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STATE OF GAHR HIGH ATHLETICS: Boys basketball, baseball, softball enjoying greatest success at Gahr High

 

 

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter• May 20, 2020

This is the third in a series of stories on the athletic programs of the area high schools from the past 15-20 years and the immediate future of most of their sports. Each story will have comments from that school’s athletic director, or one of the co-athletic directors on most, if not, all the sports that school competes in.

Next up is Gahr High, which has been trying to get out of the San Gabriel Valley League for over 20 years. Yet, the school has been successful in several sports, making some question why it would leave the SGVL.

FOOTBALL

The main sport which would have benefited from a change in leagues would be football, which left the league in 2002 to become freelance for four seasons. But the program is 15 games under .500 since 2000 and even though the program’s lone league title came in 1975, there have been some bright moments.

Not only has Greg Marshall been the athletic director for roughly 20 years, he has been the program’s head coach since 2003. Marshall replaced Glen Fisher when the program was in its second season as a freelance team and went 6-4 that season. Since then, the Gladiators have had six winning seasons and the 2007 season, which has been the program’s best, advanced to the semifinals for the first time. In fact, in the history of Gahr football, it has played in 10 playoff games.

“Our thing is anytime our freshmen and sophomores have stayed together, we’ve had our best years,” Marshall said. “Anytime you lose 10, eight…sometimes we’ve lost upwards to 12 kids, you can’t really judge the program by that. But when we’ve kept our kids, then we’ve been very successful. I like what we’re doing with what we have and what we have to play against. It would be nice to get into another league, but it’s never going to happen. We’ve done well for our situation.”

Marshall says Gahr should have stayed a freelance team or in another league because it doesn’t really fit in the SGVL and that it wasn’t their choice to come back to the league to begin the 2006 season. But he added that when the program has been able to keep its players, it has been competitive in the SGVL. The Gladiators have been 3-2 or 4-1 in league games five times since 2007.

“When we were freelancing, we would be playing teams like us, win, lose or draw,” Marshall said. “And the kids felt good about it. So, our numbers were steady.”

Of the five trips to the postseason since the 2007 season, three have come in the past four seasons and Gahr has gone 22-22 in that time. But Marshall will be the first to tell you that it’s tough to match up with Downey High, Paramount High and Warren High, for the most part, in the SGVL for football. As far as the future, it’s pretty much going to be on a year to year basis.

“Our current numbers are better than they’ve ever been,” Marshall said. “I think the last two years it’s been kind of crazy. I walk in and we’re having 40-50 kids year-round now, whereas before we would have 20. For some reason, kids still want to play football here. When you look down the road, we’ve already lost two of our best kids from last year; two kids who transferred out to La Habra, and I think another one might be going somewhere else. It’s hard to project where you’re going to be and how you’re going to do if the kids stay.”

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

This has been by far the most successful fall program, not just in the past 20 years, but since the school opened in 1965. The Lady Gladiators have won 258 matches in the past 20 years, with three league titles and finished in second place seven times. Only once has Gahr missed the playoffs (2008) and the 2002 team advanced to the semifinals. The program has seen three coaches in the past 20 years, highlighted by Sonny Okomoto, who left after the 2011 season.

“I think about the girls and the boys programs,” Marshall said. “We’ve had some good years and some bad years, but we don’t tend to lose kids. Volleyball is not a big recruiting sport for some reason in this area. Downey and Warren have some good years and have some bad years, and we’ll have some good years. It’s like high school sports should be.”

Marshall says it’s kind of expected that the program does well just because the league is divided by the haves and have nots, and Gahr is part of the haves, along with Downey and Warren. The Lady Gladiators have gone at least 5-5 in league competition for over 20 years and he added that the bottom half of the league is not that competitive, which helps Gahr.

GIRLS TENNIS

This program won league titles in 2005, 2006 and 2007 and has finished in second place and in third place another three times each. Gahr has gone 100-112 in league action since 2002.

“Our league is what it is,” Marshall said. “It’s a real competitive league tennis-wise. So, you can take those kids and coach them up, teach them the skills, even play doubles and manage to get into the playoffs and be very competitive in our league.”

Marshall continued to say for being an off-campus sport, you can’t ask for a better production from the program. But when the school gets its new tennis courts, which are scheduled to be completed in August, he says you’ll see a change in the type of athlete the program gets. He added that tennis is all about the facilities and players want to play on nice facilities that are on campus.

BOYS WATER POLO

Gahr won a league title in 2003 but did not field a team the next year. Marshall said the program had to start all over in 2005. Gahr has finished anywhere from third to sixth in league 16 times. Its teams had been playing at Cerritos College for many years, but lost use of that facility and the program has struggled since, having to compete at Artesia High or at the City of Norwalk.

“Without a consistent pool and a good facility, it’s just going to be hit and miss,” Marshall said.

CROSS COUNTRY

Head coach Bryan Leighliter has been the main staple in a program that won six league titles from 1970-1983 but like most programs anywhere, numbers will dictate how successful it can be and for how long.

“I think Leighliter does a heck of a job,” Marshall said. “Cross country is a numbers game and he doesn’t have great numbers. But he is one of those guys who does a great job developing the workouts for the kids and their times and their improvement. That’s what he bases their motivation on. They get so excited about their [personal records] and how hard they’re working.”

BOYS BASKETBALL

There are three programs at Gahr that have posted more than 335 overall victories in the past 20 years and this is one of them, going 344-240 since the 2000-2001 season. Every year, the Gladiators have competed in the tougher divisions and have finished anywhere from first to fourth in league. The program has been to the CIF-Southern Section divisional finals three times under two coaches and won it all in 2011 under current head coach Ricky Roper. In addition, Gahr has advanced to the semifinals once (2010) and the quarterfinals another time (2006), both under former head coach Bob Becker.

“We’ve been struggling a little bit lately, for us,” Marshall said. “But I think coach Roper has done his best coaching the last couple of years with the least amount of talent. We always have those types of bodies. We don’t have the big 6’8” kid all the time. But we always have, at Gahr, the athletic kids, skilled kids.”

The program has missed the playoffs twice, both coming within the past three seasons and has finished under .500 four times. In two of those seasons, Gahr finished in fourth place in league but still advanced to the postseason based on the automatic 12 victories it needed to apply for an at-large bid.

It’s never easy predicting who will win the SGVL every season because it’s one of the toughest leagues in the Southland. In the past 20 years, only Paramount has not finished in first place. Dominguez High leads the way with nine titles, followed by Gahr with four, Downey and Lynwood High each with three and Warren with two.

“Every single year, there’s no rest for that thing,” Marshall said. “Somehow, there’s still parity there. There hasn’t really been a dominant team since the Dominguez years when [former head coach] Russell [Otis] was over there.”

GIRLS BASKETBALL

Marshall calls the girls basketball program an interesting group even though the past three seasons have been rough going, not advancing to the playoffs. Before that, the Lady Gladiators had a stretch of 11 postseason trips in 12 seasons. In 2013, Gahr won a CIF-SS divisional championship under Al Dorogusker in the last of his 10 seasons with the school. Marshall says the program always used to have girls with ability coming into high school but hasn’t had that in a while.

“Right now, I like the young group that we have,” Marshall said. “Keeping coaches has been the problem since coach Al. But [current head coach] Darrell [Gillcrese] is out there working hard.

He loves the girls and the girls are responding and I think this program is coming back.”

Marshall added that in girls basketball, they have to come in ready to go because a lot of girls are playing a lot of basketball just like the boys. He added that you can’t catch up if you don’t have the experience.

Gahr has not won a league title since the late 1990s, just because Lynwood has dominated the league ever since. But the program has a combined 10 second and third place showings.

BOYS SOCCER

For three brief seasons, Gahr was competitive in the league with a pair of titles and three trips to the playoffs. Under former head coach Jason Wood, the Gladiators went a combined 29-15-8 from the 2003-2004 to 2005-2006 seasons. But that’s where most of the excitement ends as the program has won 46 games over the past 14 seasons with no trips to the playoffs and one third place finish, in which it lost the tiebreaker to get into the playoffs.

“If you go back to league [play], the schools they’re playing have club players and we’re not,” Marshall said. “We’re changing to how we’re doing it. We’re doing it more old style where we’re going to develop on campus, [have] year-round practices, year-round conditioning because we’re not really getting the club influence.”

Gahr has finished in last place nine times in the past 20 seasons and went completely winless in 2017-2018 and again in 2018-2019. Marshall added that Gahr did a much better job this past season under head coach Miguel Canales and that they have the kids and the interest.

GIRLS SOCCER

The 2000s began with solid teams under former head coach Christy Killingsworth, who compiled a 41-33-4 record in four of her five seasons at Gahr with a playoff appearance every season. But since then, the program has gone through eight coaches who have combined to win 81 games in the past 17 seasons. Gahr was able to snap its long streak of futility this past season as head coach Martin Henry, in his second stint as the mentor of the program, won 15 games and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Marshall says that Henry had to get the girls involved in more than just playing high school soccer.

“But once again, you have to find what’s the formula for winning,” Marshall pondered. “Obviously, it’s so hard to get coaches to stay. I forgot how many we’ve had. That’s never going to work. It wasn’t like we weren’t trying to find the right guy.”

Gahr has had four winning campaigns in the past 19 seasons and has finished in the top three in league all four of those times. But, the topic of on-campus coaches versus walk-on coaches is constantly talked about throughout Gahr because of what they bring to the school community, according to Marshall.

GIRLS WATER POLO

 

This program faces the same situation as boys water polo with no pool and the athletes coming in with no experience. Since the 2003-2004 campaign, the Lady Gladiators have won 20 league events with no league championships. Marshall still thinks it’s good for the kids and that’s the answer he gives when people ask him why Gahr has a girls water polo program.

“Obviously, we’re not going to win a lot, and a lot of our contests are kind of upside down,” Marshall said. “But you can’t tell those kids that it’s not good. We’ll continue to have it, without a pool and without a set system of how to get kids on campus. I don’t know what else we can do, [with] not having a pool and being on campus.”

WRESTLING

Gahr had some good wrestlers in the late 1990s and early 2000s when Tim Brogden was the head coach. But the program fell a little when he left, and several off-campus coaches came on board. The program has since bounced back with a pair of on-campus coaches-former head coach Mark Schulist and current head coach Harry Chung. As a result, the numbers are up.

“Once again, wrestling is something you can teach…they start early and it takes all sizes, which is great,” Marshall said. “We turned it around, then we have Harry, who is an ex-Gahr guy, and we kind of kept that on. Coach Schulist, even though he is not the head coach, he stayed in tacked with it. He hasn’t left it. So, that was a big turnaround for us.”

BASEBALL

With five wins shy of 400 since the 2000 season, this is Gahr’s most winningest program and is the dean of the SGVL with 13 league championships and five second place finishes. There have been three head coaches during that time with Gerardo Perez having wrapped up his 16thseason, albeit with nine games played before the global pandemic shut everything down.

The Gladiators have been one of the strongest programs in Southern California, falling under .500 (not including this past season) twice and advancing to the semifinals four times. But there is always going to be that one question that will linger-why hasn’t the program gone all the way to the divisional finals?

Marshall said he isn’t too upset that the program has not played for a divisional championship because it’s not what the program is set up to do. It’s designed to develop kids, especially the ones who don’t play year-round, and get them into college.

“That’s the goal for him,” Marshall said. “And we play a very competitive for Division I. We play people who look like us.”

Marshall admits the key to having a chance to play for a Division I championship is to have two or three solid starting pitchers instead of one. He added that if the Gladiators were in a different division, then maybe it would be different.

“That’s not something that we chase here; we don’t chase league titles or CIF championships,” Marshall said. “What I like to base it on is out of the 22 sports we have, I’d like to think that every year we should have someone make a run at something if we’re all doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”

SOFTBALL

This is the third winningest program and almost like baseball, has been the queens of the league for nearly the past 20 seasons, finishing in first place nine times and second and third place a combined four times. It’s hard to believe the program has racked up 337 wins under seven coaches. But, much of the success has come since 2013 when former head coach Shawn Quarles took over the program. In his final five seasons, he took his teams to the playoffs, including a trip to the divisional finals in 2018, a trip to the semifinals in 2015 and a trip to the quarterfinals in 2016. Quarles took over for Mike Rogers, who had coached Gahr for six seasons and advanced to the quarterfinals in 2007 and 2008.

Not to knock him, but Marshall said Rogers was a great guy but not a great fit for the kids whereas Quarles was, who had a goal for the program and how they were going to get there.

“He’s a local guy, Gahr guy and all that stuff,” Marshall said. “I think all that stuff matters. He went here, so his kids came here, and all the local talent starts staying here, which helps. And they play travel ball. Once you start getting the travel ball players staying at home and coming in and playing, now it is what it is.”

Marshall, who admitted he is happy with the softball program, added that with current head coach Rey Sanchez being an on-campus guy and a softball guy, it’s an added bonus. Sanchez guided the 2019 team to a 22-6 mark and a semifinal berth. The team was undefeated in six games this past season before play was cancelled.

BOYS VOLLEYBALL/BOYS TENNIS

Marshall says there needs more consistency in coaching just like the girls volleyball program. The boys have gone 77-81 in league matches since 2002 with a pair of league titles and three second place finishes.

The boys tennis program is much like the girls tennis program in that there are not a lot of students that get to see the team because it plays off campus. The Gladiators have won 134 league matches since 2002 with four league titles and seven second place finishes. Marshall added that the program seemed to be in good shape with head coach David Thompson in charge. He guided the 2017 team to a divisional championship. But Thompson has stepped down and Marshall believes the program won’t suffer because of that.

TRACK AND FIELD

Marshall said the boys winning a divisional title in 2000 and the girls doing so in 2001 and 2002 put the program on the map. In one of those years, over 20 track and field athletes advanced to the state preliminaries. Gahr has always had speed, good performances, some good years, and the numbers have been good.

“It’s going to cycle, and our girls are going to be pretty good in a couple of years,” Marshall said. “We have some good, young talent that came out who have been running track their whole lives. It’s such a numbers game in league [and] it’s kind of hard to beat Downey and Warren when they have 100-something kids. If we win a race, they win three or four.”

Marshall added that the key goal is how many athletes the program can send to the divisional finals.

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