The scene inside of the Manteca High School cafeteria Thursday morning wasn’t all that unusual – students sitting together with their friends, chatting and enjoying their time before class begins.
What was unusual about it was the makeup of those students – student-athletes from Manteca, Sierra and East Union High Schools who gathered together as a historic showing of unity at a time in which the relationships between the campuses themselves have started to show signs of fracture.
In the wake of some highly-publicized incidents between intracity rivals that painted some of the athletes involved in a negative light, Manteca High School administration came up with the idea for the district’s first Unity Breakfast – giving basketball players at each of the city’s comprehensive high schools the chance to break bread and socialize without the pressure or the stress of athletic competition.
And unity was the theme of the day.
“It doesn’t have to be like that,” Sierra High School emcee Kayley Alvarado said. “We don’t have to be the blue school and the green school and the red school.
“We don’t have to tear each other down when we should be building one another up.”
Alvarado was one of three emcees – joining Rachel Weaver from East Union and Taylor Reed from Manteca High School – who led students through the morning’s activities that included breakfast donated by the Golden State Restaurant Group, which own and manages 44 McDonalds locations across the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
Three schools have a lot more
in common than meets the eye
The brainchild of Manteca High School Principal Frank Gonzales and Vice Principal Troy Fast, the event was meant to not only bring the respective schools together under a unified banner but also show the students that they have more in common than they might realize.
For example, Manteca High girls basketball coach Ryan Bono started out as an assistant under East Union head coach Ron Agostini, and Manteca boys head coach Brett Lewis played for East Union and had Sierra High School head coach Scott Thomason coach against him.
That tangled web of Manteca city athletics, Fast said, is something that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of competition and was something that the organizers wanted to highlight.
“Everybody knows who Bill Stricker is, but not a whole lot of people know that his son-in-law is a sophomore basketball coach here,” Fast said of the famed East Union boys coach and athletic director for whom the court is named. “And who do you think is out there at Manteca High helping him coach? Bill Stricker.
“These things help the students realize that they’re part of a community not just at their schools, but in their city as well and that they have a lot more in common than even they realize sometimes. Hopefully this is an event that puts that into perspective and the focus can be on their athletic achievements rather than the tension that comes as a result.”
Crossroads Grace Community Church Pastor Brian Hunt – a South Dakota native who went on to play baseball at Nebraska before a short professional stint – spoke to the students about how as athletes, they have a responsibility to serve as the leaders both on their respective field or court and off of it. Hunt challenged them to think about not only the young people who come to game to watch them, but also their fellow students who take pride in their school and the accomplishments that their athletes make under that school’s banner.
Using his past history as a guide, Hunt called on all athletes to take a look at themselves and their actions every time they choose to suit up and represent an entity larger than themselves.
“It’s the impact that you have off of the field that often times has the bigger impact,” Hunt said. “Open your eyes to the responsibility that you have as an athlete – young people pattern themselves after you. And that’s a responsibility that has to be taken seriously.”
And if unity wasn’t evident going into the event the collective Manteca city trophy case when broken down to include all sports showed how as a city Manteca has established itself quite well over the years.
Going back to the inception of each of the city’s three high schools, Manteca has collectively won 347 Valley Oak League titles and 53 CIF Section Titles as well as a host of state championships.
New Manteca High mural
underscores unity with EU, Sierra
As a part of the event, a pair of Manteca High School student-athletes that wanted to come up with a way they could showcase the unity within the City of Manteca unveiled a new mural at the school that features a tree with multi-colored leave clusters in red, blue and green.
Beneath the tree, tying everything together and providing a foundation with the roots, is the word “Unified.” Every sports team in attendance took a picture in front of the mural, which will grace the wall outside of the Manteca High School cafeteria for years to come.
“This is something that teaches sportsmanship and focuses on how to be respectful and I think those are things that are important,” said Thomason – who is the longest tenured boys basketball coach in the VOL and who notched his 300th win last season. “Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in all of those other things, but I think the guest speaker was god at talking about unity and sportsmanship and how you can still play hard and have class.”
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.