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Pasquarella Brings Success to Ayala High

November 08, 1994|ERIC SHEPARD

A few months after Mark Pasquarella was hired as the football coach at Ayala High in Chino Hills in 1990, he began to wonder what he had gotten himself into.

Since the school had not yet opened, the former Covina coach had to conduct spring practice on a local field with little grass and lots of gopher holes. By fall, the sprawling campus had opened but there were no athletic facilities.

The 40 freshmen and sophomores who went out for the team spent their first season practicing at nearby Boys' Republic High, a boarding school for problem kids. Home games were played at Chino High.

"A lot of things I thought would be in place simply weren't," said Pasquarella, who had left a job at Covina High for Ayala. "There was talk (that) the campus might not even open up on time. We didn't have a field, and the locker room wasn't ready.

"I certainly second-guessed my decision to leave Covina."

A year later, however, things had improved. The school's teams were given varsity status and assigned to the Southern Section's Olympic League, a Division X conference made up primarily of private schools with small enrollments. Although there were no seniors, Ayala finished 4-6 that football season.

By 1992, the Bulldogs had moved up to the Division III Sierra League. Lineman Steve Dundee became the school's first player to receive a Division I scholarship, signing with Colorado State.

Since then, things have gone better than anticipated. Ayala qualified for the playoffs last year and was eliminated by Montebello in the first round, 24-21. This year, the Bulldogs were the division's top-ranked team until they lost to Rowland, 7-6, last Friday.

At 8-1 with a game left in the regular season, Ayala is guaranteed its second consecutive playoff appearance and expects to get a home game in the first round. Quarterback Steve Birnbaum, a 6-foot-4, 180-pound senior, is being recruited by several colleges.

Ayala's enrollment has grown from 1,000 in 1990 to 2,900. More than 100 players are out for football.

"We still don't have any bleachers or lights, but the program is moving ahead," Pasquarella said "It's taken a while for the kids to buy into our coaching philosophy, but they're coming around."


Ayala is not the only new school enjoying success on the football field. Fontana A.B. Miller, South El Monte, Corona Centennial and Rancho Cucamonga have all had winning seasons shortly after opening.

Rancho Cucamonga leads the pack, however. In only its third year, the school has a league title to its credit and could add another this season. The Cougars finished 10-2 last year after losing to Temecula Valley in the Southern Section Division V quarterfinals. They are 8-1 this season and expected to challenge for the Division VI title.

"The kids bought into our program much quicker than any of us expected," Coach Pete Fotia said. "This has all been a very pleasant surprise."


Carson, the City Section's defending Division 4-A champion, is in danger of missing the playoffs after three forfeits left the team with a 1-8 record.

The Colts, who have won nine City championships, are coming off a 13-10 loss to San Pedro in a Southern Pacific Conference game Friday. Before that, they had to forfeit conference victories over Crenshaw, Harbor City Narbonne and Wilmington Banning for using an academically ineligible sophomore transfer.

Carson finishes the regular season Thursday afternoon at home against Washington. A victory would improve its conference record to 2-5.

A playoff committee will meet Friday to determine the 4-A and 3-A brackets. The section's top 16 teams will be put in 4-A and the second 16 in 3-A.

"For varying reasons I still feel we're a good team that should make the 4-A playoffs," said Carson Coach David Williams. "But our destiny is out of my control right now."

Said Belmont's Robert Levy, a member of the playoff committee: "Carson is probably a team that should be in the 4-A playoffs, but you have to put your feelings aside and look at their record."


Bill Redell, a football coach accustomed to the limelight, is suffering through his second losing season at St. Francis in La Canada.

The former Crespi coach who guided the Russell White-led Celts to the Southern Section Division I championship in 1986, took over at St. Francis last year with expectations of quickly rebuilding the Catholic school's football fortunes. But the Golden Knights finished 3-7 last year and are 4-4-1 this season, having lost consecutive league games to Sherman Oaks Notre Dame and West Hills Chaminade.

"I think I misjudged just exactly how far down the program was when I took it over," Redell said. "I think it has improved the last two seasons, but we're certainly below where I thought we'd be."

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