Emptying the notebook: Mora Ouneklap story

nmij0323golfnotes01There are times as a sportswriter when you walk away from an interview and immediately know you have a special story on your hands.

It could be an engaging personality, a developing story that you find out over the course of the interview, or a human-interest piece that you feel would instantly relate to your audience.

Last week, I had one of those stories that I wrote for the Marin Independent Journal. Meet Mora Ouneklap, a senior at San Rafael High School. Unfortunately, not everything I wanted to get into the story made it in, so that’s the reason for this blog.

But back to Mora, as a female playing for the Bulldogs’ boys golf team, I entered the interview with not a lot of background. I knew she played with the guys because San Rafael did not offer a girls golf team, but that was about it.

I had some general questions:

Why haven’t you transferred to a school in Marin that actually has girls golf?

What is it like to be the lone female playing amongst the boys?

Since you’ve played for the boys team since your freshman year, do you feel like you have to prove yourself every match out or have you gained the respect of the guys in the league?

Over the course of the interview, however, it developed into a fascinating story. Mora is definitely a one-of-a-kind person. She’s the captain of SR’s boys golf team (yes, you read that right), and if it weren’t for her, the Bulldogs would probably not even have a program this year.

She told me she walked up to essentially everyone at the school, pleading for anyone to join so SR would have a team her senior year. She asked every person she laid eyes on, emphasizing the advantages of playing.

nmij0323golfnotes04“I was telling all these people you can play golf your entire life,” Ouneklap said. “You can’t play football or baseball your whole life. But golf is something you can carry with you. You can do business transactions with golf.”

Mora is not just someone who fills out the end of the lineup. She’s actually pretty good, shooting in the mid-40s consistently for nine holes. And don’t forget, she shoots from the black tees that lie 50-plus yards behind the ladies’ tees. She was an all-league honorable mention as a junior as well.

But what got to me was not only her accomplishments through golf, but outside of it. After school, she works at her family’s Thai restaurant in downtown San Rafael. I described her as “the rock” of her family in the story, and I feel like it couldn’t be more true.

She not only helps at her family business, but values her caretaking of her autistic brother when she goes home. No TV is owned in the Ouneklap household since she’s way too busy with other things.

“Tell me what kind of TV shows are popular, and it goes completely over my head,” she says, laughing.

She’s applied to 17 universities, having been accepted to all eight schools she’s heard back from including UC-Davis, UC-San Diego and Pepperdine. She’s still waiting to hear back from Cal, Stanford and Princeton. But staying close to home and helping out her family seems to be a huge priority for her.

Hence why she’s still considering nearby schools like Dominican University in San Rafael.

“It’s going to be hard with the restaurant and everything too because they depend on me so much,” Mora said about leaving for college. “We’ll see what happens.”

She was named Homecoming Queen last fall, something she takes great pride in at a school she describes as “not the cliche high school.”

“They didn’t choose some stereotypical hot blonde cheerleader, y’know?” Mora said. “They chose someone who takes great pride in their school and wants to be involved as much as she can and that’s what I have with golf and community service within our school and everything.”

In addition, she juggles her love for music while playing the viola and violin. She took up golf before her freshman year because her dad got restless watching her at swim meets. He wanted an activity that both of them could participate in, and golf it was.nmij0323golfnotes02

“I decided to do golf so I could spend more time with him, and it stuck,” she said.

Her dad started her off immediately on the black tees instead of the red tees, citing the reason as they paid to play the entire course so why not play the maximum distance? Good point.

I asked Mora how she’s able to juggle so much of her life at the same time with all of her responsibilities. She said she gets asked that question a lot, and told me to simply look at her parents. They came over to the U.S. as refugees and made something of themselves out of nothing, as she described. Mora learned from her parents the definition of hard work and earning everything you get.

“I started doing it for them,” she said. “The fact that I’m juggling  so many things make me have a clear focus  and it makes me dedicated to everything I’m doing in a way.

“I’m not one of those girls who specializes just in golf. It’s golf and viola and restaurant and my brother’s autistic and my grandma’s diabetic, and they all live with us.”

On the golf course, she’s definitely proven she belongs on the same level with the boys. Mora recalled her freshman year and her first match. She was terrified with her hands shaking as she gripped the club. It was the very first tee with all of the guys watching her take her shot.

Where would her ball go? Would she whiff? Would she barely hit the ball off the tee box?

“I took my swing and it goes right down the middle and the guys are silent and I went, ‘Yes!’ (inside my head),” she said proudly. “The guys were silent. It was so liberating that I could even do it with all these guys watching. It’s me and my dad’s thing, once the pressure is on, we do even better.”

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Her leadership is one of her best qualities, as she is called “Mama Mora” and “Team Mom” by her teammates.

“No one acknowledges me as captain,” she said, jokingly. “They’re all like my kids. It’s so annoying when they’re bickering. It’s like, just stop. We’re playing golf. Be nice to each other, encourage each other.”

Today, her final goal for high school golf is competing at the end-of the-year league tournament. While her team probably won’t qualify with only two wins this season, non-qualifying teams can still send one representative.

She doesn’t play golf year-round, so playing at the MCAL tournament would be the first major tournament she’s ever competed in. Her coach Ron Everette said if Mora had decided to play for a school that offered girls golf, there would be no doubt she’d be Marin County’s best.

But for her, she would love to play at the county tournament and represent her school at the culmination of her high school golf career on April 29.

“I feel like I’m ready to play and show what I have at the tournament,” she said. “It’ll be fun my senior year to do a major tournament. It would mean a lot.”

Female athletic directors: On the rise in Bay Area, how about in Oregon?

(From left) Redwood’s Jessica Peisch, Novato’s Kelly Morlock and Tam’s Christian Amoroso are three female athletic directors in the MCAL in Marin County. Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012. (IJ photo/Alan Dep)

Nearly a month ago, I reported on a story about the rise of female athletic directors in the Bay Area, specifically in Marin County — the area north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge.

There was an interesting dynamic happening after Kelly Morlock was hired as athletic director at Novato High School. That upped the total to three females in athletic director roles in the Marin County Athletic League (MCAL) — a 10-team conference in California — that I detailed in this story in the Marin Independent Journal.

Morlock, Jessica Peisch (Redwood High) and Christina Amoroso (Tam High) are those three, who each took similar paths to their role as ADs. They played sports in high school. Peisch and Amoroso went on to play at the collegiate level. They got into administrative roles. The AD jobs were simply natural progressions in their career.

While the number of females in this position have slowly increased over the years, there is still a wide gap between the number of men and women. Why is that? Why aren’t more females in this prominent position in athletics?

It is an issue that has been discussed in media outlets over the years whenever a female athletic director is hired. The Orlando Sentinel, the Minnesota Daily, the Houston Chronicle, NJ.com and  The Coach and AD website are just to name a few.

For Morlock, Peisch and Amoroso, I asked each of them that question. However, they each said the same thing and were not exactly sure why. It could be a traditional thing, where slowly but surely, it will change over time. Sure, a passion for sports is somewhat required. But management skills have become as big of a priority with juggling 40 to 50 teams during a school year.

In the MCAL, three of the 10 member schools have female ADs, which comes out to 30 percent — a rare number that you’ll find. In the North Coast section spanning Northern California, of the 169 member schools, 22 employ female ADs — a little more than 13 percent, according to Gil Lemmon, the Commissioner of Athletics for the NCS.

At the NCAA Division I level, that percentage if even lower at 9.2 percent. Of the 347 member schools at the D-I level, 32 employ female ADs. (Yes, I actually did go through  all 347 and looked on their websites at their staff directories for that number. Call me crazy.)

While putting together the story, it got me thinking what the situation was like in Oregon, having just moved away from Portland to the San Francisco area.

Was it about the same as the Bay? Was it different?

Here’s what I found:

Of the 292 member schools in the Oregon Schools Activities Association (OSAA), which oversees the entire high school athletics landscape in Oregon, 28 employ female ADs.

28 of 292. That equals about 9.6 percent. That’s about on par with the Division I level of college athletics — about a +0.4 percent difference.

The most prominent is Natalie Osburn, who took over this year at Central Catholic High School in Portland (via Jerry Ulmer of The Oregonian).

Other female ADs at prominent, well-known schools include Rachel Draper (Benson), Sharee Waldran (Marist), Audrea Shelley (Springfield), Cyndy Miller (St. Helens) and Anna Maria Lopez (St. Mary’s Academy).

Many on the list are at the smaller classification schools in Class 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A. Here is the list of others (via the OSAA website):

  • Aimee Esplin (Adrian)
  • Lorena Woods (Arlington)
  • Paula Toney (Burns)
  • Lorrie Andrews (Burnt River)
  • Heidi Hermansen (Cascade)
  • Sandy Luu (Catlin Gabel)
  • Melissa Phillips (Central Christian)
  • Mindi Shelton (Colton)
  • Beth Winegar (Columbia Christian)
  • Belynda Griffin (Crosshill Christian)
  • Amy Thompson (Damascus Christian)
  • Bonnie Erickson (Estacada)
  • Sheila Baeza (Life Christian)
  • Paula Forman (North Lake)
  • Sharon Box (Open Door)
  • Connie Bates (Pleasant Hill)
  • Jennifer Bakker (Rogue River)
  • Kathryn Mueller (Sheridan Japanese Charter)
  • Heidi Brown (Triangle Lake)
  • Melinda Scarlett (Ukiah)
  • Teresa Stratton (Union)

And what about the colleges and universities in Oregon? How do those match up to the high school level?

I researched the colleges/universities in Oregon that offer sports. Of the 27 schools I came across from the NAIA to Division I level, three employed female athletic directors.

That list includes:

  • Cassie Belmodis (Chemeketa Community College)
  • Anji Weissenfluh (Eastern Oregon University) *interim
  • Cheryl Yoder (Umpqua Community College)

That equals 11.1 percent — a 1.5 percent increase over the Oregon high school landscape and 1.9 percent increase over the NCAA D-I level.

What does this mean?

Well, statistically, about 1 in 10 athletic directors are female on average from my findings in northern California and Oregon.

Is that number too little? Or does it mean anything at all?

After reading around, it seemed the consensus was the athletic director was always a long-time football coach who wanted to transition into an administrator’s role. The AD position seemed to be the natural fit after coaching. Although it didn’t necessarily have to be the football coach, but a long-time male coach at a high school was always at the top of the list.

With Title IX celebrating its 40th year of existence this year, gender equality in the athletic director’s role is seemingly behind the times although you might ask if AD jobs even fall into a similar category with Title IX.

Surely, there are many females who are qualified, but are they applying or even wanting to be in this type of position? Those are questions worth asking.

It’s an interesting topic, at the very least. Will numbers rise 10 years from now? I guess we’ll see.

Experience to remember: Covering my first high school football game in San Francisco and it definitely isn’t Oregon

I had no idea what to expect when I stepped foot onto the campus at Lowell High School – a short jaunt away across Lake Merced to the site of this year’s U.S. Open at the Olympic Club.

I drove past the front of the school. Once. Twice. Why not, another time. My destination was the football field, home to my first assignment as a freelancer for the Marin Independent Journal covering the season opener between Terra Linda of San Rafael and Lowell. But I didn’t know where the field was.

I peered through the windows of my car, confused.  This is exactly why I chose to arrive early – in case I had no idea where I was. It didn’t occur to me that the kids were probably wondering who the weird guy with the befuddled look on his face was, continually driving past them back and forth in front of the school.

I finally parked my car and decided to hitch it. I asked a guy in front of the school, who looked like he worked there, where the field was.

He pointed me in the direction through a small gate on the side of school – an area that did not seem very accessible, especially to a football field.

“Are you with Terra Linda?” he asked.

“No, just reporting on the game for the paper in Marin,” I said.

The older gentleman with graying hair and “SECURITY” stitched to the back of his black polo, then immediately raised his arms like he was attempting to fly.

“Well, I hope the home team wins!” he said, as he kept flapping his arms before he returned to picking up the orange cones in front of the school.

I stood there. Confused. I walked through the gates to the other side of the school. Painted on the back side of the school was a huge cardinal, depicting Lowell’s mascot in red. “Home of the Cardinals” stood out and it finally occurred to me why the man was flapping his arms.

He was trying to be a cardinal. Ah, OK.

After walking past the tennis courts and outdoor basketball courts, it sure didn’t feel like a football season opener was kicking off in about half-hour. There were no signs, no excitement, no rally whatsoever. A teacher walked by on the way to her car, looking exciting to go home.

I arrived to the gate, not knowing whether I had to pay to get in or not. Since no one was there, I walked in and looked around. I saw Lowell’s football team on the field, going through warm-ups like it was a practice. But where was everyone else? Did I get the day wrong? I glanced at my phone and it did say Friday at 3 p.m.

No one was in the stands. It was eerie in some ways.

I couldn’t help but compare it to my time as a sports editor at Canby and Wilsonville in Oregon, and seeing kids and parents tailgating in the parking lot. You knew a special event was upcoming, a place where an entire community was uniting.

Not here I guess.

The home stands were completely void of a ravenous student section. Parents were non-existent as they were probably at work. I turned to the visitor’s side. Not that much different.

Again I kept thinking to myself, where was I?

This is San Francisco, right? One of the largest major cities in the United States. But yet, I felt like I was plopped into a secluded stadium where the teams and referees were dropped off in the middle of nowhere. I immediately tweeted some pictures of what I saw.

Loved the response from Kris Henry of the Medford Mail Tribune:

I knew, however, that I couldn’t just sit there stunned. I had work to do.

My first order of business was tracking down a roster for Terra Linda, since that was the team I had to slant my article on. I contacted the high school about getting a roster a few days prior, but received no response. I figured, someone at this game had to know who these players were.

I approached who appeared to be a Terra Linda administrator – later I found out would be athletic director Steve Farbstein – and asked him if he had a roster and would know anyone with one.

He didn’t.

But he did point me in the direction of TL coach Damon Keeve on the sidelines, a big burly man who has been a long-time coach in the area. Steve tipped me that he saw Keeve scribble down names on a piece of paper earlier in the day, but that was about it.

Great, I thought. This was off to a good start.

I walked down to the field and waited for Keeve to finish his conversation with the referee. While waiting, I bumped into Jeremy Balan, editor and founder of SanFranPreps.com who I blogged about earlier and wrote a must-read piece on the lack of Friday night football tradition in the City. Jeremy then approached Keeve for a roster, but was turned away and told to ask after the game for names if we needed. Tremendous.

Fifteen minutes before game time for my first assignment with a daily and I don’t even have names for the team I’m covering. I glanced around the stadium again to take in the atmosphere and noticed, hey at least it wasn’t a graveyard anymore. A few parents trickled in. A couple students made their way onto the home side of the stands. Lowell’s cheerleaders started to drive up some school spirit from the “crowd.”

It was starting to look like people actually cared about the outcome of this contest. Still, it wasn’t what I was used to. No fight songs. No high school band. Not even concessions. It was as unceremonious of a kick-off I’ve seen to a football season.

The scoreboard, which was turned on prior to kick-off, naturally turned off by the time the game began. I was later told this was one of the nicer high schools in San Francisco. Academically, Lowell ranks among the highest in the City. Students have to apply in order to attend, much like a university.

The scoreboard finally clicked back on with 55 seconds left in the first half. The game went on smoothly without a hitch. It took awhile to get back into the flow of keeping football stats again, but by the end of the first quarter, I was in the groove.

After doing this for seven years, covering everything from Class 6A football with Canby to Class 1A football at Country Christian in Oregon, it was like a shooter’s touch. You may not pick up a basketball for months or years, but any real shooter will tell you they never lose their touch.

I’ll give a huge shoutout to Steve Farbstein, the Terra Linda AD, who was my personal media relations guru, giving me every name of any player I needed until the final horn even when the reserves were in. Terra Linda was up 32-8 late. I still needed names to fill up my box score and thankfully, Steve was there. He later said if I came to their home opener next week, they would have rosters and a program available. Sweet.

I remembered the experiences I’ve had covering high school football at Canby and Wilsonville — the glitz and the glamour of a well put-on community event. Television crews, The Oregonian, various other newspaper, radio and media outlets were always present. They are two outstanding high schools that run extremely well athletic programs. It’s a tradition. It’s everything you expect high school football to be.

It may not be Texas, Florida or southern California, but people in Oregon treat high school football like their own pro sports teams. It’s what they’ve got. It’s who they represent, especially in the smaller towns.

They are proud of the kids who represent them. Coaches are regarded as legends in the game for their success in their communities. The big-time talent in Oregon may not compare to other areas, but the passion is unmatched.

I told a few people at the game where I came from. I had to tell about Wilsonville’s upcoming season and how the booster club was selling season tickets and priority seating with parking privileges this year.

It was met with a few stunned looks.

The game finally ended. I conducted my on-field interviews with a couple of Terra Linda’s players – running back Austin Koblick and quarterback Harry Taylor.

During the interview with Taylor, the team suddenly decided to form a circle around us. I wondered what exactly was happening. Keeve scolded his quarterback, telling him to end the interview, put the reporter (me) in his backpocket and get out of his circle.

Welcome to San Francisco, I thought to myself.

I finished my interview with Taylor, walked up to Keeve and apologized, and he graciously accepted. Phew. I walked back to my car and concluded this was definitely not Oregon.

The thought didn’t last long and by then, a deadline had to be met, but something I’ll always remember.

Link to game story: http://www.marinij.com/prepsports/ci_21396864/prep-football-terra-linda-rolls-past-lowell-opener?source=rss

Video of the second-half kick-off, experience the atmosphere of San Francisco high school football:

Nicolas Batum: Cheap shot artist or finally turning the corner?

By now, you’ve probably heard and seen the roundhouse punch by Nicolas Batum toward Spain’s Juan Carlos Navarro.

It just wasn’t any punch. But a hit directly targeted at a suggested spot that no man wants to be plunked in.

Batum, who just signed a four-year, $45 million contact with the Trail Blazers, has been ridiculed for his sometimes laissez faire demeanor on the floor. He may be on the floor, but more often than not, you may not notice him.

Sure, the shot was unwarranted, especially to a man’s southern region. But that fire and intensity is something Blazer fans have longed to see for awhile from the 6-foot-8 French man.

France was on the verge of falling one game short of playing for a medal. They couldn’t find the hoop at all over the last 10 minutes. Combine that with Spain – mainly Rudy Fernandez – flopping incessantly toward the end of the game and you could possibly understand why frustration would boil over like it did.

Spain paid a small price as it is notably famous for its Hollywood attempts on the court. Will it stop them? Probably not, but it’s no secret either they do it.

I won’t say Batum has matured yet as a player in light of an immature act. There are several more ways to show your frustration without causing potential harm to a guy’s groin. The act of showing he cared, however, about losing is the aspect that gives Blazer fans a glimmer of hope toward a changed player ready to take the next step of his career.

Nic languished as a bench player and starter last season until Gerald Wallace was sent off to the Nets. He is now entrusted to be the Blazers’ second best player behind LaMarcus Aldridge simply on his contract alone.

The comparisons to a young Scottie Pippen have been around for four years and now it’s time for Nic to convince people he’s worth the contract he was given.

He can handle the ball like a point guard, he can be deadly from the 3-point line as evidenced by his nine 3-pointers against Denver last season and he usually defends the opposing team’s best player.

The huge ‘if’ is this: Can that attitude he showed at the end of the game against Spain translate on the floor with the Blazers. Rather than sulking about losing the game, can he put Rip City on his back and simply prevent that situation from happening in the first place?

I was pleased the passion he showed. The act, not so much. But we might look back on this moment as a turning point in his career.

Prep sports and coverage … I’m not in Oregon anymore

Coming from a preps-rich state in Oregon where high school athletes can become legends in their towns, I wondered when I moved to San Francisco — what was it like here?

It’s obviously a big city, squished within 49 square miles. However, after a month, I’ve come to realize one thing: it is NOTHING like Oregon when it comes to covering high school athletics. And who can blame the people in San Francisco? The Bay area is littered with pro sports from football (49ers and Raiders), baseball (Giants and A’s), basketball (Warriors), hockey (Sharks) and soccer (Earthquakes). Even college sports can get buried on the back pages with Pac-12 schools Cal and Stanford.

In Oregon, the Ducks and Beavers dominate headlines in the fall every weekend.

The prep staff at OregonLive.com and several hard-working community newspaper sports writers cover football like their own professional teams. Summer camps are a big deal. Practices and daily doubles create a heightened anticipation toward the season opener.

The make-up of the Bay is simply not the same as Oregon. San Francisco, known as The City, is comprised of many young business professionals, who are dedicated and driven toward building their careers in an area rich with big companies and start-ups. Oregon is a state known for its deep family roots in small towns with years of tradition and history. It is exactly what you imagine when you picture outlying areas showing support for its high school athletic programs when it is all it’s got.

I came across an article by Jeremy Balan about the lack of Friday night football in San Francisco — the epitome of what high school athletics is all about — and didn’t know whether I should be shocked or not by what I read. The San Francisco Public Schools district consists of 18 high schools — nine more than Portland’s, which is the biggest school district in Oregon. Of the 18, however, seven will participate in the San Francisco Section of the 2012 season.

I arrived wondering what the prep scene was like in the Bay and came away a little disappointed.

Several obstacles seem to stand in their way to create that magic and anticipation that a high school football game can bring. Lack of facilities is one with football fields missing proper conditions — like … a field … with lights. Of the 24 scheduled games this upcoming season in the SFPS district, two will be played on a traditional Friday night kick-off of 7 p.m. The rest includes Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoon kick-offs of 2 and 3 p.m.

In Balan’s article, 54 games will take place in the San Francisco area, including public and private schools, but only eight will be played at night. Five of them will be played by Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep (for Oregon readers, they may be the Jesuit or Central Catholic of the area).

Kezar Stadium is currently the main host of night games with a maximum capacity of more than 9,000 people. The facility was once home to the 49ers and Raiders for one season when its capacity was nearly 60,000 until it was downsized. According to SanFranPreps.com, the cost for high schools to use the stadium  outweighs the benefits. Football is one of the biggest moneymakers for high schools with gates and concessions, but when the price tag reaches $1,600 to rent the field from the City, you rethink that decision. That’s a huge stumbling block created by San Francisco Recreation and Park.

Plus, “light precipitation” seems common in canceling contests as high schools are hesitant to book the venue with the threat of light rain. SFRP has been known to cancel games with regularity if light rain is in the forecast, according to Balan’s article.  I wonder what the people in Oregon would think about that one.

One last part caught my eye on a well-written story by Balan, which deserves a read. That was this, and surprisingly, high school staff administrators simply do not want any part of attending and supervising games outside of school hours. A district rule requires an administrator to be on-site at games, but for some reason, that is a huge struggle here.

Really?

Galileo High School coach Mark Huynh mentioned how lucky he felt to have a “pro-football principal” in the building.

The cultural differences amaze me. High school football games have become such a major social event in Oregon. It’s an event where a community can come together, celebrate and take pride in their school. Kids, parents — and even residents within the school’s boundaries — can unite and take some self satisfaction with the area they live in.

When you can’t even have your school’s principal or top administration take any pride in representing and supporting their own students, then that becomes a huge problem. A problem that causes a situation like this one.

It is a complete contrast to the areas I covered in Canby and Wilsonville, where teachers, administration and parents viewed the games as a social gathering. It was an opportunity to be seen and become a part of something special.

Tailgating on Friday night was a common sight. Wilsonville, a town half hour outside of Portland, even started selling season tickets to its home games with premium parking spots and prime seating coming with the price of admission.

While I have little doubt that the culture exists in California with the number of superb athletes that come out of this state, it shocks me to see a big city like San Francisco struggle with its dedication to prep athletics.

I will for sure be tuned in this fall to see what exactly the atmosphere and environment is like. But one thing is certain, this is not Portland — or Oregon — anymore.

Welcome to the online portfolio of Alex Tam

Welcome to my online portfolio, where you can scan through my photos, story clips and page designs as a member of the sports media.

If you have any questions, please contact me through e-mail at alex.c.tam@gmail.com.

- Alex Tam