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1993 TIMES: All-Valley Baseball Team : COACH OF THE YEAR : Pep Talk Had a Championship Ring to It : Mike Maio: He inspires ECR to school's first title.

June 18, 1993|STEVE ELLING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mighty strange way to impress a potential employer.

The man who now coaches two high-profile sports at El Camino Real High was the first to kick sand in its puny little face.

Way back in 1969, when El Camino Real opened its doors and assembled its first football team, the fall began with a thud. The Conquistadores, very much in their infancy, played their first football game against Belmont and lost.

Mike Maio was at the Belmont helm. Guess nobody took the loss personally.

All these years later, Maio is not only co-coach of the El Camino Real football team, but head honcho of the baseball team as well.

On June 3 at Dodger Stadium, Maio and El Camino Real grabbed the first City Section baseball title in school history with a 7-6 victory over Chatsworth in the 4-A Division final.

For Maio, 53, it was third-time lucky. The Conquistadores failed in the 4-A finals in 1984 and 1990. El Camino Real (24-2) set a school record for victories in a season and finished the year ranked third in the state by Cal-Hi Sports.

Despite swingin' and missin' twice in as many visits to the Dodger Stadium final, Maio--The Times' Valley coach of the year--might have had a notion that this was the Conquistadores' year.

Of course, he never really would admit as much.

Therein lies a tale.

At practice the day before the championship game, Maio had his graduating seniors take part in "a ritual."

Seniors gathered around the coach. The rest of the team lined up along the first base chalk, out of earshot.

"I told the seniors how much they've meant to me," Maio said. "It was pretty emotional."

Maio then sent the seniors off to their respective positions, to silently meditate upon their tenure and hard work on the team.

The seniors also walked down the line of non-seniors, shaking hands. Maio, standing at the end of the line, was the last to rub palms with each senior.

His final words: "Make this last game a good one."

The logical question, of course, is why Maio waited until the eve of the final to perform the ceremony. In the playoffs, every game--and every practice that precedes it--could be a team's last.

Anyone familiar with Maio knows he ranks among the most conservative of coaches. Old school. Takes no unnecessary chances. Plays the percentages. Definitely not a seat-of-the-pants guy.

"I gambled," he said, laughing. "I waited until right before Dodger Stadium."

Had it in the bag all along.

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