Robbie Sibbrel got the nickname "Abner" from his father because, as a child, he resembled the comic strip character "Li'l Abner." On the basketball court he reminds many La Canada High fans of another personality from the funnies: Mr. Magoo.
Sibbrel, a senior who plans to spend most of the basketball season watching from the varsity bench, played point guard for the sophomore squad 2 years ago. Because the best sophomore players were moved up to the junior varsity and varsity, Sibbrel started.
"They were so bad they didn't deserve a nickname," said varsity starter Greg Thompson of the 0-17 sophomores. And even Thompson, a close friend of Sibbrel's, doesn't mince words when it comes to describing his buddy's unorthodox approach to the game.
"Abner has this stupid little hook-layup thing we always swat," he said.
Chad Givens, who plays center for the Spartans, said Sibbrel often provides comic relief in practice.
"He's always got this funny grin on his face because he's kind of lost out there," Givens said.
It's no secret that Sibbrel is a fish out of water on the hardwood. So he relishes the times he can get back into his element--the school pool.
There, he'll put a basketball pal in the water polo goal and challenge him to block another type of shot. He might blaze a backhanded fireball past him or dink a lofting floater just out of his reach.
Sibbrel has a knack for frustrating goalies. He has scored 116 goals this season--more than twice as many as his closest teammate.
He learned water polo from his older brother, Bryan, who also played at La Canada. Because he couldn't throw the ball very hard when he was younger, Robbie perfected a lob shot that he still uses with regularity. He plays in the "hole," a position which is roughly equivalent to the center on a basketball team.
Sibbrel also relies on a no-look, spinning backhanded shot that he fires with accuracy.
Coach John Clayson initially tried to eliminate the backhand from Sibbrel's arsenal.
"Normally a shooter will shoot a backhand and it will go right at a goalie and it either hurts the goalie or they miss the shot," Clayson said. "So I made an agreement with him that he could do it so long as he didn't miss two in a row. We had a big argument about it but I made a commitment.
"So far he's done fine. He's probably missed two in a row in a couple of games but I've kept him in because he makes four or five."
And when he's up to his neck in water, Sibbrel gets the type of recognition he never knew in high-tops.
"Abner's psycho. He's awesome," teammate Brady McKay said. "When he gets on, he's on fire. He gets all psyched up and he starts screaming and everyone starts screaming. It really gets our team going."
Sometimes the screaming gets out of hand, however. Water polo games are relatively quiet so players' voices can be clearly heard. Sibbrel occasionally lets his competitive spirit cloud his better judgment and has been reprimanded and even ejected for yelling at the referee.
"I try not to yell but I have a bad temper," he said. "I don't think it's funny, though."
And he doesn't reserve his enthusiasm for water polo games--Sibbrel was named Most Inspirational on the Spartan golf team last year. Least Sedate would be more appropriate. His boisterous antics on the links have shattered the serenity of many local courses.
"I'd get up there on the furthest hole away from the clubhouse and I'd miss something or I'd make a bad shot," Sibbrel said. "I'd scream and they could hear me all the way up there (at the clubhouse)."
Now that Sibbrel has found his niche, it's the La Canada fans who are screaming. He's almost a cult figure on campus. In fact, one teacher is even giving extra-credit points to students who make "Abner" signs and bring them to games.
And Sibbrel doesn't mind the commotion.
"It's great when students come up to me and say, 'Good game. Man, you're awesome,' " he said. "Guys who have gotten that recognition before might get tired of it, but I don't think I'd ever get tired of 'You're awesome.' "