Tiny little Aquinas High School sits over in the little San Bernardino area, just waiting to fire up.

Football’s arrived. So has volleyball and softball. There’ve been some basketball spotlights. A few years ago, a trio of Brazilians showed up and turned a decent boys’ soccer side into a CIF championship squad.

There’s that little tennis facility sitting over there, too.

“A few years ago,” said Lady Falcons’ coach Scott Smith, 66, “we had some good teams. We won league.”

He’s quietly pessimistic about the remainder of the Ambassador League.

“Just us and Linfield Christian,” he said, referring to the Temecula-based school, “has a tennis facility on campus.”

It’s a weak league, he says. What he wouldn’t give to turn Aquinas, not to mention the remainder of that “weak” league, into a tennis firehouse.

All he needs are willing, hungry, dedicated players, accustomed to being tennis “rats.” In other words, playing some USTA tennis, taking a lesson, or two, and turning their world into racket power.

Make no mistake about it. Tennis, the sport, has taken a huge hit in recent years. It’s mostly recreational players on those high school teams.

If you’re not Redlands High School ⎯ a handful of boys and girls CIF rings earned over there in recent years ⎯ there’s not much left to the sport.

Reminder: This is the area that’s produced world-class pro Stephanie Rehe, not to mention the Scatliffe kids and Stephanie’s brother, Mark. There’ve been some others.

Think about this, though: If your kid ⎯ male or female ⎯ wanted to unload in a sport with a shot at a CIF championship ring, check out Aquinas.

Smith’s got that kind of swagger in his voice that’ll turn a kid into a player. He can spot the flaws in any serve, groundstroke, backhand or forehand.

The United States Tennis Association, Smith was saying recently, sank some money into fairly recent facility improvements.

“I’ve got the nicest tennis facility in the area,” he says straight out.

Aquinas sunk some of its own money into it; the USTA might’ve put more into it, except it’s not open to the public.

Smith, for his part, has a couple of minor USTA tournaments on the grounds. He’s also tennis pro at Arrowhead Country Club, plus he’s a recreation worker up in Crestline.

Aquinas might be lucky to have this guy. Don’t know what they’re paying him, but the usual stipend is around $3,000, plus CIF money. He’s doing his best to liven up the sport.

Sure, the tuition price tag might be around $8,000. Who knows? Maybe the school could help out with that cost a little. Ask them.

* * *

You’d never find my name linked to the highly acclaimed, award-winning, front row-seated sports writers like Jim Murray, Dan Jenkins, Frank Deford or Rick Reilly ⎯ each a Sports Illustrated legend.

Still I had a couple of submissions published in a couple of this legendary magazine’s collection of legendary issues. In my mind, every edition ofSports Illustrated was … well, legendary.

Why this is important: SI has recently cut its staff way, way, waaay back ⎯ in the spirit of most other publications because it’s become a click crazy world. 

My two published pieces came in 1988 and 1995.

The first was a short (shortened even more by Sports Illustrated editors) story about Encino Crespi High School running back Russell White, whose Celts’ team played at Redlands while ABC-TV covered a Friday night game.

White, who spent just a couple seasons in an NFL uniform, was supposed to be the next Walter Payton, Earl Campbell or Archie Griffin whose uncle, Kermit Alexander, was an NFL All-Pro cornerback.

Redlands High, en route to a 17-17 deadlock, knocked White out of the game (hip injury). While the game was still taking place, I caught up to him walking, alone, up the ramp toward the University of Redlands field house.

That’s where the Terriers played their home games in those days.

“You hurt?” I asked White.

Quietly, calmly and, quite friendly by nature, he said, “Yeah. I’ll be all right, though.”

The other SI piece came a few years later ⎯ in 1995. It’s when Louis Meyer died in Searchlight, Nev. (think Colorado River).

Who?

He was the original “Lucky Louie.” Escaped harm during some severe auto racing crashes, walking away each time. It’s where the term, “Lucky Louie” was invented.

Another original: He drank buttermilk in Victory Lane when he won one of his three Indianapolis 500 titles in the 1920s and ’30s. Guess what the dairy industry did with that?

Meyer’s son, Sonny, went out of his way to let me know ⎯ a couple years before his dad died ⎯ that Louis learned to drive during summers in Redlands, where his brother, Eddie, I think, had a car dealership. Ford, perhaps?

Imagine that?

My Sports Illustrated submissions were written as tightly and punched-up as I could possibly make them. They buried them, shortened even more by an editorial staff that probably never had any trouble with stories posted by the Deford-Reilly-Murray-Jenkins quartet ⎯ perhaps the Mt. Rushmore of sports journalists.

The only reason I knew they’d published those pieces is that I received a check from their corporate offices. Both times, I kept searching and searching and searching some more for those stories (dates of publication were on the checks I received). In each case, I spotted them in small type, buried somewhere in the midst of their magazine.

SI’s future, like most publications, is sad.

The Internet, Apple, ESPN ⎯ and much more ⎯ conspired to knock Sports Illustrated readership down to its most recent size. Too bad.

If you’ve got a sports tip, comment or want to talk sports, email to baseballolb@hotmail.com.

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