By Brandon HENSLEY
Brent Ballard was quick to laugh it off. After all, these are middle school games, meant for good fun. There are no playoff games, and the coaches are here on a volunteer basis.
Still, though, Ballard’s boys’ basketball team at Rosemont had dominated the competition for several years, going undefeated each season.
Until last year, when the Wilson Knights upended Ballard’s Rosemont Spartans not once, but twice in the Glendale District league. Wilson went on to capture the league title for the first time.
“You never like to lose, but at the same time Wilson was better. They had some good kids,” said Ballard, who has coached some pretty talented players in recent years, including Will Smiley and his own son Trey, who is now on the varsity squad for Crescenta Valley High.
This week, Ballard and assistant coach Scott Alvarez were back at it in the Rosemont gym, holding tryouts for eighth-graders on Monday, and seventh-graders on Tuesday. The turnout was down from years past, Ballard said. About 30 kids showed up on Monday, down from 50 from last year.
Eighth-grader Tyler Carlson was there. He holds the honor of being the only seventh grader to start for Ballard, which he did last season. Carlson is a guard. By the looks of it, most of the players might fit that mold.
“This group, just based upon physical looks, is probably the smallest group we’ve had,” Ballard said. “So it looks like we’re going to be playing fast this year. We’re looking for fast, tough, aggressive kids.”
No matter what kind of turnout the team had this week, the good news is there are kids who want to play. Rosemont has had great success the past several years at putting together teams that not only compete, but win.
The girls’ basketball team has won league every year. They’ll look to continue that dominance with new coach Bon Sam, who replaces Chris Bouchard. The flag football team has won at least a share of league the past three seasons. Last season in soccer, the boys won league with an undefeated record at 6-0, and the girls also won league, going 5-0-1.
It takes commitment from the students and the adults in the community to make Rosemont a school known as a sports powerhouse.
“We have a great community of volunteers here. It’s great to see people get involved and help kids become healthier and physically active. It gives them something to do after school,” said Mark Gang, who is taking over for Roger Sondergaard this year as Spartans sports director.
In addition to basketball, football and soccer, the school also has teams that compete in cross country, volleyball and girls’ lacrosse. Gang, who is also a seventh grade science teacher at the school, knows it’ll be strenuous coordinating these sports from now until May. It only makes Sondergaard’s work all the more impressive.
“It’s amazing how far he’s brought it,” Gang said. “I’m anxious to fill his shoes. Those are big shoes to fill. But he’s been very supportive, willing to help out.”
Ballard said he’d like to coach here until the school doesn’t want him anymore. He and Alvarez might have their hands full this season as they try and take back league from Wilson. During tryouts, they look for not only talent, but for players who are fundamentally sound.
“If a player can make a left-handed layup or dribble left handed, you can tell he can play a little,” Ballard said.
The team will be finalized by the start of next week, and practices begin on Wednesday. The games, which are held in frenetic environments full of parents, cheerleaders and the student body, begin in late September and go until the week of Halloween.
“They love what they do. They’re passionate … detailed oriented and focused,” Gang said of Ballard and Alvarez.
Gang must be passionate as well to take over a job like this. Between teaching, grading papers and leading the athletic program, can he find the time to make it all work?
“I hope so,” he said. “My wife will tell me if I don’t.”