La Serna pays tribute to college-bound student athletes
WHITTIER – La Serna, like all other high schools, has always held annual athletic college signing days. Typically, these special events have been held in the gymnasium with family and friends in attendance.
However, with the current situation of the coronavirus pandemic affecting everyone, plans changed.
It turned personal with a drive-by event devised by athletic director Steve Hemenway.
With numerous logistics and route-planning by the AD, the day-long drive-by started at 9 am at the house of Lancers cheerleader Audrey Pina and ended early Tuesday evening at the home of football player Chandler McCaffer with all of the coaches and family members celebrating with the running back.
In between, all sorts of celebrations occurred with family members enjoying the brief conversation and photo opportunity.
“It’s a blessing to have them (coaches) here. I can’t wait to play with (Quarterback Andrew Henriquez) at Whittier College,” McCaffer said. “Football, baseball and soccer are all like a family and they are basically dads.”
Pina said she was grateful for the event.
“I’m just excited to be a part of something really big,” said Pina of the high expectations of her new college, Cal Baptist University. The university cheer team has won seven consecutive National Cheerleaders Association championships.
“It makes me super nervous, but really excited because I know I’m going to be part of something really big and great.”
La Serna Cheer Director Elena Klock started the day by supporting both of her senior, college-bound cheerleaders (Pina and Kaylee Alford).
“I was very impressed and very proud to be part of the La Serna community when I heard Steve (Hemenway) was willing to go above and beyond to recognize the athletes,” Klock said. “I’m glad that they got to be recognized for their achievements and those two were captains of mine.”
The largest celebration took place at the home of cross country and track and field distance runner Maddie Franco, with about 40 friends and family in attendance.
“I definitely appreciate all of this,” said Franco, with her family surrounding her. “I was very surprised and not expecting this at all. Signing day is definitely something everyone looks forward to.
“I’m really grateful for what coach (Joe) Orr and everything he has done. He raised us all like his own. I just can’t wait to get started running with a team again.”
Maddie’s mom, Katherine, was a big part of organizing the big turnout and knew how important it was for her daughter.
“Maddie had a lot of sorrowful days in the last two months,” Katherine Franco said. “We just wanted to acknowledge all of her accomplishments.
“We haven’t been able to see her family lately and some of them came from a ways away. We just wanted to show her our support.”
Coach Orr added: “Today was such an amazing celebration to honor the four years of commitment and hard work of these athletes. To see 10 athletes from our program continue to compete in college next year is amazing. I am so proud of them.”
Also supporting Maddie among her friends, was her soccer coach, Chris Carroll.
“It’s pretty nice for the athletes, with everything that is going on,” Carroll said. “Usually they do this in the school gym with significant others and mom and dad in attendance. Teammates from all three sports were here – cross country, track and soccer – and it’s nice for them to be able to do this and wish her luck. That’s pretty phenomenal for (Steve) and Randy to go and spend 6, 7, 8 hours driving around.
“It was just nice to come out here and support her family.”
Ten sports were represented in the caravan that also included La Serna Assistant Principal of Business Activities Randy Castillo.
At each house, both Hemenway and Castillo would display a sign on the front yard with their name, sport and college.
“I’d do it all again tomorrow if it would get these kids the chance to play just one more game as a Lancer,” Hemenway said.
“For the families, obviously it was special and we wanted to do something special for the kids with all that they’ve gone through. The families are very, very proud of their kids and we wanted to celebrate our student-athletes. I’m glad we decided to do something.
“This is not what we’re used to doing for a traditional signing day. The fact that it was more personalized and more family was able to be there was cool. It was a fun day.”
Along the stops were anything from just a mom and dad coming out to greet a coach or two and Hemenway and Castillo or a large group of friends and family. The four football players that were along the route – Milo Lopez (Cerritos College), Julius Calderon-Dominguez (East Los Angeles College), Andrew Henriquez (Whittier College) and Chandler McCaffer (Whittier College)- were treated to all of their coaches surprising the players.
One of the more emotional moments along the way was when baseball player Justin Verdugo got a hug from his mom, Virginia Seno, and the emotions came out.
“I can’t wait to get on the field and the mound with all of the players and it will be a great opportunity,” said Verdugo, who will play at La Verne University. “It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t finish the season and I wish I could have experienced it.”
La Serna coach Anthony Gonzales, Jr. also was there to support the senior. “La Verne got a steal and he is a DI guy,” Gonzalez said. “He’s going to be such a great asset for them. I’m really excited for him. He has a really great work ethic.”
The coach with the most college signings was Joe Orr of the cross country team and long distance coach on the track and field team.
Orr made the trek with Hemenway and Castillo and visited all 10 athletes in the drive-by event.
What the players said:
Milo Lopez, Football, Cerritos College: “This is very exciting. It’s pretty cool. I haven’t seen my coaches in awhile and it was very good to see them again. This shows how much they care for us and what a really good support system is at La Serna.
Andrew Henriquez, Football, Whittier College: “I’m just very appreciative of what they (coaches) did and supported me the last four years and I know they will always have my back. I’m very excited to get to the next step in my future (Whittier College). I’m excited to stay home and be closer to my family.
Amaarah Boochie, Soccer, Midland University (Nebraska): “It’s really good of them to come for signing day. I’m very excited to play for Midland. I was very sad about what has happened, but I’m ready for the next chapter in my life. I’m ready to play college for the next four years.”
Jerry Baltzer, Cross Country, Biola: “It’s important and I definitely think it’s something fun to do and work around this whole thing. It might be better than a normal signing day. It’s a good feeling.”
Aidan Arredondo, Cross Country, Biola: “Last season we came out strong and I wanted more with them and decided to go with a couple of them to Biola. With our comradery that we have with each other, hopefully it will impact the Biola team.”
Kaylee Alford, Cheer/Stunt, Vanguard University: “Honestly, at this point I have accepted everything that is happening and I’m looking forward to the next chapter in my life. I have so much going on in the future. I’m really excited for it. My years at La Serna have been really, really fun. I’m glad I met (coach Klock), because she honestly got me to where I am today.”
Daniel Enriquez, Cross Country/Track, Lewis & Clark University: “I didn’t know we were going to get this kind of recognition and it’s nice to have that. I think it’s going to be very nice up there (Lewis & Clark) and right across from the track are hiking trails up against two National Parks.”
Aidan Carrillo, Cross Country, Mt. SAC: “From what I know, (Mt. SAC) is one of the best JUCO’s in the country that produce some of the best ones and it’s a brand new stadium. I’m excited to go there and hope to transfer to a DI after my two years with the right times.
Tony Becerra, Cross Country, Mt. SAC: “I feel confident knowing that I’ll be able to go to that type of college that will give me a strong background and eventually transfer to Cal State Fullerton. I’m really excited.
Bianca Borunda, Water Polo, UC Santa Barbara: “It’s been tough and I’m glad our CIF championship was just before the shutdown. “It’s a bummer to not experience the senior year. I just fell in love with the campus (UCSB) on my junior-year visit.
Water Polo coach John Pringle: “Bianca was a huge part of our success and there was a lot of work on her part since her freshman season. It was awesome that Steve (Hemenway) set this (drive-by signing) up.
Skyler Sethman, softball, Idaho State University: “My best friend (Haylee Clay) had her signing day last year and I’ve always been waiting for my signing day. Hearing that it wasn’t going to happen this year, it was a bummer. I’m excited that all these administrators are coming by and just kind of recognizing all the athletes who are going to play in college. It’s a dream come true.”