By Brandon HENSLEY
Thanks to parents and community volunteers, the logo of a Spartan featured at Rosemont Middle School isn’t just a painting on a wall anymore; it’s now a symbol of pride and something anxious athletes and coaches can attach themselves to.
Over the past three years, the school has undergone a renaissance in sports, creating flag football, soccer and basketball leagues to join three other schools in the area that compete against each other: Toll, Wilson and Roosevelt middle schools.
The best Rosemont has to offer is found in the gym, where the boys’ basketball team was found practicing Tuesday afternoon. At the end of practice, after a full-court scrimmage, the team gathered at midcourt. Head Coach Brent Ballard talked about learning to grow together as a team, and assistant Michael Kachingwe stressed the importance of defense, which will in turn lead to easy points at the other end.
Tryouts were last week, so the season has just begun, but it’s a safe bet Ballard will have his team ready to go for its first game next month. The Spartans were undefeated last season, after all.
The coordinator of the program is Roger Sondergaard, an elementary P.E. teacher in the school district. The sports teams at Rosemont have been made possible through his actions of volunteering and seeking out coaches.
“It’s just a nice thing to do for the community, and there was no one else doing it,” he said.
Sondergaard talked about the growth over the last few years, and how more kids are seeking to play, especially basketball, even though there are other leagues like junior Falcons available.
“The first year we did we had a lot of nice kids and good athletes, but in my opinion we had a lot of students who did not come out who were the better players,” Sondergaard said. “But I think it kind of caught on last year.”
Ballard, who coaches a Falcons traveling team, agrees with Sondergaard.
“We know the core kids,” he said. “They’ve been playing with us for five, six years. Then we’ve been able to bring in new kids and teach them how we play in our system.”
The program is free, but Sondergaard said they are always seeking donation for parents willing to give. Last year the team had makeshift jerseys, and Sondergaard said he’d like to pay for some that will last for a while.
The overall experience for both basketball teams is key (the Spartan girls play as well, coached by John Kwon and Norm Baun). For road games, the teams travel in a bus and are greeted with a chorus of boos from the opposing student body. The gyms are small, but almost always packed, said Sondergaard, and the atmosphere is intense.
“It’s kind of like a snapshot of what a varsity basketball gym would be like,” he said.
Ballard said Crescenta Valley High boys’ varsity coach Shawn Zargarian came to games last season to check out the scene, and Ballard went to CV’s practice to get some pointers for himself.
The main difference between Rosemont and CV is the playing time kids get. Last year, there were 24 players for the Rosemont boys, and Ballard said in five of the six games he got everybody playing time. Rosemont plays in a league with two 20-minute halves, both running time, so that’s quite an accomplishment.
“We want many kids to experience the atmosphere,” said Ballard, who is in his second year as volunteer coach. He played for La Cañada High in the early ’90s and has since coached at the high school level as well as junior high traveling teams.
This year, the team is looking to be cut down to about 15, and Ballard said even then playing time might not come as much as it did last year.
“We told them. We’re very up-front,” he said.
Even though the boys won the league last season, the big prize was a pizza party instead of a trophy that could someday be put in a case for the student to see.
“That’s a great idea. They should,” Ballard said.
What matters are kids getting a chance to compete, and thanks to the time volunteered by the coaches, it has become possible.
“For me and Michael, we really love the boys and basketball. It’s a great way to teach the kids lessons in life, so I don’t mind giving my time,” said Ballard.