EL TORO — Mike (Squeaky) Froome didn't hesitate when asked by Coach Tim Travers to write what he thought his role was on El Toro High School's basketball team.
"Cannon-fodder for the starters," Froome wrote.
Well, Froome hasn't exactly been expendable in El Toro's practices or games. In fact, he was a starting guard in El Toro's opening game against San Dieguito in the Daily Pilot Tipoff Classic.
For the past 10 years, many El Toro reserves have opened the basketball season as starters while some who normally would be first string continued through the Southern Section playoffs--in football.
Traditionally, Travers scrambles things for a week or two while the football team marches through the postseason. This year, missing seven players (four starters), he combined his varsity and junior varsity teams for two weeks before the opener, then filled the gaps in the starting lineup with two varsity reserves and two junior varsity players.
"Everybody knows their roles on the team in the summer," Travers said. "Once you've earned a starting spot, that position is yours no matter when you're ready to play. But we've been filling the gaps for the past 10 years because our football program has been so successful.
Enter Froome, a lounge-act player who was suddenly the main room's spotlight when El Toro opened against San Dieguito.
"I was nervous, but it was exciting," said Froome, who scored three points. "I finally got a chance to show what I can do."
Froome fails to mention that El Toro was beaten, 84-56, or that the football players returned for the next game. But then, he knows his role.
"The harder I work in practice, the better the starters will be on game night," he said. "Practice is fun. That's where I get to play the most. I never complain about practice."
Travers went to his bench for a second time last weekend when El Toro played in the semifinals and third-place game of the Beverly Hills tournament. Starting forward Rob Johnson and center Jeremy Hogue missed both because of a recruiting trip to Notre Dame.
But Travers, who has won an average of 15 games per season, isn't one to complain.
"Once in a while, I'll hear a basketball coach complaining about starting the season without some of his starters who play football, and I get a good laugh," he said. "I'm consistently in that situation.
"But I'd never complain. The football team's success breeds success into our basketball season. We got beat by San Dieguito, but I was real happy with the way we played. The players did what they had been taught. They just got beat by better athletes."
Each year, El Toro's booster club recognizes a player who displays the best attitude, effort, sportsmanship and conduct. The player accepting the award at the team banquet has never been a starter.
"It's usually given to a player you've never heard of," Travers said. "It's always a guy who accepts his role. These days, it's rare to find a kid who accepts his role as a substitute.
"It's nice to see guys who enjoy the camaraderie of the players and want to be part of a team. Generally, we've always had guys who understand the importance of being a role player."
Darren Teasck, a 20-year-old volunteer assistant freshman coach at El Toro, was a bench-warmer who didn't get his chance to score until the final game of the 1986-87 season. And even then, Teasck needed an assist from Bret Johnson.
Teasck was the only varsity player who had failed to score going into the finale against San Clemente. Teasck entered the game in the fourth quarter with El Toro comfortably ahead.
Teasck was still scoreless in the final seconds when Johnson shouted to one of San Clemente's players, "Foul him" as Teasck brought the ball up the court. The defender, a friend of Johnson's from football, obliged.
Teasck made two free throws.
Looking back, he said he has no regrets about the time he spent on the bench.
"I played because I loved the game and wanted to be part of a team," Teasck said. "I was just glad to be part of the team. Now, as a coach, I think I relate to the subs. I know they want to play, and sometimes it's tough working your butt off all week and then sitting.
"But later on, they'll realize there's something special about being part of the team."