LA Times - "Football is just part of the experience at St. Genevieve"

 
If you want inspiration and hope, walk down the hallways of Panorama City St. Genevieve High. Look at the newspaper clippings that herald a school making a difference. Read the posters on the walls that promote Character, Commitment and Courage. Listen to the calming philharmonic music blaring from speakers. Marvel at the spotless floors and glistening windows. Glance at the photos of students from all different backgrounds performing in plays, parades and sports competitions.

"We do things different," senior offensive tackle Edwin Santamaria said.

You can see and feel the spirit of experimentation and learning by meeting three captains from the 2-0 football team, all senior linemen. Santamaria, Moosa McClean, an all-league center, and Luis Berrios, an offensive tackle, had never met until their freshman year. They have become best friends while learning to be leaders by embracing the school's challenge to leave their comfort zone.

"They think everybody has the potential to be a leader," Berrios said. "They told me I can be a leader being quiet and going 100%."

Said McClean: "Coach saw us as the best leaders to lead the team and made the right choice. I do things that need to be done and do it without asking questions. I don't fall under peer pressure. I help my teammates and show by example."

St. Genevieve teaches character education and is recognized as a National School of Character. The entire school of 620 students went in 13 buses in August to the Hollywood Bowl to watch the musical "Hairspray." The mission: show students how to have a cultural experience and teach good manners. The entire student body walked from school down Roscoe Boulevard to a movie theater to watch "The Help." The mission: learn about history.

When Universal President Ron Meyer was invited to be a guest speaker, the school put together an elaborate presentation of NBC's "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson." A student portrayed Carson, another student played Ed McMahon, there was a "Tonight Show" band and Meyer sat next to the Carson character answering questions submitted by students. The mission: learn about character and commitment and business sense from Meyer in a creative way.

Dan Horn, St. Genevieve's principal since 1999 and the architect of the school's focus on character education, decided to hire a 24-year-old football coach, Tim Kenney, last year. Kenney was so young he didn't qualify to drive the school van. He's a former University of Notre Dame football player who's so loyal to the Fighting Irish that a student created a poster that reads, "If you talk bad about the University of Notre Dame, Coach Kenney will release the football team on you."

He has combined with former head coach Eric Harris to build a program that's ready to break out as a title contender in the Northeast Division. Behind the Valiants' veteran offensive line, St. Genevieve has rushed for close to 800 yards in victories over Villanova Prep and Flintridge Prep.

Kenney teaches Advanced Placement government in addition to football, and he seems to be a perfect fit for St. Genevieve in understanding that winning is important, but more important is preparing his players for a future without football.

"We want to win every game, but there's so much more — the value of teamwork, the value of discipline," Kenney said. "Those will stick with these guys for the rest of their lives."

St. Genevieve's tuition is $7,925 a year, making the school one of the most affordable Catholic high schools in the San Fernando Valley. More than 40% of the student body is Latino and another 30% is Filipino. The student body has doubled since Horn took over as principal. They love to do things as a group, whether singing, dancing or holding a parade down Roscoe Boulevard during homecoming week.

And yet, the school is very clear about its athletic intentions.

"We play with the kids who walk through the door," Athletic Director Marlon Archey said.

McClean, who's 6 feet 1, weighs 240 pounds and always seems to be in a jovial mood, lost his father when he was 3. He said he didn't learn the truth of his father's death until he was 12, when his mother decided he was old enough to be told his father took his own life.

"I started crying," McClean said.

He tries to visit his father's grave on Saturdays with his mother and younger brother, a St. Genevieve freshman football player.

"I write his name on my tape," he said.

When he needs to talk with someone, Berrios, his loyal teammate and friend, is there to listen.

Leadership. Friendship. Loyalty. It's always present in the hallways of St. Genevieve High.



http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-0916-sondheimer-column-20110916,0,4919840.column