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).

Holy Trinity’s Eagles Have Landed

New Eagle Scouts (l to r): Brad Fistonich, Matt Yracheta and Austin Leavitt (photo: Anita Yracheta & Julio Lemus)

Brad Fistonich, Austin Leavitt and Matt Yracheta aren’t your typical high school seniors. In addition to balancing varsity football, heavy class loads and choosing between college acceptance letters, the 18-year-olds have spent ten years going camping, earning merit badges and moving up in the ranks of the Boy Scouts of America. Three months ago, all three became Eagle Scouts, the highest rank in scouting, and an honor earned by only 5 percent of scouts annually.

On March 9, Fistonich, Leavitt and Yracheta had their Eagle Scout Court of Honor at Holy Trinity Parish, where they are members of Troop 234, and are the 24th, 25th and 26th scouts in the history of the troop to make Eagle. Congresswoman Janice Hahn was on hand to present them with certificates of honor from President Barack Obama.

“I’m extremely proud of what Matt, Austin and Brad have accomplished; they are great scouts and excellent role models for San Pedro’s youth both in and out of scouting,” says Troop 234 Scoutmaster Dwayne Cooper. “One of the aims of scouting is to develop well-rounded young men who are prepared to give back to their community. Through the service they provided in their scouting career and especially their Eagle projects, they have already begun to give back.”

Although the teens began their paths to Eagle Scout in different troops and went to different high schools – Yracheta attends the San Pedro High School Marine Science Magnet, and Fistonich and Leavitt go to Mary Star of the Sea High School – the three have developed and maintained a tight bond strengthened by their shared experience of making Eagle Scout.

“Boy Scouts isn’t all fun and games; it’s serious stuff and in the end, it’s very rewarding,” says Fistonich, who started out as a Cub Scout at Holy Trinity before bridging over to the Boy Scouts, eventually becoming a Senior Patrol Leader. Of the 21 merit badges needed to become an Eagle Scout, his favorite was the Shotgun Merit Badge.

In addition to the merit badges, Eagle Scouts must plan, lead and oversee a volunteer service project. Fistonich organized a 40-volunteer effort to renovate the gardening center at Silver Spur Elementary School in Rancho Palos Verdes.

“The whole process was two days, but there were dozens of prep days, which were probably even harder than the actual work days,” he says.

Leavitt spent months planning his project last summer to clean up his school’s deteriorating shipping container-turned weight room. The swimmer and honor roll student oversaw almost 50 volunteers. During his scouting career, he earned the 60 Nights of Camping Badge and reached the highest rank at Chawanakee Summer Camp.

“It’s been a long journey and it’s really nice to be able to finish after 10 years,” he says. “As you move up in the ranks, you figure out what you want to do and how you’re going to lead and be an example to others.”

For his service project, Yracheta led a two-weekend effort to replenish emergency kits in classrooms at Holy Trinity School. He’s also participated in food drives and camped in all types of weather conditions, earning him the 20 Nights Camping award. A member of San Pedro High School’s 2011 Marine League Title-winning varsity football team, he likens scouting to sports.

“When my team went 10-0, it was just like Boy Scouts in that when it was tiring and we wanted to stop and go home, we just had to keep pushing and pushing and go for gold.”

All three teens thank their parents, families, friends and scoutmaster for supporting them through their journeys to Eagle. They have all received multiple acceptance letters from universities. Yracheta plans on attending Marymount College and ultimately UCLA, Leavitt plans on attending California State University Long Beach, and Fistonich is still deciding.

“I think the Boy Scouts has given my son confidence, maturity, and the ability to speak in front of lots of people,” says Brad’s mother, Sharon Fistonich. “I think it’s a great growing experience and I’m very proud. I know all three boys will be friends for life.”

Yaracheta and Leavitt have been scouts together since they were Cub Scouts at Taper Elementary School, where Austin’s father Cary Leavitt was a Den Leader.

“I think the Boy Scout experience gives young men the skills and confidence to succeed at anything they do in the future,” Cary Leavitt says. “At Holy Trinity’s Troop 234, Dwayne Cooper is the most patient and understanding leader.”

Yracheta’s mother Anita says her son and Leavitt have developed a strong bond during the past 10 years that hasn’t changed despite going to different high schools.

“Matt and Austin have been friends since second or third grade, and even though they went to different high schools, it never changed their friendship. The scouts have kept them connected,” she says. “To see them grow and mature into such nice young men has been great. I’m proud of all three to be able to have accomplished what they have.” spt

The Future Will Be All About Electricity

If you’re like me, you’ve pretty much taken electricity for granted. However, after a couple of recent extended power outages in our neighborhood, I really began thinking about just how much our lives are based on those little electrons flowing into the devices that make our standard of living possible.

As if I needed more evidence of the importance of electricity, once the power was restored, I happened upon an episode of the television series, Revolution, the premise of which is that all electric power in the world suddenly goes out permanently. In the series, civil society devolves into warring factions on horseback with bows and arrows. Fiction? Yes. But, consider everything you use during an average day that runs on electricity or required electricity for its manufacture. The generation, distribution, conservation, storage and cost of electricity are becoming more and more critical, not only in our personal lives, but for our entire economy.

Our largest local economic asset is the port. Take a look at that port, especially at night. Imagine how much electricity it takes to keep operations running safely and smoothly. Without a constant, consistent flow of electricity, all the goods that come into the port, and all the jobs they represent, are in danger of going elsewhere. The challenge, therefore, is to ensure that, as the port grows “green,” the supply of clean electric energy grows with it.

Electricity can be generated in numerous ways. Some methods use fossil fuels to run turbines. The obvious downside is that fossil fuels are not green. Nuclear power generation has its own environmental and safety problems. Solar, wind, fuel cell, hydroelectric, thermoelectric and wave action generation are more environmentally sustainable, and some combination of these renewables will likely be the future of electricity generation. The challenge, however, is that there are still significant technological and cost factors to overcome. Likewise, finding ways to store large amounts of that generated energy for use at a later time remains an elusive goal.

Electricity is distributed to users through a grid system. Our current grid infrastructure is in dire need of upgrading to keep pace with the exponential growth in electricity demand. It also needs to become “smarter” in order to do things such as smoothly integrate intermittent sources of electricity – like solar and wind – into the overall flow and also enable prioritization of distribution-based critical need.

Finding solutions to the above challenges is a high priority with our research and entrepreneur communities. One recent week, I witnessed just two examples: Through PortTechLA, I met Dr. Rajit Gadh, Director of UCLA’s SMERC (Smart Grid Energy Research Center). Dr. Gadh demonstrated for us how, using his smartphone, he monitors and controls 15 multi-plug electric vehicle charging stations on the UCLA campus. He is able to, among other things, stop and start charging of any vehicle, time charging to use off-peak rates when possible, and prioritize which vehicle gets charged first, based on when it is going to be needed. Combining the electric grid, wireless Internet, advanced sensors and smartphone technology in this way will revolutionize how future fleets of electric vehicles are controlled. The same week, I was part of a tour of one of the port’s terminal operations where advanced, more efficient, less expensive LED lamps are being tested as a replacement for the old high-pole sodium lamp “wagon wheels” we’re used to seeing every night. These lamps could save terminal operators thousands of dollars and produce better lighting for safety purposes. Even more energy efficient plasma lamps are just coming available, too.

Bottom line: While we can’t take electricity for granted, and there are challenges ahead, some really exciting things are happening in the world of electric power. spt

Herb Zimmer owns PriorityOne Printing in downtown San Pedro.

and is chairman of the PortTechLA technology business incubator.

San Pedro Native Has Treasure Trove Of Stories

Jean Taves is far too modest to ever consider herself a living treasure, but it didn’t take me long to add her to my own short list of San Pedro treasures after she sent me an email and we sat down and talked.

She knew how to get my attention; attached to that initial email was a copy of a letter written by her older sister, Barb, to her fiancé in October 1945 that describes a scene that many San Pedrans might still remember, the return of the Pacific Fleet to its former home port. The fiancé, Ben, was serving on the heavy cruiser USS Helena, then in New York. Barb wrote on Oct. 25:

I surely wish it could have been the Helena coming up the channel this morning instead of the cruiser Los Angeles. I paid particular attention to her as I know your ship is the same type. The new cruisers are really beautiful, aren’t they? So long and sleek and powerful looking. I’m glad you did get your big ship if it had to be a ship again. The troop ships have been returning every day as well as the battleships Texas and Nevada; cruisers Astoria, Baltimore, Tucson and L.A.; carriers Shangri-La and Hancock, several CVEs; mine destroyers; and several others. We have a marvelous view of them from the balcony of the building which is upstairs over the Cabrillo Theatre on Seventh and Beacon streets. There is a tiny fishing boat which is painted white and decorated with flags which meets each ship as the tugs bring her in to berth, and their favorite record seems to be ‘California, Here I Come.’ There is to be quite a program in the Coliseum at USC following a street program in L.A. Saturday (parade), and a sky parade of 300 Navy and Marine planes. There will be four submarines among the ships open for inspections Saturday. I’ve been aboard the larger-type ships years ago, but would like to see the inside of a sub.

Jean had just graduated from San Pedro High that June. Barb, a 1941 grad, was employed by the Navy in its public relations office, which was adjacent to the Fox Cabrillo Theatre below the Elks Club. Barb, who died in 2010, and Ben had a long life together.

Like most of her generation, Jean, now 85, has vivid memories of the long-ago past. In 1927, her parents’ house was the last one on west Santa Cruz, just below Walker and the original McCowan’s market. The boys she grew up with almost all ended up serving in the war.

In another email, she wrote: I still grieve over several friends who never returned whose names you referred to in your poignant article several years ago. In my mind’s eye I see the gold star in Robert Stambook’s mother’s front window in her tiny house off 9th Street. He was in the 5th Marine Division, wounded in the invasion of Iwo Jima, and sent back into the battle and was killed.

I have a copy of a March 1945 clipping from the News-Pilot with a picture of Stambook, a Summer 1943 San Pedro High grad, that says his “helmet saved his life on Iwo Jima, and permitted him to return to the fighting there after treatment at a first-aid ship offshore for shrapnel wounds in the head received the day his marine regiment invaded the island, according to word received by his mother, Mrs. Hazel Nelson of 1045 S. Alma.” Just 19-years-old and engaged to a high school friend of Jean’s, he was killed in action on March 14; he’s buried in Rosecran’s National Cemetery in San Diego.

Jean also recalls her stepfather, Arthur W. “Bill” Christensen, who survived a ship torpedoing in WWI while in the merchant marine, being recruited by the Army in WWII. Christensen was a longshoreman working for Crescent Warehouse when the Army came calling, seeking the services of stevedores to help get bomb-damaged ports in France back in operation following D-day. When he returned to San Pedro, he finished his career as a supervisor at Crescent.

As usually happens when two San Pedrans who’d never met before get together, we discovered common bonds. Years ago, she was a neighbor of my old San Pedro High math teacher, the late Glen Gallaher, who used to email me regularly. Now she lives just a few doors down the street from me, in the same house she’s owned since the early `60s. She mentioned a family that once lived next door, the Karmeliches, and the boys her son, Brian, played with. It turns out one of those boys, Chris, stands right in front of me when we line up at the casual hall.

Brian attended Crestwood Elementary and Dodson Junior High, but Jean sensed her son was destined for something special and enrolled him at Narbonne High because of its highly regarded public speaking program. He graduated in 1977 and went on to earn his Ph.D. from USC. Jean herself graduated from UCLA in 1953 but cut short a teaching career to care for her mother.

She was right about her son, but his story is going to have to wait for another day. Stay tuned. spt

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

Shooting For A Cause

James Brown and Jack Baric in UCLA Bruin gear.

Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ve got a Bruin jersey on. Blah, blah, blah…

It’s bad enough that UCLA broke USC’s streak of five wins in a row and twelve out of thirteen in the annual football game, but here I am in my hometown magazine being forced to wear the uniform of the enemy of my alma mater. But the reason I’m wearing the jersey shows that we’re really not enemies, just friendly rivals that share a city together.

For the past two years, I have worked on A City Divided, a documentary film about the history of the USC vs. UCLA football rivalry. The film has served as the catalyst for Rivals United for a Kure, a philanthropic campaign by the non-profit, Kure It to raise funds for innovative cancer research projects at the UCLA and USC medical centers.

The culmination of the campaign was a spectacular red carpet premiere of the film at Club Nokia at L.A. Live where Rivals United hosted a charity dinner and screening of A City Divided. Scores of my San Pedro friends and family attended the event, which made it so much more special for me. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to James Brown of the San Pedro Brewing Company for organizing a party bus with dozens of San Pedrans sipping on Bruin Blonde and Trojan Red beers for the ride to L.A. Live.

Maybe part of that debt is paid back in James getting to see me wear the Bruin blue of his alma mater in the magazine. James and I made a friendly wager where the loser in a Rivals United fundraising competition between the two of us would have to take a picture in the other team’s jersey.

A cool side note is that I’m wearing the UCLA jersey of San Pedro High grad, Robbie Franco. Robbie was the L.A. City defensive player of the year while a Pirate and a Bruins walk-on before injuries ended his career. (Okay, not that cool a side note. It’s still a Bruins jersey.)

I’m incredibly proud of the film and the campaign, which to date has raised over $250,000 for cancer research. Rivals United will conclude the campaign in December and you can still go to www.rivalsunitedforakure.org to contribute. Next football season, we will again run the charity campaign, with the culmination being the film’s television broadcast and the DVD release.

The same week that A City Divided had its premiere, another amazing moment occurred that was connected to a film of mine.

Searching for a Storm is a documentary I made in 2009 that detailed the 1991-95 war in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina and the war crimes case of Croatian general, Ante Gotovina. Gotovina is a hero to Croatians for leading the military operation that liberated their nation at the end of the war. However, Gotovina was later indicted as a war criminal for crimes that were alleged during that same operation.

I set out to make a film that chronicled the war and the story of General Gotovina because I felt his indictment was a grave injustice, motivated by political considerations. In 2011, I, as well as many Croatians around the world, was heartbroken when the international war crimes tribunal found General Gotovina guilty and sentenced him to 24 years in prison.

However, on the very same week that A City Divided premiered in Los Angeles, across the globe at The Hague in the Netherlands, a war crimes tribunal overturned General Gotovina’s verdict on appeal, declaring Gotovina was not guilty, and set him free the very same day. The local party here at the Croatian Club in San Pedro was as emotionally an uplifting celebration as I have ever experienced. Everyone felt such great joy that a man who had sacrificed so much in the defense of his nation was able to finally go home.

It was an amazing ending to a great and proud week for me. I am so thankful that I’m able to make films for causes that I believe in. On that note, the next project I am shooting will honor all the various workers on our waterfront, from longshoremen to fishermen, to marine research divers, and more. American Waterfront, made in partnership with PBS SoCal, will showcase the importance of the port to the nation’s economy and how vital it is for our community to keep the great middle-class jobs that are available on the waterfront. Look for the film on PBS around Labor Day 2013. spt

Jack can be reached at jackbaric@hotmail.com

Bruins & Trojans Unite for a Cure

Jack Baric and James Brown showing their respective college pride. (photo by John Mattera)

Although there are multitudes of great places in San Pedro to meet friends, it can be easily argued that the social center of our town is the San Pedro Brewing Company. The conversation at the bar leans pretty heavily toward sports and especially the debate between Bruin and Trojan fans over their teams – this is especially true because Brew Co. owner, James Brown is as proud a UCLA alum as you’ll ever want to meet. It’s why I took such great joy in getting him photographed in this magazine a few years ago wearing the shirt of my alma mater, USC. We made a bet over the annual rivalry football game – the alum whose team lost would have to be photographed in the rival’s shirt. I can’t recall what year JB had to do it, but let’s do some football math – the original version of the publication launched in 2002 and the Trojans won that year and in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 so we know it wasn’t in 2006 because that’s the only year UCLA has won since 1998.

This year the bet returns, but with a twist. First, I must give kudos to UCLA because it’s the first year in a long time that they’re playing exciting football and it’s shaping up to be one of the best rivalry games in ages. However, our bet will be a little different this year. We are competing to see who can raise the most money for cancer research, the San Pedro Bruins vs. the San Pedro Trojans. JB is generously supporting a film and philanthropic project that I’m a part of. I’m making a documentary film called A City Divided about the history of the USC vs. UCLA football rivalry and the film will serve as a catalyst for a campaign called Rivals United for a Kure with proceeds going to Kure It, a non-profit dedicated to cancer research. Kure It will equally donate all its profits from the project to the UCLA and USC cancer research centers.

The campaign’s co-chairmen are former USC All-American quarterback Paul McDonald and former UCLA star quarterback Matt Stevens. Paul and Matt are the radio announcers for USC and UCLA football and have been speaking about the campaign on the air. The message is especially poignant from Matt because he survived a very tough battle with cancer and is an eloquent spokesman. The red carpet premiere for the film will be a Rivals United fundraiser on November 12 at Club Nokia at L.A. Live and JB has agreed to coordinate buses from Brew Co. for the premiere. Tickets for $60 will include a ride on the chartered bus, admission to the screening, and admittance to the after-party, featuring a number of former USC and UCLA players. I’m hoping that all our friends, Bruins and Trojans, are going to show the entire city of L.A. the Pedro spirit that we are so proud of by rocking the balcony that night with loud competing chants of “We are SC” and the UCLA eight clap – and, more importantly, leading the way in stepping up to fight a terrible disease that has touched us all.

Locals that attend the film will see a lot of faces they recognize. Being a born and raised Pedro Boy, I found a way to sneak a lot of locals into the film, including interviews with John Papadakis and JB (he took the role of UCLA pop-off!), cameos from the Bebich brothers, Fong sisters, Michael Varela, Ron Galosic, and a host of kids from some of the following families; Baric (that’s me), Setlich, Pirozzi, Desai, Lusic, Sestich, LaPine, Basich, and Danelo. I’d especially like to thank the Danelo family for allowing me to include the moving story of Mario Danelo, their son/brother – and San Pedro’s friend/star. The tribute to Mario in the film illustrates how we put aside the rivalry and united together as a community to honor a young man when his life tragically ended short. Mario’s brother, Joey (a very devoted Bruin!) is fantastic in the film talking about his brother.

I’ll leave you with our slogan…a city divided becomes a city united as Bruins and Trojans join together to fight cancer. We will unite, we will fight, and we will win. spt

For more info about the non-profit, please visit www.rivalsunitedforakure.org. For more info about the San Pedro Rivals United Challenge and tickets to the premiere, please visit www.sanpedrobrewing.com.

Jack Baric can be contacted at jackbaric@hotmail.com.