The prep sports season is melting away like an ice cream bar on hot asphalt. But there’s enough of the season left to spur excitement on the Aquinas High campus.
The Falcons were scheduled to have two huge games on Tuesday, June 15 (too late for publication). The No. 1 seeded Aquinas basketball team hosted Van Nuys Grant in a CIF-State Southern California Regional Division 3AA opener. And the Aquinas baseball team was at Elsinore in a CIF-Southern Section Division 6 semifinal game.
“I’ve been getting a lot of emails,” Aquinas basketball coach David Johnson said of the school’s first section basketball title since 1973. “People are saying, ‘Thank you’ and ‘You deserve it’ and ‘We’re proud of you guys.’ It was nice to get the monkey off my back (as a coach) and bring another title to the school.”
Aquinas won the section 3AA title last week in a riveting finish, defeating host King 50-49 on a basket by Fontana resident Sheldon Grant with four seconds left.
Johnson, in addition to preparing his team, was speaking with awards companies about getting championship rings for his players.
“It’s a nice problem to have,” Johnson said with a laugh.
Seeking their own title rings this week were the Aquinas baseball players, coached by Mike Carpentier. The Falcons are strong led by sophomore Eric Bitonti, a University of Arizona commit. Cade Nolan, Landon Young, Max Ryan, Kaden Willerford, Seth Casena, Seth Rajacich and Ethan Cheek are among the other standouts.
Consider this “overtime” for seniors on both Aquinas teams. Graduation was May 29.
—Those who have followed the Aquinas basketball team know about standouts Grant and Nick Hopkins. But another key contributor is guard Vugar Kuliev, a senior transfer from Bloomington Christian by way of Belarus. Belarus is a land-locked country in Eastern Europe.
Kuliev lives with a host family here. He averages 11 points per game, giving Aquinas a much-needed option when opponents clamp down on Grant and Hopkins.
—It’s spring and retirement is in the air.
Longtime Redlands East Valley High athletic director Rhonda Fouch is retiring after 30 years, but her story is already well-documented. Not as well known is that Pat Hafley, the Redlands Unified district athletic director (AD), is also stepping down.
Hafley is a former Redlands High football quarterback who spent more than 30 years in education. (During that time he served as academic counselor Highland Community News Editor for Hector Hernandez at RHS.)
“It’s an emotional rollercoaster for me,” Hafley said of his retirement. “Athletics have been a huge part of my life for a long time.”
Hafley’s wife, Rhonda Bruce, has been the Citrus Valley High principal for six years. She is also retiring, after spending more than 35 years in education.
Hafley led the 1979 Redlands High team that made the section playoffs as a wild-card team before defeating Mater Dei, Loyola and St. Francis in the playoffs. The Terriers finally met their match in the section title game at Anaheim Stadium, losing to Edison 55-0.
Hafley no doubt learned many valuable lessons along the way.
—Another district AD who is retiring is Ed Kearby of Fontana Unified.
Kearby formerly was the basketball coach at Fontana High and San Bernardino Valley College. He later became the AD at Summit High before taking the district AD job.
Kearby has kept his retirement after nearly 40 years in education quiet, but did say this on social media, “All of the coaches that have rolled along on my journey with me, please know that I love you guys … and the thousands of students and athletes that have in one way or another touched my heart, you will never be forgotten.”
—Also stepping down this spring is Sam Cereceres, who was a wrestling official for 60 years and spent 45 years as an assigner of officials.
Cereceres, 78, is a former San Bernardino High star wrestler. His daughters, Samantha Wiseman and Serena Cereceres, are Highland residents.
He finished third in the state meet at 157 pounds as a wrestler at San Bernardino Valley College and was an All-American at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
“I love the sport and I wanted to make sure the assigning got done right,” Cereceres said of his many years of, ahem, telling area officials where to go.
Cereceres helped get the San Gorgonio High wrestling program off the ground. He’s also an antique car buff who has taken part in community parades in Highland and other area cities.
—As previously reported, Kristen Braun left the AD post at Jurupa Hills not long ago to take an assistant principal job. Braun is the daughter of former Fontana and Kaiser football coach Dick Bruich and the sister of Citrus Valley High football coach Kurt Bruich.
The new Jurupa Hills AD is former REV assistant football coach Chad Reed.