April 21, 2024

For all the ugliness that sometimes exposes itself in high school sports — unruly fans, players wanting to start fights, parents shouting at officials — let’s not forget those magical moments that remind everyone the reason high school sports exists.

It was Friday night in Manhattan Beach. Hundreds of Loyola students walked in unison up the bleachers at Mira Costa High carrying flags and signs while preparing their voices for action like an opera singer. On the other side of the gym, 1,500-strong Mira Costa supporters filled their side for a volleyball match featuring their No. 1 Mustangs against the Cubs.

There are few events in Southern California that produce a more electrifying atmosphere.

“Everyone knows everybody,” Mira Costa coach Greg Snyder said.

Think St. John Bosco vs. Mater Dei or Garfield vs. Roosevelt in football to understand the level of energy in the bleachers.

Sean Kelly of Loyola delivers one of his 30 kills in win over Mira Costa.

Sean Kelly of Loyola delivers one of his 30 kills in win over Mira Costa.

(Craig Weston)

“Unreal” is how Loyola standout Sean Kelly described the fan support.

The quality of play on the court was equally mesmerizing.

“We’re the top two teams in the country,” Loyola coach Mike Boehle said.

By the time the match ended, Kelly had accumulated 30 kills in a 25-23, 23-25, 25-16, 25-17 Loyola victory.

“Amazing athlete,” Mira Costa’s Cooper Keane said of the 6-foot-7 Kelly, who has committed to UCLA and had his future coach, John Speraw, watching from the bleachers.

Throughout the match, from the introductions to match point and afterward when Loyola students took off their shirts and surrounded their team on the court, there were smiles everywhere from both teams.

Wyatt Davis of Mira Costa delivers a kill against Loyola's Sean Kelly.

Wyatt Davis of Mira Costa delivers a kill against Loyola’s Sean Kelly.

(Craig Weston)

“I was having fun,” Kelly said. “We were playing off the energy the whole game.”

Kelly has won a gold medal for the U19 national team. He has played club volleyball with many of the Mira Costa players. But nothing compares to the Loyola-Mira Costa match when communities come together and the players rise or fall with an emotional connection that can’t be duplicated. A couple Mira Costa students who are probably neighbors of some Loyola players were making them smile before the match with comedy only friends can unleash.

Yes, high school sports has its problems. There are people speculating club programs in the future will siphon off top athletes with the lure of exposure. It’s already happening in soccer, where some elite teenagers didn’t play for their high school teams this season after given a choice between playing club or high school.

Then you see the scene from Friday night and understand if someone doesn’t want to participate in the high school sports experience, tell them it’s their loss. Go ahead and waste your time trying to impress some “scout” in front of no one. Go ahead and pay one of the people charging $30 for parking. Go ahead and travel across the country for a “showcase” that costs hundreds of dollars. Maybe things will work out.

Or you could become part of a high school team that plays for one another and plays for its community. You can learn life lessons from a coach who went to college, earned a teaching credential and understands the mission is to prepare athletes to be successful on and off the court.

There’s so much history in this volleyball match. Patrick Klein, who played for Loyola in 1995, watched his son, Kai, on Friday. His cousin is USC volleyball star Dillon Klein, also a Loyola grad.

“There’s no other match like this,” Patrick said.

Imagine being a freshman in your first Loyola match. That was Mira Costa’s Mateo Fuerbringer, whose sister, Charlie, was the Gatorade state player of the year in girls’ volleyball in the fall.

“It was so cool,” he said.

It was high school sports at its best.

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