the same time was no easy task, but Richards credits the district’s Alfredo Perez for making sure they were “COVID clean,” as he described.
“It was a huge undertaking, but he did it so well,” praised Richards.
A motto, borrowed from Nick Garcia, a track coach at Notre Dame in Sherman Oaks, became a part of the Tigers’ winning culture this season, helping catapult South Pasadena to a monumental victory: “You earn your trophies at practice, you just pick them up at championships,” echoed Richards. “It was a huge win indeed, one we’ll never forget!”