La Sierra HS: The Place Where Football Died

I’ve been thinking about this concept for some time now. What happened to football at La Sierra High School, a once-proud powerhouse and my alma mater?

It’s a question that was underscored on Monday, Sept. 1, 2009 when coach Craig Cieslik offered his resignation. Not that I couldn’t see this coming — Cieslik and La Sierra were a train wreck and he didn’t have much issue with telling me so. You can read a blog about that here.

The school, which opened in 1969, had built a proud tradition under former coaches Roger Folsom and Hank Moore, who each led the Eagles to a number of CIF playoff appearances during their tenures.

Then Moore retired in ’95 or so to become athletic director and the Eagles never found another coach who could stick around more than a couple of years. One coach was fired for fighting (choking) a player. Others found (or were given) reasons to leave. There were a series of 1-9 seasons and it appeared as if LSHS was a rudderless ship.

Success didn’t return until 2006, when former San Bernardino San Gorgonio coach Tony Barile was hired and a big-armed sophomore named Sean Sudol transferred (followed Barile) from the San Gorgonio district.

Barile was able to manufacture a couple of receivers for Sudol to throw to and the 6-foot-4 QB led the Eagles into the playoffs his senior year. But while the results may have changed, the training conditions at La Sierra did not. That is, La Sierra did not have the facilities necessary to perpetuate Barile and Sudol’s short-term strides into long-term success. They didn’t have them then. They do not have them now.

Barile found a better job at a new school in Fontana or Rialto and La Sierra was right back at 1-9.

Then Cieslik showed up in 2007 and took over what amounted to a reclamation project. Realizing La Sierra lacked size or speed he utilized a version of the double-wing offense, an offense that relies more on deception than any physical attributes. Like say, size or speed. Every play became a run left, right or center. Cieslik’s QB passed the ball less than five times a game. The offense, as gimmicky as any every used, tires undisciplined defense and with almost no passing game to slow the clock because of incomplete passes, the Eagles got old-school.

Then it began to work.

Cieslik went 4-6 in his first season — a marked improvent over anything in recent memory. The team got out to a 4-0 record in ’08 and hopes were unrealistically high. Anything was possible in the brand new Inland Valley league. Or not. The Eagles went 2-4 the rest of the season and missed the playoffs. They went just 3-4 in league play, the double-wing getting completely squashed by bigger, stronger teams like Moreno Valley and Arlington.

Following their Week 10 blowout loss to Moreno Valley, Cieslik told me exactly zero positives about his experience as football coach at La Sierra. The kids lacked enthusiasm. The administration lacked interest. If he wasn’t such a stand-up dude, Cieslik probably would’ve cried.

In Monday’s Press-Enterprise article by Eric-Paul Johnson, Cieslik is quoted as saying:

“It’s a personal reason as to why I could no longer continue. I have nothing but positive things to say about the kids. I’m very proud of them and of the things we were able to accomplish these past two years.”

In my opinion, Cieslik’s comments here are spin. A “personal reason” for resigning? How personal could it be if he’s still going to remain at the school as a teacher? And he has “nothing but positive things to say” about his former players? Why would he have anything negative to say? Sounds like he’s deflecting, to me.

Now a fellow named Scott Booth takes over as coach. Is he a pawn of the administration? How long can he tolerate his situation?

Principal Robert Cunard seems about as concerned with football as Republicans are with global warming.

His comments in Monday’s Press-Enterprise:

“There no questions a situation such as this brings difficulties. This will be a challenge, but we feel confident the kids will do just fine.”

He’s “confident the kids will do just fine.” Oh, that’s nice. “Just fine” is good enough for Cunard. What kind of message does that send to the football players, their parents, or the coaches? Sounds more like the administration supports you but don’t expect us to lift a finger to help you get better.

And why should the football team at La Sierra ever get any better? Why should anyone strive for anything better than “fine?” The other sports, especially the girls sports, seem to do quite well.

Well the football team, like it or not, sets the tone for the entire school. If the team is terrible, student apathy is higher than usual and morale suffers. If the team is winning, students support the program and, dare I say, care. It’s pretty simple, unless you think school is all about books and learning and not at all about community.

Speaking of community… La Sierra isn’t the nicest area of Riverside. Actually, some parts of La Sierra may be among the worst this side of downtown. But it has its better neighborhoods and is one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the city. Which hasn’t always been to its credit.

It’s my suggestion that creating a sense of real community there has been difficult because of racial factors and a real community still does not exist, in my mind, in La Sierra. And as La Sierra has struggled and continues to struggle to find itself as a community, newer schools in Corona (Centennial, Santiago) and even Riverside (King) have developed strong football programs playing kids from practically the same geographic area.

It’s as if La Sierra football is caught in a vacuum surrounded by expansion and improvement, both ecomically and athletically, and can’t shake itself free. As areas east and west thrived, the center shriveled. Corona Centennial is now a regional power. Riverside King is right behind Riverside North on the local scene. Then there’s La Sierra. The also-ran. Poor, old La Sierra.

How does this change? Only when an administration is installed that cares enough to commit to the program properly (top-notch weight room, training room, class room) can the Eagles begin to be revived.

2 Responses to “La Sierra HS: The Place Where Football Died”
  1. Gerren Brantley says:

    I have been thinking long and hard about Coaching at La Sierra next year. I honestly don’t know why but i have been drawn to that school as of late. After reading this article and seeing that Coach Barile and Booth (R.I.P.) both whom i have had the opportunity to coach with at Roosevelt in Eastvale. It makes me want t Coach at La Sierra even more and help bring something to that program that they haven’t had in awhile. That’s a Coach who cares and will stick around. I’s Glad i came across this article because it is helping me make my final decision.

    • Dan says:

      I come across this article every now and then. I went to La Sierra all four years from 2008-2012 and was able to see the success that Cieslik brought to the program. He wanted only the toughest, determined, and willing students on his team, even if it was 11 players on the roster going on offense and defense. Cieslik did what he had to do to bring the program afloat. But after his resignation and Booth took over as head coach, he has great assistant coaches who knew how to run their side of the football and reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006 (losing to REV 1-seeded team.) But the next year we were right back in it again in the playoffs (losing to Palm Springs) another 1-seeded team in our division. Then my senior year we had a new head coach by the name of Mark Recktenwald, offensive coordinator for Barile during his tenure. We took all our opponents by storm going 9-1 (6-1 league play) i believe the best record LS ever had. We won a playoff game in nearly six years, then falling short in the Quarterfinals.The next year Recktenwald resigned from his head coaching position after allegations i do not remember. and right after that, one or two good seasons after that and LS is back on the same boat. I say my experience of LSHS football was memorable, though it would have been nice to won a championship. We did the best we could with the students we had, while others transferred to other schools for “better opportunities,” we still came out and played. I agree with the upgrading of the resources (new weight room, field, equipment.) Hoping to see them rise from their recent downfall.

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