You know you're playing small-school basketball when:
- Your school doesn't have a gymnasium.
- The boys' coach also coaches the girls' team . . . and the football team and the baseball team.
- You play "the big game" on a carpeted gym floor.
First, let's lay the ground rules.
This is a story about small high school basketball.
It is not about behemoths such as Southern California Christian (enrollment 450) or Capistrano Valley Christian (300). Both schools play in the Southern Section's 1-A division.
This story is about places such as Voyagers Christian, a school that requires its students, all 27 of them, to participate in interscholastic sports and the school play.
There's Goldenwest Christian, a full five students larger than Voyager, that leases its classrooms from a grade school. When a reporter asked where the elementary school ended and Goldenwest Christian began, an office worker answered: "The high school? Oh, it begins at the brown trash can."
There's Walden of Anaheim. A liberal arts high school--enrollment 95--named after Henry David Thoreau's masterpiece of humans living in harmony with nature.
Given the origin of the school name, one wonders how they arrived at the nickname, Warriors.
Walden plays its home games at the local YMCA.
There's St. Margaret's (enrollment 150), which qualified for the playoffs Saturday by winning the only home game it played this season. The game was played at the Laguna Beach Boys Club, which has a carpeted gymnasium floor.
"It's polyester or something, I think," said a club employee.
There are 12 Orange County high schools competing in three small-school leagues.
California Lutheran (Tustin), Liberty Christian (Huntington Beach), Newport Christian (Newport Beach), St. Michael's Prep (Orange) and Heritage (Buena Park) are members of the Academy League.
Garden Grove Claremont (Garden Grove), Goldenwest Christian (Buena Park) and Voyagers Christian (Huntington Beach) belong to the Express League.
And Walden and St. Margaret's (San Juan Capistrano) are in the Collegiate League.
What separates them from larger schools is:
- Talent. There's not a lot it.
- Facilities. There usually are none, save an outdoor park court for practice and whatever indoor court can be scrounged for games.
- The emphasis on winning. Ask a small-school coach, player or administrator what their record is and the response will range from, "Huh?" to, "Well, we won one, no two games last week, and the week before that we, uh . . . "
Like other schools, these 12 have numerous similarities as well as stark differences. Goldenwest Christian and St. Margaret's characterize the interesting spectrum of small-school basketball in Orange County.
Here are their small/short stories:
GOLDENWEST CHRISTIAN HIGH
The Goldenwest Christian border does start at the brown trash can. What the elementary school office worker failed to mention is that the border ends at a broken refrigerator with its door safely removed.
This is the first year the school has been in Buena Park. For the first two years, Goldenwest Christian was located in Garden Grove.
As would be expected, the Lions do not have a gymnasium. They play their home games in a church gym in Paramount, which is about 30 minutes away.
Despite this, Goldenwest Christian was the only Orange County school to finish the regular season with undefeated boys' and girls' teams last season.
It also was the only season the Lions fielded a girls' team.
"We just kind of picked it up as we went along," said a team member.
But after last school year there was talk, actually more than talk, that the school would be closed. It would have shut down if not for one indomitable spirit in glasses and gray hair named Sybil McCorkle.
McCorkle helped found the school three years ago. She's school principal, but, according to most students, she's just "Grandma."
Her son-in-law, Gary Paddock, coaches the boys' team. He also coaches football, baseball and track and field.
The school is made up of four rooms--three classrooms and an office. Tuition is $1,800.
To attend Goldenwest Christian is to quickly realize three facts: There will be no frills because money is tight. There will be no dancing at school social events. And when Grandma talks, you better listen.
"It's a very close bunch," McCorkle said. "I have to keep them in line sometimes, but usually everything goes fine."
The $1,800 barely keeps Sybil in typewriter ribbons. And things are expensive enough without paying for athletic uniforms.
"Originally we tried to pay for those things out of the tuition," McCorkle said. "But that's next to impossible. I've never worried, though. I've always had faith that God will provide."
She ends her speech, but a glint in her eye says she has something to add.
Something such as: God will provide, with the proper push.
No uniforms? Well, McCorkle works out a deal with a local community college to take old uniforms off its hands.
"We just so happen to be the same color," McCorkle said.