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.
“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.
“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.”
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.”