NORWALK, CA – DECEMBER 13: Clayton Valley Charter’s Omari Taylor (11) gestures while holding the first place trophy with his teammates after defeating Aquinas during the 2019 CIF State Football Championship Division 2-AA Bowl Game at Cerritos College in Norwalk, Calif., on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. Clayton Valley Charter defeated Aquinas 10-7. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
For all they have accomplished in their football lives, nothing can top the outcome Friday for Patrick Walsh and Justin Alumbaugh.
The De La Salle High School products — and longtime football coaches — went to bat for kids across California and knocked the ball into the Pacific Ocean.
They, along with other return-to-play advocacy leaders, successfully persuaded Gov. Gavin Newsom to ease state guidelines so all outdoor high school sports in California can return before the academic year ends — a stunning outcome that began seemingly as a pipe dream a few months ago and ended in celebration.
“We’re all ecstatic for the kids,” Alumbaugh said Friday morning. “We’re going to get to see a lot of kids doing something that they love in a healthy way. That’s why we have been doing the work that we have been doing. This wasn’t just about football or anything like that. This is about a lot of daughters that are out there. It was about a lot of sons that are out there. … From the bottom of my heart, I think there are a lot of kids that are going to be very, very happy, very, very soon.”
As high school football players, Walsh and Alumbaugh contributed to a national-record 151-game winning streak. As high school football coaches, they have led their teams — Walsh at Serra, Alumbaugh at De La Salle — to numerous league, section and state championships.
But never had these men faced odds so seemingly insurmountable with the weight of student-athletes and parents throughout the state on their shoulders.
If this were the mother of all Hail Mary passes, it landed in the arms of kids who have held onto hope since the pandemic shutdown started more than 11 months ago.
When Walsh, Alumbaugh and Torrey Pines-San Diego’s Ron Gladnick founded the Golden State High School Football Coaches Community, Walsh said the advocacy group’s mission was to give the 3 million kids stuck on the bench a voice — a seat at the table where issues are discussed and decided.
So Walsh and his group, along with the parent-driven Let Them Play CA leaders, went to work. They did surveys. They put together data. They recruited coaches and parents. They met numerous times with Newsom’s coronavirus reopening team. They met with Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services secretary.
They went on TV. Local TV. National TV.
They held Zoom news conferences.
Walsh brought in heavyweight alums from Serra, where he has coached for two decades, to speak about their youth sports experiences. Yeah, it helps when one of those heavyweights is Tom Brady.
The Zoom interview Walsh moderated with the legendary quarterback was recorded in mid-January. Walsh strategically released the video minutes after Brady won his seventh Super Bowl.
Through the snail’s-pace talks with state officials, and all the ups and downs, Walsh and Alumbaugh maintained their public optimism. They believed the outcome would somehow, someway turn out in the kids’ favor.
Not their favor. The kids’ favor.
As Bob Ladouceur, who coached both men at De La Salle, told the Bay Area News Group this month, the fight for the kids was never about pats on the back for Walsh and Alumbaugh — even though some might see it that way.
“It’s a real noble thing they’re doing,” Ladouceur said. “A lot of people think that maybe it’s tied up in their egos or something like that. They want to get out there and do their thing. But it’s totally not. These guys are really advocating for the kids. It’s a pretty unselfish endeavor that they’re working on. I know it’s not about them.”
The last time Alumbaugh and Walsh coached their teams in a game, Ladouceur was there to watch. Serra put up a valiant effort, nearly coming back from multiple scores behind, before losing in a state championship game to Corona del Mar. De La Salle followed on the same Southern California field and also put up a determined fight in its state title game before falling to ultra-talented St. John Bosco.
That was December 2019, three months before our lives would change forever, three months before so many kids would lose their sports dreams.
When I spoke to Ladouceur a few weeks ago, I asked him about the men who followed in his footsteps as coaches and educators and were now leading the return-to-play charge. Ladouceur spoke admirably about both men, but something stuck with me when the legendary coach started talking about Walsh.
“All you have to do with Patrick is tell him he can’t do something and he’ll prove you wrong,” Ladouceur said. “If there is a definition of a can-do guy, it’s him.”
Walsh and his team of advocates faced the longest odds in their fight to give kids a voice, in their determination to get kids in all sports back on the playing field.
Many didn’t believe they could do it.
But Walsh believed. So did Alumbaugh and the other advocacy leaders.
Friday, they beat the odds and celebrated their biggest victory ever.