By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor
Though at 18 it’s not legal to rent a car, purchase alcohol, enter 21-and-over clubs and events, adopt a child, buy marijuana, gamble at casinos or obtain a concealed weapons permit, there’s hardly any rite of passage more significant than a high school commencement ceremony. Graduating teenagers can get drafted and pressed into war, vote, obtain credit cards and enter into some contracts.
This past month, I reached out to the principals and key staff in schools in the circulation areas served by Random Lengths News to identify graduating students who have been stellar in the classroom, on their athletic teams and in their communities.
San Pedro High School submitted 12 names. All of them are student athletes. Some are involved in the arts; most are involved in serving their community, and all of them have been accepted by community colleges and four-year universities.
Five students participated in “Signing Day” — a practice in which student athletes, after a period of intense preening and wooing by college athletic programs, announce publicly and bindingly which college or university they will be attending. These students included Sebastian Wagoner, Perla Aguilar, Audrey Steen, Carlene Luna and Seth Turner.
Perla Aguilar is a standout student and cross country athlete. While I wasn’t able to speak to her coach or teacher who knows her best, I was able to speak to a Lorena Calderon, close friend of Aguilar who was able to reflect on the light Aguilar shines.
Calderon was present during the photo shoot, keeping Aguilar company. Unbeknownst to me and my photographer, Aguilar had a track meet to attend almost immediately afterward. Calderon brought food for Aguilar and made sure she kept aware of the time so she wouldn’t miss the bus.
“When I got on the team, I was still pretty socially awkward,” Calderon said. “I didn’t like talking to people but she would always help me get into activities,” Calderon said. “On a summer trip she was help me get involved with everybody.”
Calderon describes her best friend as determined, headstrong and goofy. She’s always putting in work to improve. Even when she has knots and pains, she’s working. She’s feels like she’s going to drop, she still keeps on going.
Aguilar helps Calderon with running and homework; they are almost always together.
Aguilar is a part of Link Crew, a San Pedro High School class designed to foster mentors to help guide incoming students towards becoming a contributing member of the Police Academy/ Marine Science Magnet community. Aguilar also volunteers at the College Bound Program at the Boys and Girls Club, and helps kids with their homework. She also has been phone banking on behalf of the Rep. Nanette Barragan reelection campaign. She has been on the honor roll all four years of school. She’ll be attending the University of California Irvine.
Coach Jean Wagoner had much to say about how the unique pressures of being a student athlete can propel them into excellence, particularly in regards to her son Sebastian Wagoner, dual-sport athlete Carlene Luna (soccer, swimming), and Audrey Steen.
Sebastian Wagoner is another honor roll student who has also been excelling at his particular sport. Wagoner’s accolades include his being a 12-time Marine League Conference champion; 12-time CIF Los Angeles City Section championship finalist; 4-time CIF State qualifier; 5th place (15-19 year olds) at the 2016 Dwight Crum Pier to Pier, 29th overall; 2016 Daily Breeze All South Bay 1st Team selection. Wagoner will be attending Lake Forest College next fall.
Coach Wagoner noted that the very act having to balance the time commitments of their sport and their academics causes the student to have master the art of time management, but it also trains the student in focusing the attention and focus on the what’s important.
“When they’re tired after school, they don’t stay home. They go to practice,” Coach Wagoner explained. “They fight through [their fatigue] on a very consistent basis.”
Coach Jean Wagoner couldn’t say enough about Luna.
Wagoner noted that in the last two years, Luna has finished in the top three in the Marine League in 50 yard freestyle, and that she’s been good at the breast stroke. But more than anything, Coach Wagoner likes the energy Luna brings to the locker room and the pool.
“She comes in with a good attitude and good work ethic and is positive influence on the younger kids on the team. She’s a wonderful teammate to have.” Coach Wagoner said.
And Coach Wagoner is not the only coach to say that about Luna.
This past March, Luna was named a Triple-Impact Competitor finalist by the Positive Coaching Alliance Triple-Impact Competitors were selected based on their essays explaining how they meet three criteria: personal mastery (making oneself better), leadership (making one’s teammates better), and honoring the game (making the game better).
“Carlene’s story of battling adversity from not only her peers but from her coaches as well allowed us to see how much strength she really holds and the fact that she continues to flourish as an student and athlete, while giving back to her teammates is extremely admirable,” said Alan Berkes, Executive Director of PCA’s Los Angeles chapter.
If not for her earnest humility, you would almost think she was humblebragging when she reflects on what she’s accomplished during high school. Steen has broken and set five different record categories in high school city section swimming and other records in club competitions.
“We don’t get a whole of coverage in our CIF [Los Angeles city section] just because we aren’t as competitive as Southern Section,” Steen explained.
“I haven’t broken any city records since 2016, just because in my first two years in high school I was really focused on high school swimming and doing the best I could in high school swimming because my coach Ivan Perhat was the high school coach.”
When Perhat resigned from coaching high school, she refocused her attention on club swimming. As a result, high school competition took a backseat to club competition under the guidance of Julio Zarate.
Steen exudes a great deal of humility and quiet confidence, giving her an air of maturity beyond her years.
“Considering that my main seasons are not my high school seasons, I’m extremely proud of my times and even this year I was really close to the City Section CIF record in the 100 Fly,” Steen said.
Because she had a transition in events, she’s bit backstroking anymore. She broke the CIF record in the South Bay invitational and swam faster in 100 Fly than the best time in CIF. She knows she had the juice to pull off victories in the CIF competition.
Then she shift attention away from herself to team like Sebastian Wagoner who started winning events last year and this year. She noted they have similar experiences given that they both started in club swimming at the same time. He swam really amazing this season.
“I’m really proud of him,” Steen said. “He had city records this year.”
The most interesting thing about Steen is how it seems each year she has been at San Pedro, she’s such a versatile swimmer, each year she seems to have an expertise … as freshman as a backstroker, as a sophomore she set relay records.
She set the 100 breast stroke and she set the 100 butterfly record and broke it as junior. This year, she’s being considered for All American status as a senior. That’s a big deal in the swim community.
It’s very difficult to attain that status.
Coach Jean Wagoner, who has worked with Audrey for the past three years noted that Steen will be graduating near the top of her class. Steen noted that most of her classes were advanced placement courses.
“I do alright. I took four AP last year and took four AP’s this year. I get Bs here and there, but mostly A’s. I’m not a perfect student but I really do try my best,” Steen said.
“The schedules for swim are in the morning before school, then we go to school, then we swim after school and then we do it all again the next day. This past year I did a lot better with time management.”
Steen’s goal is to make the cut at Division 1 level, which is one of the fastest meets in the world.
Steen noted that the Olympians and those on the national teams are breaking world records and meddling are doing it at the collegiate level. Steen notes that to even make the cut at the Division I level is difficult and see it as an honor. She would like to be a conference champion. She’s not picky about the event in which she’s a champion. If you ask, Steen will tell you that Olympic team is outreach. But that isn’t stopping her from strategizing to get there. She says she and her swim club coach have been strategizing to come home to train over the summer after her first year in college to see if could even make the cut for the Olympic trials.
Associated Student Body Leadership
Associated Student Body, or ASB, is in charge of organizing all school events such as prep rallies, homecoming and prom. They are in charge of activities that promote school unity and pride. They also work with staff and work to over the division having two campuses creates. The ASB board meets with staff on testing and bell schedules. They also work on resolving disputes utilizing a restorative justice model.
Students, Seth Turner, Corey Fausto and Rhiannon Patapoff serve on the leadership board.
Patapoff says she feels like this past year, ASB’s efforts are starting to bear fruit, particularly in the building of school unity between the dual San Pedro High campuses separated by 15 blocks.
“I’ve been a part of the ASB leadership board for years and we’ve been trying to accomplish this sense of unity,” Patapoff said. “It’s finally starting to come together, which is amazing
These students are standing out for a different reason. They excel in the classroom and their respective fields. Corey Fausto, particularly during his junior and senior playing on the San Pedro High varsity football team has been making waves on both sides of the ball while maintaining a 3.5 GPA.
Turner, who has been playing club soccer for 11 years and played with the highly-touted club team, Fram Lawson for the past four years, and his recruitment by Division I schools such as Rutgers University.
Tony Lawson, the Fram Lawson soccer club coach, described Seth as an introvert off the field. Not that Seth was the sort to stick to himself. He just isn’t the type to generally draw attention to himself. But on the soccer field, Lawson described Seth as a real competitor, particularly if Turner felt he was on the wrong end of a bad referee call or his team is down his desire to win gets raised a few notches.
When Turner first started playing with Fram Lawson, the team was already solid and had been playing together for a few years. Turner didn’t immediately start first string.
Lawson noted Turner’s strengths as a player. “He immediately impressed the coaching staff with his speed and overall athleticism, as well as his understanding of how to defend, Lawson said. Primarily a wide player, Turner will be effective in a fullback or wide midfield role at the Division I level.”
Lawson remembers an early conversation he had with Turner’s father.
That conversation was about ensuring that Turner got to play Division 1 soccer. To see that goal accomplished is a point of pride for the South Bay soccer club coach.
Patapoff comes from a rigorous arts background under the guidance of the San Pedro Ballet Company and had been dancing since she was a toddler.
San Pedro Ballet founder and teacher Cindy Bradley noted that she and other instructors there get to see these kids in every phase of their life until they graduate from high school. The typical schedule is 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and all day on Saturdays. Patapoff was no different, said Bradley, except she never seemed to give in to angst or frustration.
“She is the best example of a role model that we ever had.” Bradley said. “She seemed like an old soul from the moment she started.”
While maintaining her heavy schedule practicing and performing, Patapoff was carrying a significant academic load, taking honors and advanced placement classes and participating in student government as this year’s president of the Associated Student Body leadership.
Bradley identified discipline and maturity as the character traits that’s allowed Patapoff to persevere and succeed.
“She had the discipline to do the program, which is very vigorous, and she was in advanced placement classes and I didn’t even know she was a part of ASB,” Bradley explained. “She is so humble she never told me. She probably thought I would worry, that I would talk her out of it or something. She had the starring role of Clara in the Nutcracker. She would probably be starring in the San Pedro Ballet’s current show, but she is injured and has to wear a boot.”
Bradley hopes Patapoff continues to dance because she is so good. She doesn’t believe Patapoff wants to make dance a career.
“I can see her doing anything in life she wants,” Bradley said. “Right now, Patapoff will be entering UC Berkeley without declaring major. She expressed an interest in filmmaking and history but she’s leaving her options wide open.”
Of all the programs, sports or others at San Pedro High School, the Golden Pirate Regiment marching band headed by Darnella Davidson has probably seen the most dramatic turnaround ever. Davidson was honored in Nashville this past month with a Music Teachers of Excellence Awards after her winning back-to-back championship titles in 2016 and 2017, and receiving top honors among 92 marching bands in the Southern California Winter Guard Association tournament. For the past three years, color guard captains Samantha Duran and Emily Pinto, drum major Manuel Fragoso, section leaders Rene Rosales and Jacob Reynoso have been a part of Davidson’s band.
Davidson beams with pride when talking about the graduating seniors she selected for this profile.
She describes Samantha Duran as one who uplifts everyone, organized and a role model.
“She’s the kind of person you can’t help but do what she wants you to do,” Davidson explained. “She’s just very sweet and kind.”
Duran is going to El Camino College, which has one of the best music programs in Southern California. Duran said she aims to continue dancing in the future and perhaps even teach dance.
Outside of band, Duran is the president of the Kings and Queens Club, which is a kind of fraternity/sorority at San Pedro High School. The Kings and Queens club gives high school student a taste of Greek fraternity/sorority life emphasizing community service and academic excellence. Duran has been in the club for four years. Though the club emulates Pan-Hellenic councils in terms of service, the club is not connected to a specific Greek organization.
The last big project the Kings and Queens club participated in was the Whale of a Day at Point Vicente at in Rancho Palos Verdes. Whale of a Day was an educational event celebrating the migration of the Pacific Gray Whale from its summer feeding grounds in the Bering and Chuchki Seas in Alaska to the winter breeding and calving grounds in Baja California. Duran and fellow club members manned educational game station teaching youth about the whales. Duran also filled a cabinet position her first two years, then vice president as a junior. Academically she’s ranked in the top 100 of her class.
Davidson described Emily Pinto as bit more serious.
“I call her Santana, kind of like the television show Glee,” Davidson said. “She kind of ha[s] that personality. But underneath all of that gruff she’s a very kind sweet person and very artistic.”
Pinto recounted her experience in Davidson’s band as challenging and rewarding. She will be going the Long Beach City College and wants to continue color guard and art. She’s also a part of the Blue Devils color guard. She does graphic design specializing in digital studio art. She’s looking to transfer to Cal State Long Beach or even the University of Southern California.
Davidson said the two of them were chosen to help each other to be able manage the color guard. “Their leadership became quite apparent,” Davidson said. “For them to be able to manage people and how to rehearse a group when the instructors are not there… just how to coordinate all the things that go into being a color guard… both of them were able to do it.”
In fact, their work has become so noted that this past semester, they’ve been going over to Dana Middle and grooming those teenagers and taking charge of the program over there as well.
“So, when those [teenagers] come over here, they will be better trained,” Davidson said.
Each of the band members wore with medals they won over the past three years, consistently topping more than 90 schools from 2016 to 2018.
Of all the graduating band students, the drum major, Manuel Fragoso probably experienced the greatest growth.
“This is the first time he ever had this type of leadership role but when we choose drum majors and captains you have to look at what the band make up will be in the fall and all of the seniors are involved in the selection of the drum majors and captains,” Davidson explained. “Their input is invaluable. They get to see the things that I don’t necessarily get to see because they know the kids in a different way.
Fragoso hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed and it’s why he was made drum major for the All City Honor Marching Band.
“It was tough being drum major at first because I didn’t know what to do, but I figured it out and things ran smoothly,” Fragoso said.
He had to learn the baton and calling commands. He admits he wasn’t as confident before he became drum major but credits his elevation for giving him the confidence to step up and exercise leadership skills he had acquired.
He’s also a part of the Los Angeles Music Art School Orchestra band since the eighth grade.
Section leader and soloist trumpet player Renee Rosales and Jacob Reynoso, a saxophone soloist. So they both are really fine players and Renee also is a really sweet young man.
Davidson pays attention how students address their elders and the ways students comport themselves in the public eye. When she takes note of how a student greets her, it is a mark good home training that could possibly open doors,
“‘Hello, Ms. Davidson …. Goodbye, Ms. Davidson,” the band director said, mimicking the characteristics of polite and respectful interaction between elder and junior. “You don’t get that kind of response from every kid and that just sticks in my mind as being well trained. His mother did a great job with him in teaching him how to be polite. He has his mischievous moments but overall he’s a very kind person and a person that cares about the program. He’s now going into drum corp. He marched last year, but this year he’s marching with one of our most favorite groups, the Blue Devils. So, he’s going to learn a lot from that experience. So, I congratulate him on that.
Renee has been a trumpet section leader for the past two years and soloist for the past three years. He will be attending Riverside City College. He really wants to be in college band. He’s already done two years of Drum Corps, one with Drum Bugle Corp. and one with Blue Devils Bugle Corps.”
Renee said when he’s not practicing with Ms. Davidson or the Blue Devils, he’s putting in time on his instrument on his own. Renee points to Pauley Raphael Mendez as a musician he tries to emulate. The state in Mexico my family is from, listen to him a lot. Renee said he spends about 30 hours a week practicing on his instrument a week. And it’s paying off.
“Jacob Reynoso is a fantastic alto saxophone player. He’s one of my favorite all time alto saxophone players,” Davidson said?. “He just has a beautiful tone, he’s great with improvisation.
Davidson noted that Reynoso struggled academically as a freshman. She suggested a bit of discipline was all it took to get him in the right direction.
“Now he’s setting the tone for the kids who are following him. He could say to them, ‘I made these mistakes, don’t make them.,’” Davidson said.
Reynoso will be going to El Camino College and plans to continue with music by joining El Camino’s symphonic band.