For the first time in my high school’s history, our varsity football team went to the state championships. Right before finals week rolled in, the small, private high school in the Silicon Valley gave it their all by winning the Northern California Division III championship game against El Cerrito. According to many sports commentators, the Gators were predicted to lose to the Gauchos. Despite the doubters, the Gators took the upset with a 42-7 win, and many were shocked at the outcome.
“I don't think they were prepared for us,” star linebacker/running back Ben Burr-Kirven says. “I don't think they were expecting us to come out and hit like we did. They thought we were going to be scared of them, but we came in with the mentality that there isn't anyone better than us, so we're going to go out and win this game.” And we did.
Sacred Heart Prep’s outstanding record of 13-2 made them one of the best teams in our region, which was surprising to many people because “they usually tend to overlook us since we are a small private school,” Burr-Kirven says.
After that incredible game, it taught us that it does not matter the size of the school or how well-received the other team may be as long as there’s passion, drive, love for the game, and an excellent strategy.
When the date finally arose for the state championship game, Gator pride beamed everywhere. A large crowd that included parents, faculty, alumni, siblings, students, even the student-run radio, trekked all the way down to Southern California in Carson to cheer on their home team.
“It's always exciting to play in such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the fans just added to that extra excitement,” says wide receiver Mitch Martella. Additionally, several students who were not able to make it to the game, including myself, hosted a party to watch the game live on television sponsored by Comcast SportsNet, contributing to the support for my school.
The game against Corona del Mar (16-0) did not end well for us. We fought hard, but Corona del Mar's safety returned an interception 58 yards for a touchdown, stretching the Sea Kings' lead to 21-0 with 11 seconds left in the first quarter. However, after a touchdown from linebacker Andrew Robinson and another by Burr-Kirven, we did not lose empty-handed. This brought up the score to 21-15. Sadly, it wasn’t enough.
Though the Gators fell a little short in terms of winning the state championship, they certainly proved themselves as warriors and brothers throughout the entire football season. “The most impressive part of our team is not how good we were, but how we played for each other,” Martella says. “We are brothers and we are all a second little family, which is the reason why we succeeded and came so far.”
Coach Lavorato, a former professional football player in Canada, is known for stressing the importance of being humble and being good men before anything else, according to the members of the team. “He has one job, that one job being to love us,” says free safety Robert Hardy. “He shows his love by pushing us to be the best athletes and young men that we can be, and we greatly thank him for that.”
“We already were a family before going to State, but I think going to L.A., living with [the team] and playing in the state championship has created a bond and memories that will last till we die,” says Burr-Kirven.
Congratulations, Gators, on an unbelievable season!
All photos courtesy of the Hardy family