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They Have Made a Sudden Impact : After Attending a Summer Water Polo Camp at Pepperdine University, Brothers Javier and Jose Santiago Came a Long Way, All the Way From Puerto Rico to Be Exact, to Help Make Sunny Hills High School a CIF Southern Section Power

October 14, 1985|BRIAN HILDERBRAND

A broad grin spread across Javier Santiago's face as he pondered the question.

"What's the biggest adjustment I have to make?" he asked, repeating the question. "That's easy. It's the way kids like to have fun here. I like the parties."

It should be a smooth transition if learning how to party is the biggest adjustment native Puerto Rican Javier Santiago and his younger brother, Jose, have to make now that they're living in Southern California and attending Sunny Hills High School.

Four months ago, Javier, 15, and Jose, 13, were living in their hometown of Ponce, Puerto Rico. But as members of the Puerto Rican junior national water polo team, the Santiagos attended a camp at Pepperdine University in Malibu last summer, and liked what they saw.

What they saw and heard included lectures by the coaches of Sunny Hills, Long Beach Wilson and Newport Harbor high schools--three of the Southland's best prep water polo programs. After returning to Puerto Rico, they told their father, Dr. Rene Santiago Carrea, that they wanted to attend high school in Southern California, where many believe the best prep water polo is played.

Both Javier and Jose said they wish to attend college, preferably in California, and decided the best way to achieve that goal would be to enroll at a high school in the States and improve their English.

The Santiagos' father sent letters to the coaches at the three aforementioned high schools, requesting information on enrolling his sons and the procedure for placing them with a suitable family.

Jim Sprague, Sunny Hills water polo coach, received one of the letters and explained the ensuing chain of events.

"I got the letter and I immediately handed it to my principal (Gary Mieger)," he said. "He called down there and talked with the father and arranged to send all the information about enrolling in the school.

"One of the mothers from the team, Vinnie Duebler, was interested in possibly having the kids stay with her. She got a copy of the letter and wrote the parents and made the arrangements to have the kids stay with her family."

Sprague, who said he didn't remember much about the Santiagos from the camp, was pleasantly surprised when they arrived for their first workout in the middle of July.

"I had no idea they were as good as they are," Sprague said. "The ninth grader (Jose) is the best ninth-grade water polo player I have ever seen, and I've been around a long time (20 years at Sunny Hills). Both are very good ball handlers (and that was) just what we needed. We needed some drivers and they both drive very well and shoot off the drive."

By the time the season started in September, both had earned spots on the Lancer varsity. That caused a few hard feelings.

"I don't think you can take two kids onto any team . . . and not have them disrupt the team," Sprague said. "We have a situation where we have seven kids coming back. Five of them started last year and the other two played an awful lot. For all intents and purposes, we had seven kids locked into a lineup, and they were very good.

"Here are two kids that are coming in and one of them (Javier) is taking a starting position and the other one (Jose) is taking a first sub position, so it's putting a couple of kids out of considerable playing time."

Erik Blum is one returning starter who did not lose his job, but he said that there were some players who were put out at first when the Santiagos joined the team.

"I think for some of the people who were in those positions (that the Santiagos filled) earlier, it was a problem," Blum said. "All of a sudden these new people are coming in and (the returning players) are replaced. It was a problem psychologically for those guys who got replaced. I know it would be for me, too."

Those players whose statuses were not affected by the Santiagos' transfer have accepted the athletes, Sprague said.

"I think they have been tremendously received by the rest of the team and I think there's been very little concern over it," Sprague said. "I have a great deal of respect for Jose and Javier because they've really handled themselves well. They're very good kids to begin with and they're very concerned with team play.

"I also really have to give the rest of the team credit. It's been a cooperative thing where they have given a great deal to make their transition very easy."

Javier agreed.

"Everybody accepts us and has been very nice to us," he said.

Blum said that most of his teammates agree the addition of the Santiagos has had a positive influence.

"They have definitely improved the team, giving us a lot more depth," he said. "Now we have three subs who can come in and do the job and that encourages the subs to work a little harder. I think the subs have improved more than they might have because of the added competition."

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