Capturing The Port On Polaroid

Photographer Ingrid Dietrich (photo by Joshua Stecker)

Most prefer to be either in front of or behind the camera, not both, and not Ingrid Dietrich.

Dietrich, with her fiery red mane and sweet disposition, has made San Pedro her home since 2008. Her career has her spending time both behind the camera and in front of it — and in some cases, she coaches those taking to the fashion runway.

In 2004, Dietrich, 34, moved to the United States from El Salvador. She came to the United States with the goal of continuing her education and “exploring a new world of possibilities.”

It took less than a year for Dietrich to realize that California was, indeed, the perfect fit. She says Southern California is very similar in climate to Central America, which was a major draw in moving away from home.

“I fell in love with California. I always knew deep down I wanted to come here to study,” she says. “The ocean, the weather, the stability, I just knew it was the perfect fit, and the closest I could get to home without being home.”

Upon arriving, Dietrich studied business and entrepreneurship at Santa Monica College. She later received a Certificate in Business and Website Design, and most recently she graduated from OTIS College of Arts and Design with a major in Professional Photography.

After moving around the Los Angeles area, Dietrich made her home in San Pedro.

She moved to the portside community in 2008, but says she fell in love with the community shortly after arriving in California when she made the trip to San Pedro as a tourist.

“At first I was a tourist, I traveled all over the community,” she says. “But then, in 2006, I took a helicopter tour from Long Beach and saw the city from above, and I just knew I had to move, and did so just under two years later.”

That year, Dietrich responded to an advertisement in the PennySaver for an in-home care assistant for a San Pedro couple. The husband is a quadriplegic, and his wife needed assistance in caring for him on days she needed to run errands.

“I was looking for a job, they had posted an advertisement, and I met them and it has been a perfect fit,” Dietrich says, adding that this San Pedro family was another big reason she decided to move into the community. “I love them, I really do, they are my family.”

Dietrich says she has grown a lot as a person since making the trek from El Salvador to California, but one thing has remained a constant, and that’s her love for photography.

It started back in 1987, when on a trip to Guatemala with her family, her father purchased her a “cute little purple pocket 110 film camera.” She said from that point forward, she never stopped taking pictures.

“There have been times in my life, while studying, that I really believed that architecture was my real passion,” she recalls. “At one point, I thought I would put down the camera, but then I had an architecture professor who made us pick up the camera, and it was this that changed my life.”

A Polaroid from Dietrich's "Port of Los Angeles - 1969 Land Polaroid" exhibition.

In October, Dietrich was a featured artist during the San Pedro International Film Festival, and this month, her current project, “Port of Los Angeles – 1969 Land Polaroid” will be exhibited at the Croatian Cultural Center.

“I have had many exhibitions all over Los Angeles,” she says. “But I haven’t had any in San Pedro, and I have wanted to share my work with this community for so long, so this means the world to me.”

Dietrich has been photographing San Pedro on her own time for many years, but it wasn’t until a friend gave her a 1969 Polaroid that she finally had a vision.

“For the past five years, I have dedicated six days each week to capturing the beauty of the city,” she says. “I am in love with the city, the magnificent, old architecture with a small town feel.”

The goal of the project was to bring out the “beauty of the old historical buildings in juxtaposition with the newest architecture of the city.”

To acquire this effect, Dietrich used a 50-year-old black and white Polaroid camera.

“I wanted to make the city look old,” she says. “I knew if I used digital photography to capture the old architecture and the new structures, I would have had to make modifications to make them look from the same time period, and I didn’t want that. I wanted the image to be pure, well planned, unique, somehow raw.”

Dietrich says the project was challenging because there is only one Polaroid — no negatives.

“This project really has made me pay attention to composition,” she says. “It was extremely challenging, but so rewarding, and I am beyond excited and honored to share the photographs with the residents of San Pedro.”

Dietrich, who has been featured in National Geographic three times, says her goal is to work full-time for the magazine that has been in publication since 1888.

“My dream would be to be hired by National Geographic,” she says. “But my goal, as of now, is to give back to the great community of San Pedro. I want my photographs to someday be my legacy, something I can leave with the community forever.” spt

“Port of Los Angeles – 1969 Land Polaroid” opens on First Thursday, Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. at the Croatian Cultural Center (510 W. 7th St.), and closes on Nov. 16. For more info, visit www.ingriddietrich.com.

A Film Festival For The Community

Ziggy Mrkich and Renee O'Connor, co-directorsof SPIFF (photo by John Mattera)

It was founded to celebrate the diverse culture and community of San Pedro, and after its successful inaugural event last October, the San Pedro International Film Festival is back for its second annual event.

San Pedro has always had a rich film history, in fact, several movies — the original King Kong, Chinatown, The Usual Suspects, Pearl Harbor, and (500) Days of Summer — and television shows — NCIS, Mad Men and Dexter — have been shot on the streets of the city.

It’s the films, and the community of San Pedro, that the San Pedro International Film Festival was founded to celebrate, and founder Ziggy Mrkich proved last year that she is up for the job.

Mrkich is no stranger to the film festival circuit, she has more than a decade of festival involvement on her resume, and after a successful inaugural event, she is “very excited,” for this year’s festivities.

“We had a very successful first year,” she says. “And I am dedicated to continuing this festival and continuing to showcase films, really good films, from the festival circuit.”

“San Pedro has a long and rich history in the cinematic arts. With dozens of feature films, television shows and commercials shot here every year, it’s fitting that we now are host to a festival that celebrates the city’s diverse culture and community, and its contributions to film,” says Los Angeles City Councilman, Joe Buscaino.

Last year’s event, which drew more than 700 people, was the Los Angeles premier of Silver Linings Playbook, starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. The film went on to win several major awards, including Lawrence’s Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.

“I was very surprised, but extremely happy to acquire the film as part of our first year,” Mrkich says. “We were very proud to have had the opportunity to be the first in the area to screen it.”

This year’s festival will feature screenings of both documentaries and short films. Mrkich says they received more than 550 submissions. One of the hardest parts of the festival planning is securing feature films for the weekend, she says.

“I handpick the feature films based on the attention the films are getting at other festivals, namely the Toronto Film Festival,” she says. “In addition, I really try to include films that are already getting Oscar buzz.”

She says oftentimes it is difficult to secure the films, but it’s this that makes her job “exciting.”

“It’s actually really very hard to secure feature films,” she says. “I do get a lot of ‘No’s,’ but programming isn’t easy at any festival, but it all works out in the end, you just have to know going into it that you will not get to screen every film you want.”

The workload lightened a bit this year for Mrkich when she brought Renee O’Connor on board.

The duo says the goal of this year’s festival is to “provide a service to the community by attracting new visitors to San Pedro, and exposing them to films they may otherwise not see.”

O’Connor, a director, producer and actress best known for her role as Gabrielle in the television series Xena: Warrior Princess, is facilitating the filmmakers for various panels. She says the panels will include information on producing small and large budget independent films.

“I am passionate about helping fellow filmmakers,” she says. “These panels will allow for future filmmakers to be in the same room as current filmmakers — it’s oftentimes hard to get into the industry, and this will provide an opportunity for people to share their experience of how they did it.”

The San Pedro International Film Festival is featuring screenings at the historic Warner Grand Theatre, as well as new outdoor screenings, pop-up screenings and a special screening aboard the newest addition to San Pedro, the historic Navy battleship, the U.S.S. Iowa.

In addition, Mrkich and O’Connor will be paying tribute to legendary filmmaker Tony Scott, who died in San Pedro last August.

Scott, a renowned presence in Hollywood, spent over 40 years working in the business, carving out a career as both a director and producer. Top Gun, arguably his best-known film, starring Tom Cruise, grossed more than $350 worldwide.

Scott also directed Days of Thunder (also starring Tom Cruise), Beverly Hills Cop II, True Romance, Crimson Tide (starring Denzel Washington), and Spy Game (starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt), among many others.

“The tribute will include a brief retrospective of Scott’s work and his contributions to the San Pedro community,” O’Connor says. “Tony Scott shot several films in San Pedro, and has a very strong tie to this community and we want to honor that, and thank him for his contributions to the city.”

Scott’s family, including widow, Donna Scott, is expected to be in attendance.

O’Connor and Mrkich say they are “overly excited” about this year’s festival. “This is the community’s festival,” Mrkich says. “We have an open door for people who want to volunteer or be involved — this is a festival for the community, and that is why we are including a local program.”

O’Connor says that anyone who has never been to a festival should experience it just once. “This is a great opportunity to come and experience what a film festival can create,” she says. “You can come in off the street and sit down and be right next to the person who wrote and directed the film you are about to see — it’s wonderful.”

Mrkich adds, “The San Pedro International Film Festival is a win-win for audiences and filmmakers. We support filmmakers by providing an audience and platform for films, and the audience can see films they otherwise might have missed.” spt

The San Pedro International Film Festival will take place the weekend of October 4-6 at various venues in downtown San Pedro. This special edition of San Pedro Today includes the complete program and schedule for the festival. For more news and info, visit www.spiffest.org.

Still Pedalin’

The Bike Palace has been a familiar fixture on Pacific Ave. for 40 years. (photos by John Mattera)

The typically pleasant Southern California weather coupled with financial savings and health benefits has pushed communities across the state into a “Bike Friendly” state of mind, and San Pedro, though somewhat resistant at first, is on board.

As the bike community grows in San Pedro, and the city continues to add bike lanes and racks, there is one long-time staple that has believed in the benefits of biking for 40 years.

The Bike Palace, located at 16th and Pacific Avenue, opened 40 years ago by San Pedro native, Kuzma “Matty” Domancich, is not just a staple in San Pedro, it is a part of the community’s history.

Domancich, who owned a Shell service station prior to opening the bike shop, had no intention of opening such a business. He said it all started when he became upset when Shell made the decision to become self-service.

“It wasn’t right,” he says. “They wanted me to sit in a chair and wait for people to come in and pay for gas – and then stay sitting while they went out to pump their gas.”

He owned the station for over 25 years, and through the entire time he spent his days repairing cars, cleaning windshields, checking tire pressure, oil, water and pumping gas for all his customers.

“As they were giving me my new orders, I saw a gentleman riding a bicycle and not having personally ridden or owned a bicycle before, I told the Shell people I would be out in 30 days and that I was opening a bicycle shop,” remembers Domancich.

It didn’t take long for Domancich to get his new venture off the ground – he simply walked across the street from his gas service station and asked to rent a small room off of the then San Pedro Motors, they agreed, and his journey began.

In 1977, the owners of San Pedro Motors informed Domancich that they were retiring and wanted to sell the real estate. Domancich, who didn’t have the money to buy it outright, approached longtime friend Tony Jabuka, who was a well-respected general contractor around town, and the pair partnered and purchased the property.

Domancich’s extensive background as a mechanic helped grow the business immediately, and he loved every minute of it, he says.

In 1974, Domancich hired his godson, the son and namesake of his business partner, Tony Jabuka.

Tony Jabuka (left), godson of and Matty Domancich (right), currently owns and runs The Bike Palace.

“I gave Tony a job helping out around the bike shop throughout the summers,” says Domancich. “He worked with then head mechanic, Dave Summers, and had an immediate knack for working with bicycles.”

Tony Jabuka would continue working for Domancich until 1979, when he decided to attend Oregon State University, but he came back each Christmas to work.

“I have always enjoyed being in the shop,” explains Jabuka. “I have so many memories from way back when I first started, it was always just a good fit and something kept pulling me back.”

In March of 1984, Jabuka came to an agreement with his father and Domancich, that he would become a partner in The Bike Palace.

“My mechanical skills and Matty’s business sense and salesmanship made us a great team,” says Jabuka. “I remember we used to listen to spring training baseball games on the radio while working on bikes, there has always been a great bond.”

Jabuka says that as the business grew, his enthusiasm for it grew as well. “I knew I was doing something I truly loved.”

In 1987, Domancich decided it was time to retire, and Jabuka knew he wanted to keep the business and tradition of The Bike Palace alive and well.

“It was now all up to me, to continue to give our customers the care Matty had nourished into the business over the past 14 years,” he says.

Now, 26 years later, much has changed, but so much is still the same at The Bike Palace.

With an extensive inventory of bikes ranging from mountain bikes to BMX and everything in between, The Bike Palace has become the hub for the cycling communities of San Pedro and Palos Verdes.

“We carry a much more extensive selection of bikes and accessories than we ever did,” explains Jabuka. “We try to carry most every type of bicycle, for most any type of rider. Tricycles for infants and adults, road racing and touring bikes, hybrid, mountain bikes, BMX, freestyle and fixies. And of course, beach cruisers in every flavor of the rainbow.”

Jabuka says that through the years it has always been about great customer service and promoting the “love of riding.”

“We, ourselves, try to ride as often as possible,” he says. “In San Pedro, we have all these great, cool spots and things to stop and look at – it is a beautiful community, and one that is now becoming more and more bicycle friendly.”

Jabuka says business has gotten “tougher and tougher” through the years, with new competition from places like Target, and of course, the Internet. “Christmas used to be one of our busiest times, especially with the kids’ market, but that has changed dramatically because of big box stores coming to town. It is definitely a challenge, but I have a great crew, who are now like family after working with me for decades. We are the hub for the cycling community in San Pedro and the Palos Verdes Peninsula. We’re also the major sponsor of the Peninsula Cycle Club, a group of over 270 enthusiastic cyclists.”

Jabuka says he can’t believe that it has been 40 years since The Bike Palace first opened, saying “time flies when you are having fun.”

“It is a really special feeling, I was here almost from the beginning with Matty,” he says. “To think about it, about how he handed it off to me and let me take off running with it, it is emotional. The store has grown and changed, but the feel is still the same and the memories are etched in the walls.”

(Left) Francisco Figueroaworks on a bike in the shop's repair room. (Right) The shop carries bikes of every shape and size for children and adults.

Jabuka, along with Domancich, hope the community of San Pedro continues to embrace cycling as a great alternative mode of transportation. Though both agreed, that unlike a lot of other coastal communities, San Pedro has some work to do.

Jabuka says that in places like Hermosa and Long Beach, there are routes for bicyclists to be able to travel around California. He said connecting San Pedro and Long Beach through a bike route will really open up doors for avid riders to be able to get out and ride.

“All we can hope is that through bike lanes and routes more and more riders will take to the streets and explore the great city and region they live in,” he says. “I support the efforts to becoming more bike friendly, and I think the community will too, when they get used to it.”

Domancich and Jabuka said they are very thankful for the support of San Pedro residents and all their customers from around the area.

“We certainly want to thank all of our customers through our 40 year history,” says Jabuka. “We are all a family, and it is very special to us. We have had some really great times here and the memories are wonderful.”

Jabuka continues, “Over the years our passion could not have been accomplished without the fine work of many employees, including T.J. Tapia, Jose Carlos, Francisco Figueroa, John Aunedi, Bob Applegate, Sergio Diaz, Sze Chaung, Eric Luk, Steve Collister, Ryan Hamilton, Adam Olson, Kirk Shandrew, Gary Weiss, Steve Turner, Ron Morgan, Raymond Medak, Dave Nelson, Duane Hamilton, Tony Accetta, Paul Anvar, Hector Lopez, David Pratt, Israel Sanchez, Jose Aguilar, Jack Druskovich, Mario Rivera, Frank Tyfalt, Eugene Hernandez, Chris Correa, John Menzies, Greg Gobel, Carmelo Figueroa, Cora Webber, Autumn Baldwin, Candy Rapoza and Kay Scarpelli.”

Domancich adds that he is proud of Jabuka, and very pleased to see the strides that not only the business but also the community of San Pedro are making to become a bike friendly destination.

“I am so happy with everything that goes well in San Pedro, especially when we do it right,” Domancich says. “My godson Tony and his crew are wonderful with the customers, they do such a great job – I stop in the shop every week, the memories are great and being able to celebrate 40 years is a great accomplishment.” spt

The Bike Palace is located at 1600 S. Pacific Ave. For more info, call 310-832-1966 or visit www.thebikepalace.com.

Fighting Back

Residents of Silvius Ave. in the Coastal San Pedro area pose for a picture on July 20 during their neighborhood block party, which was organized to bring awareness to the rash of home burglaries and to install security cameras in the neighborhood. (photos by Kelsey Duckett)

It’s a model that one small neighborhood, about 60 homes, is hoping will become the norm throughout the streets and neighborhoods in San Pedro – it’s simple, cost-effective and an effort to deter thieves from targeting homes.

It all started after a couple home break-ins turned into a rash of home and vehicle burglaries – six homes, 11 vehicles in 18 months – in one Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood on Silvius Avenue.

Residents were fed up and decided it was time to fight back.

That’s where Michael Herzmark came in, he spearheaded a neighborhood watch, planned two meetings, contacted Councilman Joe Buscaino and LAPD Senior Lead Officer Matt Vuoso, and started the push to get cameras installed on every home.

“My house was broken into in the middle of January, we were about the fourth or fifth burglary,” he says. “Enough was enough. It wasn’t just the stuff they took, it was the fact that they were in our home, going through our drawers. They violated our privacy and sense of security.”

So Herzmark knocked on his neighbors’ doors, all 60 of them, and suggested a meeting at White Point Elementary School. The turnout was more than Herzmark could have imagined, and better yet, the neighborhood had a plan.

Captain Nancy Lauer, Commander of LAPD Harbor Division, and Councilman Joe Buscaino attended the block party to lend their support.

A handful of residents, including Herzmark, installed security and surveillance systems in their homes. But a month later, Easter Sunday of last year, another home was broken in to, this time though, they had an image off of one of the neighbor’s cameras.

“We thought we finally caught the people involved,” he says. “But when we looked at the image it was too small, and too far away to see anything.”

Herzmark spoke with his neighbors and they knew if they could get everyone in the neighborhood to put up a camera, they would “have an unbroken view of the street,” he says.

“Again the residents got talking, we had another meeting and we decided to have a block party where the handy neighbors on the street could install cameras for anyone who bought them.”

The block party took place on Saturday, July 20 – about 100 neighbors showed up, fired up the grill, brought desserts and drinks, and while the kids played and neighbors visited, three groups of neighbors went around to various houses and installed cameras and surveillance systems.

Angeline Barnes, a block resident, had a camera and security system installed during the block party. She was the first break-in on the street, almost two years ago.

“They broke in through a window of mine and took all my jewelry, cash, an iPad and a camera among other things,” she explains. “It was a difficult time, I didn’t feel safe in my home and it just was a violation of my privacy.”

Barnes said she was thrilled with the idea of a block party, saying it not only brought the neighborhood out to help fight crime, but also was an event that allowed neighbors to meet and get to know one another.

“I have lived here for almost 40 years, and there are people that I just met today,” she says. “I spent a couple hundred dollars on these cameras and my neighbors are installing them and syncing them with my computer and phone. It’s fantastic.”

While some were installing cameras, others were posting signs on fences and street posts.

Residents installed security cameras on a number of homes along Silvius Ave.

“The installation of these cameras will not only ensure that individuals who commit crimes in this neighborhood can be brought to justice, but also sends out the message that this neighborhood has created a unified front against crime,” Vuoso says. “Facebook continues to be a great tool for both the police and citizens to share information vital to the safety of the community. The two together have taken the concept of neighborhood watch to a new level.”

Los Angeles police Capt. Nancy Lauer, the Harbor Division commander, also attended the block party and endorsed the community’s effort to use cameras and signs as a tool to help deter criminals.

“I applaud their initiative and willingness to get involved,” says Lauer. “Anytime we can work in partnership with a neighborhood is a big benefit and a positive for both the neighborhood and the police department.”

She also told the neighbors at the party that the Harbor Division has had great success in solving crimes through surveillance cameras on homes and businesses.

“Criminals aren’t just bound to one neighborhood,” she says. “Criminals are always on the move, and we have had success in capturing a suspect that committed a crime in one area by using video footage from another.”

Lauer did say that crime in the neighborhood, which includes Silvius Avenue and is bounded by Gaffey Street, Paseo del Mar and Hamilton and Weymouth Avenues is down.

“Major crime is down 57 percent in this area from last year,” she says.

She did note that any crime is too much, and each step neighborhoods take to secure their homes and their community will be beneficial.

Last year there were 21 cars broken into compared to 10 vehicles to date this year, there were 10 cars stolen compared to five this year and 14 burglaries compared to five this year.

Councilman Buscaino, a former Los Angeles police officer who worked in San Pedro as a senior lead officer, says the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Watch Facebook group is the largest in the area with more than 500 members. “This is exactly the type of proactive initiative I was hoping for when my office launched a series of Neighborhood Watch Groups on Facebook nearly a year ago,” says Buscaino. He adds that using the Facebook group to inform each other “will bring new meaning to ‘neighborhood watch.’”

“They have just raised the bar on crime prevention,” he says.

Herzmark adds that with “the installation of these security cameras we are going to make it as difficult as possible for criminals to operate in our neighborhood.”

“We hope this is a model that other San Pedro neighborhoods will adopt,” he continues. “It is time to take back our streets in our city. We are here not only with a model, but to help other neighborhoods implement it as well.” spt

Leaders In Training

The entire Youth & Government family, including San Pedro, Palos Verdes and Wilmington delegations.

It’s one of the largest delegations in the state, and out of the more than 2,500 students that participate, 120 of them hail from San Pedro High School.

These students, on their weekends, and each Tuesday for six months, are assigned or voted a role in the California government – from senator and assembly member to lawyer and lobbyist and governor – these delegates, as they are called, participate in arguably the most real life club schools have to offer.

The Youth and Government Program, put on by the YMCA, has been providing students the opportunity to participate in the various jobs of government since 1948.

The students, who for their final project take the capitol over for five days this month, do it all; from writing legislation and debating bills to learning public speaking skills, participating in character development activities, and maybe most important, getting involved in various community service projects.

Lauren Fierro, who spent three years as a volunteer with the program before she took over as lead advisor, says the development she sees in the students each year is “mind blowing.”

“I watch the students learn, change and grow into young, educated and passionate adults,” she says. “They realize they have a voice, and more importantly that their voice matters.”

Funded by the San Pedro YMCA and Peninsula YMCA, with help from donations from the community, the Youth and Government Program draws from six different high schools including Palos Verdes and Wilmington, with most students coming from San Pedro High. The delegates meet each Tuesday night at SPHS, and have more students involved that any other YMCA across the state.

In fact, last year’s delegation won the coveted Governor’s Challenge, for being the “most outstanding delegation both inside of the Youth and Government program and inside the community.”

The program across California draws from 90 different delegations, with over 2,500 participants. These students come together and work together three times a year to elect their own government – then participate in the big finale in February, when these elected officials put on their suits and ties and run the capitol building.

Fierro says the students fly into Sacramento on a Wednesday night, check into their hotel rooms, and prepare for the week. “They wake up in the morning, get dressed and go to work,” she says. “They are senators, congressmen, lobbyists and lawyers, and they are treated like adults.”

A senator, for instance, would enter the capitol building on Thursday morning and after a briefing from his staff, would head to the committee meeting and debate laws and legislation. Later in the day, there would be a luncheon or meeting with lobbyists who will argue for or against legislation.

Once the bills pass through the committees, the senator would take the bill to the senate floor and debate the legislations amongst the other senators. Once passed, the bill would move to the Governor’s office, who has his own staff and group of lobbyists and can sign or veto the bill.

YMCA adult volunteers (l to r): Eduardo Osorio, Will Terrazas, Anthony Dobay, Lauren Fierro, Paula Goldberg, Michelle De Anda, Erika Dolan, Sarah Esparza and Lauren Williams make quesadillas to raise money for the program’s scholarship fund

“This is absolutely fantastic,” says Fierro. “These kids run the government, they actually do it. There is a research room where they study and research for hours about the bills they are proposing or lobbying for or against. They can run a government, and in some cases run it better than our own government runs it.”

Dru Chavez, a 17 year-old senior at San Pedro High School, says the program has been life changing. Chavez has been involved for two years, and says until he joined Youth and Government he never felt a sense of satisfaction and was always wanting more.

“This is something special,” he says. “It is the place to be, and it has changed my life.”

This month, Chavez will serve as the statewide chaplain, and plans on inspiring his peers through several speeches and invocations. “I think I have one of the best jobs,” he says. “I can be informal and really have the opportunity to meet a lot of people. Last year, I was a senator and sponsored a bill to eliminate the California High School Exit Exam. It passed. I was able to debate on the senate floor, and actually won Senator of the Year – this program is just amazing, and has changed my future.”

Mo Johnson, 17, who ran for Secretary of State last year with plans on becoming the first female President of the United States in the future, says this program has changed the direction of her life.

The San Pedro senior will head to George Washington University in the fall and has already committed to a five-year masters degree program, in addition, to being a member of the row team.

“This is what I love, I found what I love,” she says. “This program helped me find my passion and I couldn’t be more grateful. I want to major in Political Science and eventually run for political office – I am open to anything, but I jokingly say often that I want to be the first female president.”

Johnson, who was elected to the Youth and Government Board of Directors, wants a life in politics and without this program may have never been exposed to it. At a recent conference, where all 2,500 plus delegates joined together in preparation for the Sacramento takeover, Johnson led a Women in Leadership session, as she noticed a discrepancy in the amount of elected women in the program.

She says that women make up 60 percent of the program, but only one in five are elected to high-level positions.

“I have a stake in this program,” she says. “This is my third year, and I have become very invested in not only the time that I have been involved, but the years after I leave. I have a totally different perspective – this is about our youth, our future, this program just floors me.”

Fierro says the program is a place where “we encourage teens to be themselves, step outside of their comfort zones, and appreciate differences in their fellow delegates.”

“It is an all inclusive program,” she continues. “It is a character and leadership focused program. It is not competitive, it is about treating teens like adults and letting them know their voice matters, their opinion matters and they can make a difference.” spt

Bridging Hope

Long Beach Ronald McDonald House

For John Papadakis it has always been about remaking San Pedro into a seaside destination – a city that people will write home about.

A long-time San Pedro Booster, Papadakis was also the owner of what he describes as “San Pedro’s greatest destination ever,” Papadakis Taverna. But his plan for San Pedro, as the chairman of the Los Angeles Harbor-Watts Economic Development Corp., a public-private partnership to bring development to the area, isn’t moving has quickly has he had hoped. But that hasn’t stopped him from making a difference.

Instead, it led him across the bridge to Long Beach, where an opportunity arose for him to be a part of something much bigger than himself when he was appointed to the Board of Directors for the Ronald McDonald House.

Several months later, in need of cash to get the project on its feet, Papadakis suggested a fundraising event at his San Pedro staple – it was a hit.

The event, which saw more than 80 people in attendance, including Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster and then state senator Alan Lowenthal, now a congressman, raised $40,000 for construction of the Long Beach Ronald McDonald House. According to Cheri Bazley, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House, it was the first funding ever raised for the project.

“John’s event started it all,” she says. “This was the seed money, if you will, it was critical and very significant in launching the campaign to build the house. His fundraiser was crucial.”

The Ronald McDonald House, located at Atlantic and Vernon Street, two blocks south of Miller Children’s Hospital, opened its doors in December 2011. In that time, the house has served hundreds of families who have children with critical and life-threatening illnesses.

The house provides inexpensive, and often free, lodging for families who travel long distances while their children undergo treatment. The houses alleviate the stress family members would have to endure by sleeping on cots at the hospital or incurring the additional expense of finding a local hotel. The facilities provide them with the added comfort of being surrounded by those who understand and can relate to the ordeal of having an ill child.

But raising the initial money to fund the construction of the house was just phase one for the board of directors. Papadakis, who still serves on the board and is a founder of the Ronald McDonald House, says that “now the key is being able to continue to raise the finances to sustain the house.”

Papadakis came up with an idea, the Heart of the House effort, as it is known, a slogan Papadakis coined himself, to continue to raise money in a sustaining effort. Bazley says it’s these donations that are critical and essential for the Ronald McDonald House to continue to operate.

“We operate on a $1.1 million budget,” she says. “More than 80 percent of our funding comes from private individuals. It is essential that we reach beyond the Long Beach community to raise awareness and raise this money because our services are very far reaching.”

That’s where Danny Salas comes in.

Salas, who grew up poor on the docks in San Pedro, says he struggled to afford so much as a hook when he was a little boy. But through hard work and dedication, Salas, with his wife and children, has become quite the success story.

Growing up in San Pedro, Salas said he wanted to do something on or near the water. So, in the mid 90s, he started a sports fishing charter business at Ports O’ Call. His business boomed. He went from one small boat to seven large boats, including an 80-foot dinner cruise liner.

“I had the opportunity about 12 years ago to move my business to Long Beach and work directly with the city and the Aquarium of the Pacific,” he says.

Salas and his business, now called Harbor Breeze Cruises, made their move to Long Beach in 2000 and have continued to grow with various cruise offerings and fishing excursions.

“It’s tough to start a business, any way you look at it, but our business has seen growth beyond our wildest dreams – I started out as a boy on the docks with nothing, and now I am able to give back.” And that’s what Salas did.

A few months back, Salas received a phone call from Papadakis, the pair met through a mutual friend and San Pedro native Van Barbieri, who passed away suddenly of pancreatic cancer. Salas calls Barbieri the “angel that introduced John and I,” an introduction Salas says that without “the donation may not have been.”

Papadakis simply told Salas about the Ronald McDonald House and the Heart of the House campaign, and without asking many questions, Salas agreed to a luncheon with Bazley. Upon showing up for lunch, shaking hands and only saying “Hello,” Salas handed Bazley a check for $10,000.

“He acted out of faith,” says Papadakis.

Salas was the first contributor to the Heart of the House campaign, and when you break that down, it equates to two San Pedrans raising the first amounts of money in two great efforts.

“The Ronald McDonald House is just a beautiful home,” says Salas. “It took a great deal of effort to get it going, but funding is still needed to make sure it can operate each and every day. There are a lot of costs involved, and this Heart of the House program is there to make sure the house is always maintained.”

“Danny’s donation was incredible,” Bazley says. “Both John and Danny recognized that our mission, to serve the families with critically ill children, is very important. We are almost fully serviced by private funds and its donations like Danny’s that allow us to continue to serve the many families in need.”

For more than 30 years, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern California has served more than 50,000 families through Ronald McDonald houses in Los Angeles, Orange County, Loma Linda and Pasadena, and Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times, where children with cancer and their siblings can enjoy normal childhood experiences with kids just like them. There are more than 270 Ronald McDonald Houses in more than 30 countries.

Bazley says the Ronald McDonald House has 23 guest rooms, and a commitment from local hotels to ensure that no family is ever turned away. “We have been operating at about 80 percent capacity,” she says. “We have had several weeks that we have been completely full. A large population of our families comes from Los Angeles County, and we have had 12 San Pedro families stay with us.”

Papadakis says it is unique that San Pedro residents cross the bridge to donate. But he said it is important, not only for the cause, but for the idea that San Pedro needs this same type of development.

“The Ronald McDonald House serves a very important function, it allows families who have very critical ill children to stay with their children,” he says. “Some 40 years ago Long Beach was a very dirty, dangerous, tough town, but they transformed themselves and captured their water line and made it people and family friendly. This is exactly what San Pedro needs to do. We need to become a great seaside city, a destination city. It is good for San Pedrans to see this, open their minds to it and respect it. We need to continue to sustain this house. It stands for so much humanity and goodness from one man to another to provide a place to a family in a very difficult time. I can’t think of a better function than to give when someone is in need.” spt

For more info or to donate, contact the Long Beach Ronald McDonald House at (562) 285-4300 or visit www.longbeachrmh.org.

Cross Country Dynasty

Champions (l to r): Miriam Canales-Ortega, Lorena Garcia (being held with plaque), Ashley Carrera, Violet Tipich, Dana Cameron, Bronwyn Bunnell, Danielle Nunez (photo by John Mattera)

San Pedro’s Lorena Garcia and Ashley Carreraended their L.A. City Section Cross Country careers the same way they began them – as champions.

But this is nothing new for head coach Bruce Thomson and the San Pedro Girls Cross Country team. They’ve won three of the last four City titles as the program continues to pave its way to the “dynasty” category.

Thomson took over head coaching duties at San Pedro High School in 1998 and in those 15 years he has done almost nothing but win: 10 L.A. City titles in 15 years.

San Pedro High School Principal, Jeanette Stevens says Coach Thomson has created an environment that “cultivates success year after year.”

“Coach Thompson is a cornerstone of our program here at San Pedro High School,” she says. “He is here everyday and he really is involved in the program in a capacity that fosters success. We are very proud of him and his accomplishments. He is definitely top-notch, we have observed his talent and his ability to connect with kids. He is a superstar.”

Head coach Bruce Thomson (bottom center) is surrounded by his runners (top l to r) Bunnell, Tipich, Nunez and Carrera, and is flanked by Erica Hovind (bottom l) and Coach Sally Leonhart (bottom r). (photo by Jenna Bunnell)

Thomson has led his Pirate runners to not only L.A. City titles, but to college. During his 15 years leading the program, he has seen dozens of his girls go on to compete at the collegiate level.

“Our girls train very hard,” Thomson says. “It just didn’t happen that you win, the girls have to make commitments and sacrifices, and it starts in the summer. This program has seen many successful athletes go on to college, but that is because these girls know what it takes and they work hard to make their dreams come true.”

Thomson has produced great runners like Valerie Flores, who became an All-American at UCLA, and past Individual City Champions include Pablo Rosales and Laura Delgado. In addition, the Pirates currently have two runners on scholarship at Loyola Marymount, and that is in addition to the countless other girls who have gone on to run at the collegiate level.

Stevens says it is important to the administration to produce college-bound students, adding that it is a bonus to produce collegiate athletes.

“We have talented athletes and talented coaches who have the ability to promote and advocate for the kids for continued play after high school,” she says. “We want coaches and have coaches that foster the vision for the collegiate level. We are really a community that not only engages in a strong academic program, but athletics. And our community supports that and wants to see our athletes and teams succeed and prosper.”

But Jenna Bunnell, mother of Bronwyn Bunnell, who was a freshman on the team this season, says it’s more than just the girls and their effort, it is “the program that Coach Thomson created.”

“His program is amazing,” she says. “He really treats these girls with respect and pulls out the absolute best from them. He preps them to be successful from the start, and not just successful for their time at San Pedro, but in college and beyond.”

Eddie Nunez, father of Danielle Nunez, a runner on the team, puts it this way, “If Thomson was a football coach, he would be God.”

Thomson doesn’t agree, but says his Cross Country teams have some of the best athletes at San Pedro High School, and he would like to see his athletes “get the respect and attention they deserve.”

“Cross Country is one of the tougher sports to train for,” he says. “It is not a game and the girls don’t get a lot of credit for it. Our kids train all year round, they do great in the classroom, and I would say they are some of the best kids we have in school. I would say that goes for most Cross Country programs.”

And excelling in the classroom is exactly what his athletes do, Stevens says.

“San Pedro High School as a whole has the highest GPA in the Marine League,” she says. “And when you look at the girls Cross Country program, you will see that these girls, all of them, are top students and top athletes. They push themselves to excel physically in sports and mentally in the classroom.”

Thomson says Cross Country athletes have always been good students and that is because the sport is more “intrinsically motivated than football or basketball.”

“To succeed in it you have to be consistent in training,” he says. “You have to work hard in every area and the only person pushing you to do it is you. This isn’t a game these girls are playing, this is about pushing themselves individually and that shows in the classroom, as well.”

Bunnell, a proud parent and a teacher herself, says the parents see the respect Thomson gives to their children. She says he is a leader when it comes to both academics and sports.

“He built this program – it is a dynasty,” she says. “And for Coach Thomson it is about more than just having a successful high school team or career, it is about having a successful life. He looks at the bigger picture. We are proud of the girls, but more importantly this is about the success of the coaches and the program they have built.”

For Pirate runners Garcia and Carrera, this season was their last, but it also saw them win their third City championship after previously winning in their freshman and junior years.

“Once I knew we won I was so happy,” Garcia said in an interview with the Daily Breeze. “This is our senior year and we wanted to win this for our coaches and our team.”

Thomson said of the senior captains – Garcia who was All-City four straight years and Carrera who was All-City her junior and senior year – they were hardworking girls, they pushed themselves and they led by example.

“These two were leaders,” he says. “We had 40 girls on the Cross Country team this year, and there are only seven spots – there is no bench, this is a competitive sport. These girls pushed it to the limit every single day. I am so proud of them.”

Stevens says it is “exciting to have a championship program year after year – it really is a feather in our cap.”

“We have an amazing athletic program here at our school, and when I think of programs that are at the top, the Cross Country team is there. The coaches are top-notch, the athletes are top notch, and they really push each other to ensuring success each season – it is exciting, and I am proud.”

Thomson, a UCLA alum who didn’t make the Cross Country or Track team, started his coaching career at Hamilton High School, his alma mater. He didn’t find success in his 14 years of coaching there, but says “success comes when it all comes together and that is exactly what is happening here at San Pedro.”

“When I started helping out at Hamilton, I really enjoyed it,” he says. “I got into teaching and coaching and loved it. And at this point in my career, I find myself very proud. It is really rewarding, we have had a lot of talent come through the program, great support from the Administration and community – it all came together.” spt

Weymouth Corners Post Office Delivers

The Assistance League of San Pedro’s all-volunteer Post Office at Weymouth Corners (photo by John Mattera)

It’s an industry that all Americans rely on, but with major funding cuts resulting in closed offices, decreased hours and layoffs, it is one that has been fighting for its survival.

But in San Pedro, this lack of United States Postal Service funding has played no role in services, hours or number of employees.

Why?

Simple. The 17 employees at one San Pedro post office are volunteers. The post office, located at Weymouth Corners at 1441 W. 8th St., has been operating as an all-volunteer office since 1966 – and that is something that won’t soon change.

It’s known as the only “all volunteer” post office in the United States, and for Marcia Hebert, a 19-year volunteer, it is definitely something to be proud of.

“We are a sisterhood,” she said of the volunteers. “We do this because we love it, it keeps us young, active and healthy – plus, this is a need that our community must have met.”

Each of the 17 volunteers, all trained just as any postal employee would be, are members of the San Pedro Assistance League, which not only benefits people in need of mail services, but a wide range of other philanthropic efforts, including the Frances J. Johnson Dental Center and Operation School Bell.

“All the money generated from the post office goes to charity,” Hebert says. “The funds that we make through postal services – stamps and metered mail – go directly to our other programs, not operating expenses, it strictly goes into our other programs.”

And this sum isn’t exactly small.

Assistance League of San Pedro president, Shirley Tyler (center) with volunteers Nancy Baumgart (left) and Pat Mills (right)

Last year, all of San Pedro Assistance League’s efforts combined gave just under $700,000 back to the community – to people and programs in need.

Shirley Tyler, president of the Assistance League of San Pedro, says it is all about giving back, volunteering for the greater good.

Tyler says the San Pedro chapter, started in 1936, is one of 120 chapters throughout the nation.

“We are an all volunteer charitable organization that has been devoted to the needs of children, families and seniors of San Pedro,” she says. “Our members continue to identify the changing needs and try to assist those in need.”

But how did this charitable organization start a post office?

It all came as a suggestion from businesses in the quaint Weymouth Corners neighborhood, Tyler says.

“A need was identified, so in 1966 stamps were sold over a Dutch door in the back corner of our gift shop,” Tyler says. “At that time we were in a small building, so we didn’t have room for more, but the demand was so high – stamps were always selling out.”

In 1997, Tyler says the Assistance League was moving into the building they are currently located on W. 8th St., and it was decided to make a space for a full-service post office.

“We take great pride in the post office,” Tyler says. “And it has a great significance. It is the only all-volunteer post office in the United States and maybe even the world. We are proud and all of San Pedro should be proud that we are here.”

Michele Kielbasa, an office administrator for the Assistance League, says each of the 17 women have been trained by the government to work as postal workers and each have taken the postal oath.

“They are dedicated women that really care about our South Bay community,” she says. “Each of the women is scheduled between four and six days a month, depending on need, and has a specific role within the post office — from scheduling to supplies and running the computer system.”

This is a service that this area needs, says Kielbasa.

“We provide a service for this area – we are the only post office on this side of town,” she says. “This neighborhood really is its own community. We have a bakery and deli, a shoe repair and a beauty salon, this is a community within a community and we will continue to serve this need.”

Assistance League volunteer Pacita Tan, a former doctor, assists regular customer Ronald Hale

The Assistance League of San Pedro, in addition to the post office, also operates a gift shop, the Frances J. Johnson Dental Center and Operation School Bell. The League has nearly 450 volunteers who contribute 60,000 hours annually.

Kielbasa says women of the war founded the League, and it has stayed an all-women organization since.

“It has always been run by women,” she says. “Each member of the League is a dedicated, hardworking and passionate woman. These women give back tenfold – they are happy to be members and happy to be of service to the community in which they serve.”

Hebert, who has loyally served the customers of the San Pedro Post Office for 19 years, says working in the post office has helped her “keep her mind alert and stay social within the community.”

“I love visiting with everyone from the area,” she says. “I see people I went to school with, people I go to church with, and these people – the community – are so appreciative. A lot of our customers are older and sometimes it is their only communication for the day or only time they get out of the house all week. We serve all segments of the populous and they need it.”

Hebert, who will be 77-years-old in January, has no plans of slowing down.

“I love it,” she says, referring to working at the post office. “I won’t stop until I have to.”

As far as the 17 volunteers who keep the post office open five days a week, they are a “sisterhood,” Hebert says.

“We are so close, we are friends and in many senses family,” she says. “It is a social outlet, it is a sisterhood. Being a member of the Assistance League is a wonderful opportunity to meet people who have a common purpose. Our purpose is to serve the young people, the needy and the community as a whole. There is nothing better than to serve other people.” spt

The Assistance League Post Office and Gift Shop are located at 1441 W. 8th St. at Weymouth Corners. For more information on the Assistance League of San Pedro, visit www.sanpedrosouthbay.assistanceleague.org.

Ace In The Hole

Terry Katnic (center) surrounded by his Ace Hardware staff. (photo by John Mattera)

Since the introduction of big box, do-it-yourself stores, such as Lowe’s and The Home Depot, the landscape of the American hardware store has changed.

Although independently operated hardware stores and pure hardware chains continue to find a healthy niche, the big do-it-yourself stores have dominated revenues. That didn’t stop or deter Terry Katnic from coming out of retirement and following his dream.

Katnic, in August of 2011, opened one of San Pedro’s newest, most dynamic small businesses, and he opened it under a name that everyone could recognize — Ace Hardware.

Located at 2515 S. Western Avenue, previous home of Hollywood Video, South Shores Ace Hardware is a business Katnic said he couldn’t be “prouder of.”

“The first year was hard, it was a daily struggle,” he says. “But now we are established, people, the community know we are here — and things lately have been going right.”

Katnic celebrated Ace Hardware’s one-year anniversary on August 23. He says in a community like San Pedro, “anything is possible.”

“We are getting a lot of support from the community,” he says. “People come in and say, ‘We are so happy you’re here!’ This is the key to opening a successful small business, it is all about the community you are serving.”

It’s also about location.

In this area of town, Katnic says, there hasn’t been a hardware store for years.

“There was a hardware store on this side of town for 25 years, but the economy took its toll and they had to close their doors,” he says. “It left a hole, and it was something that not only I, but the community noticed.”

When Hollywood Video closed its doors, Katnic knew it was now or never.

“I literally watched the ‘Closed’ signed go up at Hollywood Video and I knew it was my opportunity to put in a hardware store,” he says. “This is a great location, an amazing building and it couldn’t have been a better opportunity.”

A second generation San Pedran, Katnic knows exactly what goes into the opening and success of a small business. Previously in the auto parts distribution industry, Katnic spent 30 years working across the Los Angeles area serving six stores. He sold his interest in the business in 1998, and his professional career took a turn.

Katnic, who wanted a change, obtained a license to sell both life and health insurance. He says it was a great choice, as it made “life easier, and was not as demanding as my previous line of work.” It was a career Katnic says he was proud of, but the entrepreneur in him wasn’t done.

Ace Hardware, Katnic says, has been another life change. He works on average 80 hours a week, and that’s at the ripe age of 60.

“People asked me all the time if I was out of my mind,” he says. “But I love it, I am a hard worker, and I am always up for a challenge.”

Katnic says he is a part of a franchise that he is proud of – he is 100 percent owner. The company, Ace Hardware, operates as a co-op.

He says from the beginning he has been impressed with Ace Hardware – and as his business has turned one, he is an even bigger fan of the company.

“The J.D. Power award for Highest in Customer Satisfaction has been won by Ace Hardware for the last six years,” he says. “We really cater to people, to our customers. My employees don’t just disappear and hide, they work with the customers.”

He continues, “In addition, the logistics are amazing, the company employs 900 people. There are 4,400 stores in America, all independently owned. They give us the plan, but we are all entrepreneurs.”

But he says starting a business takes time and patience.

“It’s a learning curve, an undertaking, starting a new business,” he says. “It’s a commitment to sign a lease, but I never had doubt or fear – I never doubted that this would be a successful business and that is the mindset you have to have.”

Although very happy with his decision, and the success his store has had in the first year, Katnic knows that he needs the continued support of his community to make his store ever lasting.

“Sometimes people forget that in this hard economic time, I took a huge chance,” he says. “The end result is that I employ 10 people. I opened this convenience hardware store for myself and for the neighborhood. I believe in Ace Hardware and I want the community to believe in me.”

At the same time, Katnic recognizes and is overwhelmed with the support he has received.

“This community has been tremendously supportive, and without that support this store isn’t open,” he says. spt

South Shores Ace Hardware is located at 2515 S. Western Ave., Ste. 101. For more info, call (310) 833-1223 or visit www.southshoresace.com.

For Love Of The Game

Shelley Smith, photographed at San Pedro High School (photo by John Mattera)

It’s November, the heart of college football season, and for Shelley Smith, that means no rest, several flights in-and-out of LAX and every Saturday spent at a different football stadium across the country.

But it’s not just college football that keeps Smith from curling up on the couch to the latest blockbuster hit, it’s also Thursday night NFL games, pre-season NBA games, the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal and the continued lockout talks of the NHL strike.

It’s these precise reasons though, that get Smith out of bed each and every morning, well these and her daily trips to the local San Pedro gym, Hey Day Fitness, where she can talk sports without the pressure of a camera in her face.

Smith loves her job, and she loves it because “no single day is the same.”

Smith joined ESPN in 1997 and quickly became one of the leading ladies in sports journalism. She has climbed the ranks and has had great success in doing so, including four Sports Emmys, one of which she received in 1997 for her segment on Magic Johnson as part of an ESPN production on AIDS and Athletes.

But she didn’t start at the top. For Smith, having an interest and passion for journalism started at a young age. But back then, it was an interest in breaking news and features, she hadn’t even considered a career in sports.

A Denver native, Smith attended the University of Nebraska, where she majored in journalism and political science. During her time at Nebraska, Smith wrote for the college newspaper and through this came an opportunity for lunch with an alumnus, who happened to be the sports editor at a major newspaper in Denver.

“In college I thought I wanted to go into news or features reporting,” she says. “That all changed when the editor called me and offered me a gig in the sports department.”

Smith shooting a story on the “most dangerous golf hole in the world” along the DMZ in South Korea for ESPN in 2009. Smith originally covered the golf course in 1988 for her very first Sports Illustrated story. (photo by Dylann Tharp)

The editor took notice in Smith, and she never looked back. Now a sideline reporter for ESPN, Smith is an award-winning journalist and author of three books, with a fourth — Al: The unauthorized biography of Raiders owner Al Davis – on its way. But she says it’s been a constant challenge, and she has always set out to outwork and out prepare her peers.

“You make your own luck in this field by working hard,” says Smith. “If you are well prepared and work harder than anyone else you can make up for what you lack in talent. It is really about taking the extra time and getting it right, but don’t get me wrong, I have been lucky to be in the right place at the right time a couple times.”

Case in point, the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. Smith was in Seoul covering the Olympics for Sports Illustrated when word broke that Canadian Ben Johnson would be stripped of his gold medal after testing positive for steroids. Upon hearing the news, Smith, along with a photographer, raced to the airport, where Johnson would soon be boarding for a flight to New York – Smith got on that flight, sat with Johnson for 45 minutes and conducted the first one-on-one interview, an exclusive.

“When I got on that plane I knew it would be my big break,” she recalls. And it was.

The Ben Johnson exclusive is arguably Smith’s biggest story ever – and she says she will never forget the rush of it all.

“I knew it would be the biggest story I would ever cover,” she says. “It was the middle of the night, a double-decker plane, and I knew I was sitting on something huge. It was the greatest feeling in the world to get off the plane with hoards of reporters waiting for Johnson’s arrival and walk past them knowing I already had the story.”

This was just the start for Smith, who was offered a position with Sports Illustrated in 1989, and six months later was asked to make a move to the West Coast from New York.

“When I was in college, we print journalists thought broadcast journalists should be in the drama department,” she says. “We thought we were the only serious journalists – so when I accepted the position at Sports Illustrated in 1989, I had reached my destination, I was a writer and that’s what I wanted.”

Upon arriving in California, she made her home in San Pedro.

“I loved San Pedro,” she says. “The air was clean, it was a affordable and it didn’t seem like big, splashy Los Angeles.” Smith’s daughter, Dylann Tharp, was three at the time, and she wanted her to grow up in a good community.

“It was important, with all the traveling I do, to have a place to come home to,” she says. “A place to exhale – I have stayed in San Pedro ever since.”

Tharp, now 26, was a fixture on working road trips. Smith remembers various all-star games where Tharp would sit on the floor next to her and play with Barbies while Smith covered the game – so much so, that Tharp began to interact with the players and would later track them down for her Mom.

“I took Dylann with me a lot,” says Smith. “She grew up with Charles Barkley essentially – they are still good buds. She was with me on the NBA or NCAA tournament trail and also went with me to all the bowl games.”

“There is a photo above my fireplace where Barkley is holding her at the Minnesota All-Star Game, after chastising me for using my kid to do all my work, my producer said, ‘Does she know Shaq?’”

Tharp, after graduating from San Pedro High School, captained the University of Oregon soccer team and in 2007 was named to the Pac-10 second team. She majored in art and communications at Oregon, and is now living and working in Los Angeles.

Since Smith joined ESPN in 1997, she has recorded hundreds of articles and reports on topics ranging from the Olympics to the O.J. Simpson trial. She has covered Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, the BCS national championship game, the NHL Stanley Cup, golf and tennis championships, ski racing, weightlifting, boxing and motor sports.

“I’ve always wanted to write stories,” she says. “Making the transition to ESPN was difficult, it was a lot of training – hair training, make-up training, where to stand training, voice training — but I love it, I love being a sideline reporter. I love my job, and I love even more that everyday presents a different challenge — no day is the same.”

In addition, she is the co-founder of the Magic Johnson Foundation newsletter, serves on various committees for The Boys & Girls Club of San Pedro and is a volunteer writer for many charity organizations, including the Serra Project, which provides homes for AIDS victims.

Smith plans on walking the sidelines for sometime. She loves that her weeks can range from USC football, to Lakers basketball, to baseball and the NFL.

“I am writing a book on Al Davis, which is the hardest thing I have ever done,” she says. “But I have also found a new passion for jumping on stories. I love my job, I love it all. Everyday is different, the sports world is always changing, and something is always happening.” spt