Photograph Like a Champion Today

San Pedro Today photographer John Mattera gets the opportunity of a lifetime

The photographer at Notre Dame, 20 years apart (1993 and 2013)

Being born and raised in San Pedro, it’s a common joke amongst our community to say that we all are connected to each other by just a few degrees of separation.

For those of us who have lived here all or most of our lives, many of us are still close friends with people we met during elementary school. Some friends are so close they’ve become family.

Along with being a very close-knit community, San Pedro is also a huge sports town. We are dedicated fans to many of the same pro teams: Dodgers, Angels, Lakers, Clippers, Kings, Ducks and even the Raiders and Rams, even though those franchises left Los Angeles many years ago.

There is one sport though that truly divides our town and even some homes and families: college football. Nothing can compete with the commitment and crazed devotion of a college football fan from San Pedro. No matter where you go in town, whether it be a home or a business, you can tell where their allegiances fall. From James Brown’s unbridled passion for UCLA at the San Pedro Brewing Co. to San Pedro Today‘s Jack Baric towing the USC line, with plenty of other colleges represented in between, this town’s passion for college football has been passed down from generation to generation.

It’s pretty obvious which teams dominate our Port Town though. It’s a three-headed monster of big name college football programs: UCLA, USC, and the University of Notre Dame.

I fall under the fan category of the latter team – the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. You can say I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid since my early Catholic school days at Mary Star of the Sea. Along with all of the history and tradition that surrounds Notre Dame, they also are the number one university in the country for graduating its student athletes year in and year out. It’s no surprise that they are one of the top school’s in the country.

We all know that the cross-town rivalry between UCLA and USC is a heated one, but did you know who USC’s biggest rival really is? That would be Notre Dame – a Catholic University located in South Bend, Ind., just a short drive east of Chicago.

The Notre Dame/USC rivalry started back in 1926 and is often called the greatest inter-sectional rivalry in college football. Both schools have each won 11 national championships, with the Fighting Irish claiming seven Heisman Trophy winners, one more than USC.

I’ve been lucky to see Notre Dame play many times. I went to my first Notre Dame/USC game in 1990 at the Coliseum and have attended each game played there since. I’ve also seen several games in South Bend when both teams have faced off against each other at Notre Dame Stadium, too. Last year, as per usual, I attended the rivalry game, but this time I wasn’t watching from a Coliseum seat. At the request of San Pedro’s own Shelley Smith of ESPN, I was able to obtain a media field pass to photograph the entire USC season of homes games for ESPNLA.com, which of course included the Notre Dame game.

Mattera on the field at Notre Dame Stadium.

My assignment for that rivalry game was to cover USC wide receiver Marqise Lee for an upcoming ESPN L.A. article. It was a dream come true to finally photograph a Notre Dame/USC game. The Fighting Irish defeated the Trojans to finish the season 12-0 and advance to the BCS championship. Unfortunately, the Irish lost horribly to Alabama in the BCS Championship game in Miami. Sadly, I was there for that, too.

I always dreamt of one day photographing a game in South Bend, not as a fan in the seats, but on the cool, green grass of Notre Dame Stadium. I had already photographed games at the Coliseum and the Rose Bowl, but my dream shoot always seemed out of reach. Luckily though, this past October, with the help of my friend Shelley once again, I was able to fulfill this longtime dream by being asked to cover another Notre Dame/USC game for ESPNLA.com, this time inside Notre Dame Stadium.

It had been more than 20 years since the last time I stood on Notre Dame Stadium’s field. My first experience occurred back on November 13, 1993, after the much hyped “Game of the Century” featuring #1 Florida State vs. #2 Notre Dame. Once that game clock ran out, I joined more than half of the stadium in storming the field in chaotic celebration. The Irish won in the last few seconds and took over the #1 rank in the country immediately after.

Cut to nearly two decades later – October 19, 2013 – and I’m back on the field of Notre Dame Stadium, the house that Knute Rockne built.

I’m the first to admit that I get too anxious on Notre Dame game days. I just wanted to get into the stadium and soak up the perfect college football atmosphere. Nothing beats football on a Saturday in South Bend – the fanfare, tailgating, bands, cheerleaders and famous leprechaun mascot all added to the spectacle of the day.

Once I had my media pass and obtained my green photo vest, I was ready to hit the field. Walking though the tunnel and realizing I was making the same walk that so many legendary Fighting Irish and Trojan football greats had made was surreal.

The only thing missing was slapping the famous Play Like A Champion Today sign inside the Notre Dame locker room before running through the tunnel. It’s a tradition that the Irish players do every time they enter and depart the locker room. Luckily though, I actually did that the following day when I toured the locker room.

Once on the sidelines, I heard the yellow-jacketed ushers directing us to our spots and welcoming all those that passed by. “Welcome to Notre Dame Stadium” was heard countless times. Many friends of mine who have also been lucky enough to attend the Notre Dame/USC game in South Bend have commented on how nice and welcoming the people in South Bend are. I can attest to that fact.

As the 237th consecutive sold out crowd of 80,975 people made their way into the stadium, you could feel the electricity build. This was the first night game of the year at Notre Dame Stadium. Both teams came running onto the field as their respective bands played their school’s fight songs. Players from both teams sprinted to the far end zone and took a moment to kneel and pray before kickoff. It was officially game time.

Being on the field for a sports event of this magnitude is an amazing experience. You could smell the freshly cut grass caress the crisp, cloudy Midwest sky. It even drizzled slightly, which made shooting the game a little more interesting. Luckily, I came prepared with proper rain gear for my camera and lenses. I wasn’t in sunny Southern California, obviously.

Surrounded by a slew of photographers from the around the country and several television cameras, I took my shooting position in the corner of the south end zone. From my point of view, I could see the famous campus landmarks of the Golden Dome of the administration building and the “Touchdown Jesus” mural of the Hesburgh Library. The famous mosaic mural towers over the north stadium wall and depicts Jesus with his hands raised just like that of a referee signifying a touchdown.

Notre Dame QB Tommy Rees delivers a pass during the first half of ND’s 14-10 victory over the Trojans. (photo by John Mattera)

I was nervous knowing how evenly matched these two teams were. Like most rivalries, season records could never predict the outcome of this special game. This was also the first game in which USC interim coach Ed Orgeron had taken over for the fired Lane Kiffin, so you knew the Trojans had something to prove.

A lot of the early game time action was directed toward my end zone, so I was able to capture many great images right off the bat, including Notre Dame’s opening drive, which stalled as the Trojans stopped the Irish on 4th and goal from the 1-yard line.

The first half of the game ended with Notre Dame leading 14-10. That was all the offense we would see for the night. In the second half, both offenses were stagnant. Notre Dame lost their starting quarterback to injury and USC’s offense could not put it in gear and failed on countless third down conversions.

During halftime, I was lucky to meet several of the ushers who were working in the end zone I was in. Many of these people have been involved with Notre Dame football longer than I was born. Their eyes had seen so much historic moments in Notre Dame Stadium, both good and bad. We shared a couple stories and laughs and before we knew it, the bands were heading off the field and the second half was just underway. Hopefully, I’ll be back one day and run into them once again.

Notre Dame survived the second half without their starting quarterback Tommy Rees, and won 14-10 over the Trojans. It was gut wrenching watching how slow the clock moved during the second half, especially when a team is just running the ball to run out
the clock, which is exactly what Notre Dame did.

I made sure to soak up every moment I had on the field that night. I even attended both of the coach’s press conferences and then, when the crowd dispersed and all was said and done, I finally made my way one last time through the tunnel. I was the last photographer to leave the field. As I was walking off, I heard one of the usher’s say, “Have a great night.”

I just looked back at him and smiled and said, “I already did. You do the same now. Good night.” spt

Notre Dame and USC have met 85 times and Notre Dame currently leads the series 45-35-5 (*including a 2005 USC victory that was vacated due to NCAA penalty).

Go Big Or Go Home: Gina & Sarah Di Leva – October 19, 2012 (Wedding)

photos by Jeff Loftin & John Mattera

Gino and Sarah (Brander) Di Leva never thought they would ever get married, especially to each other.

The couple met through mutual friends in 2003 and got to know each other well as they often enjoyed dinner and live music together with their close-knit group of friends.

“We started off with a quirky friendship,” describes Gino, son of Vince and Mary Di Leva. “We would tease each other and joke around about going out with each other until we eventually did.”

So the two headed to Rock Bottom in Long Beach for their first “date” without the rest of the gang. They said the experience was really nothing different from when they were with their friends, and they just enjoyed each other’s company.

But because of their independent spirits, Gino and Sarah were in no rush to commit.

“We saw our relationship as us doing our own thing while enjoying the other person’s company,” says Gino. “Neither one of us were in a real hurry, so we just took it one day at a time.”

Being very driven in his music career, those around him knew Gino for his infamous one-liner: “I’m opposed to commitment.” Sarah was very aware of this and even heard it from Gino himself that he never wanted to get married. Likewise, Sarah didn’t grow up ever wanting to get married, but knew that if she ever did, it would be to Gino.

“We were both very independent, but had huge admiration for each other,” explains Sarah, daughter of Elizabeth Meyer. “I knew that if I were to ever marry, it would be to him. But marriage was never on the forefront of my mind.”

Despite their views on marriage, the two finally committed to each other in 2010. Ironically, as soon as Gino committed, Sarah moved to Australia for a year.

“I love Australia, and learning and tending to animals, and had the opportunity to live in Australia and work on a farm and travel throughout the country,” says Sarah. “But I could only call home once a week – and that was tough for us.”

In December 2011, seven months into Sarah’s year in Australia, Gino visited for five weeks, a trip that would take their relationship to the next level.

“I knew I was going to marry Sarah when I committed to a relationship,” explains Gino. “So I thought what better place to propose than Australia? I knew I had to go big or go home.”

And go big he did. Gino and Sarah took a plane to Ayres Rock in the middle of the Outback, where they had the choice to climb up the rock or walk around it. The two chose to conquer the six-mile walk around the rock, encountering numerous waterholes along the way. About three-and-a-half miles into their walk, they came upon a beautiful waterhole lined with trees that formed a tunnel.

Gino didn’t want to propose with others around, so he waited for the area to clear out. Once it did, Sarah pulled out Santa hats and thought it would be a good idea to take their Christmas pictures while there. Gino obliged and then told her he had a little gift for her, which was a “cheesy” bracelet, as he would describe it. He then said, “I have one more gift.”

He pulled out the box with the ring in it and got down on one knee and proposed. Sarah said yes, and again Gino said, “I have one more gift!” He pulled out his iPod and put the earbuds in Sarah’s ears and held her close and danced with her as she listened to the song being played, which was titled “U,” written and performed by Gino.

As this was all going on, not one other person was in the same area. As soon as the song ended, however, a large group of people entered.

“It was just a beautiful moment,” explains Sarah. “Everything about the day was just beautiful, from our sunrise tour to our engagement, to the dinner at sunset. It was just perfect.”

Less than a year later, the two married on October 19, 2012. Their ceremony was a traditional Catholic one at All Hallows Catholic Church in La Jolla in front of 100 guests. During the ceremony, Sarah’s friend Christina, who owns a bed and breakfast in Australia with her husband John, did a scripture reading. The church’s children’s choir performed various hymns and psalms, while Gino’s brother-in-law John Morreale and nephew Matthew Morreale played and sang “The Prayer” by Andrea Bocelli. Additionally, Monsignor Pilato, a longtime family friend and distant relative of Gino’s, presided over the ceremony.

Standing next to Gino and Sarah were their wedding party: Matron of Honor Kasie Regnier; bridesmaids Tarren Austad and Jenny Carlson; flower girl Ava Austad; Best Man Domenico Pilato; and groomsmen John Mattera, Tony “Mo” Di Leva, Anthony Di Leva, and John Morreale.

The reception followed at Green Gables Estate in San Marcos. Gino and Sarah danced to the same song Sarah listened to during the proposal. Gino also mixed a variety of songs together for the cake cutting, garter toss, bouquet toss, and more. For a surprise, Sarah strapped toys to her garter for Gino to find when it was time to remove it.

Gino and Sarah kicked off their honeymoon with a two-night stay in San Diego with Christina and John from Australia, followed by a week in Palm Desert. The couple currently lives in San Pedro, Sarah works at a physical therapy office in Redondo Beach, and Gino works as a disc jockey for Michael Angelo Music; operates M3 Workshops, Inc., a non-profit organization; and plays for various bands including Dr. Iven, Identity Theft, and Rodeo Drive. spt

From Puppy Love To Soulmates

Photos by John Mattera Photography

It began as a schoolyard crush.

We all remember that feeling, that queasy stomach every time that person entered the classroom, the nervousness that came when you tried to talk to one another. The awkward glances. The overanalyzing of every word they said and move they made. It’s puppy love and it’s supposed to prepare us for the romantic experiences that would lie ahead in all our lives. For some, puppy love can lead to something much bigger. Such is the case for Petar and Magali (Martin) Blazevic, whose schoolyard crush turned into a lifetime commitment of happiness.

Petar and Magali met in the sixth grade at Miraleste Intermediate School in Rancho Palos Verdes. They entered into what Magali would call, “a middle school romance – the kind where you date for a few days and then move on.” Although their relationship fizzled, their friendship didn’t, and they continued to remain close all throughout middle school and into high school. They both dated other people their freshman year at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, but when their sophomore year came around, they thought they’d give romance another shot and began dating once more. The two have been together ever since.

In 2008, Petar and Magali took their relationship to the next level and the two moved in together. Three years (and two dogs) later, they bought a home in San Pedro.

Just months after purchasing their home, their relationship would take yet another big step. Magali had just completed the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program at Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church, and as a reward for finishing the program, Petar wanted to treat her to a day of whale watching on his friend’s yacht on Easter Sunday. While out on the water, the boat came to a stop in front of a lifeguard tower in Redondo Beach. But this was no ordinary lifeguard tower – this was the same lifeguard tower Petar asked Magali to be his girlfriend their sophomore year of high school. This time around, Petar asked Magali to be his wife, of course, she said yes.

The couple married on July 14, 2012, which was also their anniversary. More than 200 attendants watched Petar and Magali share their vows at Mary Star Church, a ceremony officiated by Father Brian Nunes, who also baptized Magali following her RCIA completion. The ceremony had many special moments, including Magali walking down the aisle with both of her parents. Magali also wore a necklace containing a diamond her grandfather gave to her mother before his passing. The ceremony also featured readings from Petar’s cousin, which was in Croatian, and Magali’s cousin, which was in French – both in celebration and honor of their heritages.

The bridal party was just as special, and consisted of numerous relatives and friends. On Magali’s side were maid-of-honors Lauren Johnson and Alyse Intagliata; and bridesmaids Janessa Reyes, Lisa Vidov, Kristen Boskovich, Kristin Montti, Stacie Ayala, and Katie Tamayo. On Petar’s side were best men Mark Blazevic and Michael Blazevic; and groomsmen Serge Martin, Peter Hazdovac, Drew Varela, Loren Blazevic, Brian Ayala, and Joe Vidov.

After the ceremony, Petar and Magali went to take photos with his grandmother at her home because she couldn’t make it to the ceremony, a moment that meant a lot to both Petar and his grandmother. Meanwhile, guests got to enjoy Croatian spirits during the cocktail hour.

The reception followed at Hotel Maya in Long Beach, where guests participated in lots of dancing, drinking, and of course, Croatian desserts and Kolo dancing (the popular Croatian folk dance). The reception also featured a blessing by Petar’s mother and a speech by Magali’s mother. Petar and Magali shared their first dance to Jason Mraz’s, “I Won’t Give Up.”

The newly married couple honeymooned in Hawaii, where they spent 10 days between the islands of Maui and Oahu. Their favorite part? Staying at the very private, exclusive Turtle Bay Resort in North Shore, Oahu.

Currently, Petar works as a railroad conductor for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad Co., and Magali works as a tutor for Academics Etc. in Lunada Bay.

In regards to adjusting to married life, Magali says, “It’s really not that much different than before – besides the fact that I have to change my name on everything!” All joking aside, the two are excited to continue in their love through marriage, and are looking forward to someday starting a family. spt

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.