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Football Resurrection : Cathedral, a Forgotten Parochial Powerhouse, Rises and Generates Renewed Excitement With Its Best Record in 40 Years

December 12, 1996|ERIC SHEPARD

Among parochial football powers, Cathedral High was forgotten long ago.

These days, Loyola, La Puente Bishop Amat and Santa Ana Mater Dei are the schools favored most often by the top players. And it's no coincidence they're also the schools that fare the best on the field.

There was a time when top players from the inner city wanted to attend Cathedral, an all-boys' Catholic school in Chinatown near downtown Los Angeles. No one at the school, however, can remember that far back.

That may explain the excitement being generated by Cathedral's best season in 40 years. The team is 12-1, its only loss by one point to rival Salesian on Oct. 19. It has breezed through the playoffs and will play at Yucca Valley on Friday night for the Southern Section Division XI championship.

So many fans have been following the team's resurrection this fall that officials are worried Yucca Valley's stadium won't accommodate everyone who is expected to make the four-hour drive.

"I'm so worried that we're going to show up with all of our buses and fans and have nowhere to sit," said Hector Roman, president of the school's alumni association. "I hope my worst fears aren't realized."

It's a nice problem considering that only two years ago then-coach Tony Barragan and his staff were dismissed with one game remaining in the season. At the conclusion of a game against Burbank Bellarmine-Jefferson, a fight broke out between the teams during postgame handshakes.

Cathedral Vice Principal Lou Parapiano said that was a low point in a period when the school had three coaches in four years.

"We're a Catholic school, and our players weren't acting very Christian-like," Parapiano said. "They would scream and yell, use profanity, taunt other players and generally display poor sportsmanship."

But with fewer than 400 students and a small athletic budget, attracting quality coaches proved difficult. After interviewing several candidates to replace Barragan, Parapiano selected a relative unknown.

Kevin Pearson had just turned 29 and had never been a head coach. After four years assisting the freshman/sophomore team at South Gate, he felt he was ready to coach his own team. He also interviewed at Torrance Bishop Montgomery before getting the Cathedral job.

Parapiano said Pearson's enthusiasm more than offset his lack of experience.

"I've never seen a guy so enthusiastic about a coaching job in my 16 years at the school," he said. "When I called to tell him he had gotten the job and wondered when he could start, he said he would be in the next morning."

Pearson, who played football at South Gate in the early 1980s, had a promising career as an accountant with a major firm in downtown Los Angeles. His boss asked that he read the Wall Street Journal to keep up with the business world, but when he kept reaching for the sports section he knew he had to follow his first love.

Against the advice of several family members and friends, Pearson quit his job and returned to school at Cal State Los Angeles to get his teaching certificate. For nearly two years, he worked part time, went to school and coached football.

"At least once a week, there would be a day when I didn't sleep because I was shuffling so many things," Pearson said. "I was broke, but I was happy because I was doing what I wanted."

He is making half the salary he used to draw as an accountant, but Pearson said the Cathedral job has been a dream. The 15-hour days he often puts in have paid off. The team finished with a winning record last year and qualified for the playoffs.

This season, the Phantoms are averaging 48 points a game. Sebastian Castellon and Chris Hanks each has rushed for more than 2,000 yards and scored more than 20 touchdowns.

Pearson has made many changes. To help erase the recent past, he redesigned the mascot logo, dropped gold from the other team colors of purple and white, completely changed the uniforms and bought new helmets.

Players who don't conduct themselves maturely on or off the field are dismissed from the team. And there are prayers before and after games.

"I wanted an environment where I could utilize my religious beliefs, and I think I've found a home," Pearson said.

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