Boron High: From tragedy to triumph

One of the greatest aspects of working for the CIF Southern Section is the opportunity to meet, work with and connect with so many outstanding people throughout the vast expanse of our section. An example of one of those strong connections I have made over the years is with Boron High School. I first became aware of Boron High School, a school of 150 students that is located in one of our more remote areas of the section, when I began working as an Assistant Commissioner in charge of football for our section 14 years ago.

The Boron Bobcats were one of the strongest football programs among our smaller schools at that time and had made quite a name for themselves through their performance in that sport. However, being a small school, there were many challenges facing them in trying to field an 11-Man Football program and in September, 2002, Boron High School had to drop varsity football due to a lack of players that year. It was a very sad time for their school and their community, but they were able to reinstate varsity football soon after. Little did anyone know that not having a varsity football team were not the saddest days facing Boron High School.

On September 12, 2008, tragedy struck Boron High School and the CIF Southern Section. Sophomore Vinnie Rodriguez suffered a severe head injury during Boron’s football game that night. Vinnie spent the next few days in the hospital fighting for his life, but unfortunately, he passed away four days later.

Principal Paul Kostopoulos, Athletic Director Jim Boghosian, Head Football Coach Todd Fink, the Boron Bobcat football team and their entire community were completely devastated by this horrific loss and were faced with the huge task of trying to pick up the pieces and go on.

In speaking with the Boron administration throughout that week, it was clearly evident to me that their sense of loss was overwhelming. However, somehow they were able to persevere as the Boron High School Football players voted to play their upcoming game on Friday, September 19 at Kern Valley High School in Lake Isabella, in memory of their fallen teammate. Once I heard that decision, I had no doubt where I would be that night and what I witnessed during and after that game will stay with me forever.

On that Friday afternoon, the Boron Bobcats boarded their bus and headed for Kern Valley High School. While on the way, Coach Fink’s cell phone rang. On the other end of the line was University of Southern California Head Football Coach Pete Carroll. Coach Carroll called to offer his condolences and his support to Coach Fink and the Boron players on behalf of the entire USC Trojan Football program. What a classy move that was on his part.

Boron got off to a slow start that night and fell behind early. Kern Valley led 21-14 at the end of three quarters and extended their lead to 35-21 with 2 minutes left. What happened next was remarkable.

Boron scored a touchdown and went for a 2 point conversion, which was successful. Then, the Bobcats got the ball back, scored another touchdown and kicked the extra point to win the game 36-35. In a truly courageous and inspiring performance, there was no way that Boron was going to be denied that night.

Once the game was over, both schools met at midfield and released black and gold balloons, Boron’s school colors, into the sky in memory of Vinnie Rodriguez. It was one of the most emotional and stirring scenes I have ever seen as both schools and communities came together to support each other in such a meaningful way. These two schools truly exemplified and defined what high school athletics is all about: courage, perseverance, competition and compassion.

Now, we fast forward to last week when the Boron High School football players and coaches boarded a bus once again. That bus headed to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, the site of Super Bowl XLIX. Boron’s football team had won a nationwide contest sponsored by the National Football League called Together We Make Football in which they were selected to receive a 5-day, 4-night all expenses paid trip to see the Super Bowl and participate in several activities leading up to the game.

My understanding is they had an opportunity to be on the field before the game started and wouldn’t it have been ironic if they got to see Seattle Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll on Super Sunday?

The question asked for this contest was, “Why do we love football?” Answers were judged on whether your story would stir passion for the game of football along with your explanation of why football was so important to your school and your community. Under the current leadership of Principal Nat Adams, Athletic Director Rob Kostopoulos and Head Football Coach Tim Seaman, Boron High School articulated their story very well and as you can imagine, Boron’s story moved people from all over the country who sent in their votes to help them win.

Another reason why Boron won this contest is because Muroc Joint Unified School District Director of Instruction and Assessment Paul Kostopolous, now a member of the CIF Southern Section Executive Committee as Desert Area Representative, reached out to our office and his fellow Executive Committee members to help get the word out that people needed to vote for Boron to win. We reached out to the CIF State Office and the other nine CIF Sections and they got on board as well, galvanizing the State of California in support of the Bobcats.

This is a story that reminds all of us how valuable and important the role of high school athletics is to our schools and our communities. The lessons that are learned through these experiences will last a lifetime. Sometimes those lessons can be incredibly difficult and painful, but through that adversity, we can overcome and triumph over it. Boron High School has certainly shown us how to do so.

I know you all join me in expressing how proud we were of Boron High School as they represented their school, their community, the CIF Southern Section and the state of California on the biggest football stage in our nation last Sunday.

Thom Simmons is commissioner of the CIF Southern Section.

 

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Published: Feb. 5, 2015 - Volume 13 - Issue 43