The atmosphere surrounding Santa Ana Stadium for Mater Dei High School's home games is unlike most others in Orange County.
Boosters gather at dozens of tailgate parties in the parking lot. The band and drill teams, which would make any school proud, are going through last-minute rehearsals.
Vendors offer items from a 64-page program to scarlet T-shirts that read "Monarch Mania." On the field, nearly 90 players are going through a series of warmup drills.
Like many parochial schools, Mater Dei has a high-profile football program. But with that high-profile image comes some high expectations and second-guessing from the parents and boosters who support the program.
"I think the goals are a little higher at Mater Dei and Servite than at other schools," Chuck Gallo, Monarch coach, said. "Everyone expects you to win, and anything less is upsetting. We beat Santa Ana Valley, 41-20, last week, and it was like a morgue in the locker room afterward because we didn't play well. Everybody was disappointed because we didn't look sharp."
Gallo has experienced life as a head coach in both the public and private school systems. He's guided parochial programs at Servite and Mater Dei and helped start a program at Laguna Hills. He also served as an assistant at Capistrano Valley.
"The heat from unhappy parents is about the same at Mater Dei as it was at Laguna Hills," Gallo said. "Parents love their kids no matter where you coach. They want to know why their son is on the bench."
A parent's concern over lack of playing time at a private school is understandable. It costs an average of $2,000 a year to attend, and most parents want their children to participate in extra-curricular activities. But are the parents at a private school more vocal because they are paying a big tab?
"I have the same type of parent at Kennedy High that I did at Servite, but there aren't as many of them here," John Carroll, Irish coach, said. Carroll served as the defensive coordinator at Servite, an all-boys parochial school in Anaheim, for four years before accepting the head coaching job at Kennedy last year.
"I think a higher percentage of parents at a parochial school have bigger expectations," he said. "They're paying for their children to attend a private school, and they expect more."
Carroll estimated that about 100 parents were active in the booster club at Servite while less than 40 parents participate at Kennedy. He coached two teams at Servite to Big Five Conference championships, but struggled to a 2-8 record last season at Kennedy.
"My experience at Servite was very enjoyable . . . winning makes things enjoyable," Carroll said. "But even while we were winning, there were some unhappy players and parents. The biggest complaint is always over playing time."
Marijon Ancich recorded 188 of his 196 career victories on the prep level at St. Paul High, a parochial school in Santa Fe Springs. Last year, he helped rejuvenate a sagging Tustin program, turning the team into winners with a 6-4 record.
Ancich claims he never had a problem at St. Paul with a disenchanted parent, although he had his share of armchair quarterbacks and second-guessers.
"We would beat a team, 35-0, and a guy would complain that the team we played wasn't competitive enough to get us ready for the Angelus League," Ancich said. "Then, we'd beat a good team, 7-6, and the same guy wanted to know what idiot scheduled a tough team like that?"
When Ancich arrived at Tustin, there were no such expectations. The program had failed to earn a playoff berth since 1967, so supporters, at best, were hoping for a .500 record.
"I went into the job blind," Ancich said. "This is an affluent area, so I figured people wouldn't settle for second best. But I had never seen a football program in Southern California that had been put down so low.
"The first thing I did was to get everybody involved. That was something I learned at St. Paul. I encourage every parent to get involved. I know some coaches don't want to get near the public, but I've learned that if you're going to please the public, you have to deal with the public."
Don Markham, Bishop Amat coach, thinks the parents at a private or parochial school are more likely to become involved in a program than parents at a public school because of their commitment to the church. In 15 years, Markham has coached at Los Angeles Baptist, Colton and Bishop Amat.
"I think parents are more willing to help at a private school," Markham said. "They've been asked before, and many feel it's sort of their duty to the church to help out any way they can. They expect to be asked to help."
Markham said he received only his second phone call from a parent with a complaint last week in 15 years of coaching. The parent wanted to know why his son was cut from the varsity.