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When he crossed the finish line in the final race of the 2020 cross country season, Francisco Zavaleta pumped his fist into the air to celebrate a remarkable accomplishment. It was an exclamation mark on a great season, but also a great high school career that still had a full track and field season left to go.

Zavaleta was one of the rare ones who entered high school with running experience. Most who join cross country and track their freshman year are rookies in the truest sense of the word. To the typical 9th grader, competitive running is something to be learned for the first time.

Not Francisco. His experience competing in youth club groups and local road races pre-dated his arrival at MLK back in 2017, and that experience showed immediately once in high school. Francisco, or “Franny” as his coach nicknamed him, was one of the top freshmen that year and has grown and matured in the sport ever since. His improvement came steadily in the two sports, cross country and track, but the first half of his junior year saw exponential improvement. An MVP campaign in cross country while leading the team to an 8th place finish in CIF Finals, (the highest since the team had qualified for State in 2015) portended great things to come in the other half of last year. Sadly, just as he was rising, COVID came and took away what could have been in track.

Disappointed but not defeated, he made up for lost time in his senior year. The cross country season was delayed by 5 months and had every large competitive invitational, CIF and the State Championship cancelled. But, true to his character, Francisco made the best of the discouraging reality: He prepared, he worked hard and ended the season undefeated. Despite all that was lost, he remarked recently that he felt it was his best season of high school.

The results of that XC campaign were the Big 8 League MVP and he earned the team MVP for the second year straight. In track which overlapped the end of the cross country season, he raced all three distance races – the 800, the 1600 and the 3200 – but it was in the last two that he really shined. League champion in both the 1600 and 3200 meters (the metric equivalent of the mile and 2-mile), he ran personal best times of 4:20 and 9:14 and remained undefeated in the 3200 in all dual races where he was expected to be competitive. His 9:14.65 ranks third-fastest in school history and his 4:20.59 is the 7th-best time in school history.

Those marks and high achievement, along with a gracious and humble character that has carried him well through the years, earned him the title of 2021 Boys Athlete of the Year.

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Coach Dave Smith was given the reigns of King High’s Soccer Team in 2018. He was the new coach, coming in on the heels of rapid coaching changes and a chaotic span where, as he told the Press Enterprise recently, “so many players quit because it wasn’t fun.” To get it turned around, he knew he would need a little time and some special players.

Players like Kaylee Hauck.

Upon hearing the report of Hauck’s selection as the 2021 King High Athlete of the Year, Smith was quick to say that “when I first met Kaylee as a freshman, I sensed something special within her. I could tell she had a strength of character and would be a great team leader even as a freshman.”

When she drilled an arcing free kick into the net to solidify the win in Saturday’s CIF D3 Championship, it was a fitting moment that defined the journey she – and Smith – have been on since 2018.

According to Smith, Kaylee’s biggest contribution to her team this year has been her leadership. “She consistently sets a high standard for how hard she plays on the field” Smith says. “She gives everything she has in her to the team.”

A varsity player right from the start of her high school career, Kaylee has been 1st Team All League in the Big 8 for three consecutive years, and has been awarded the team MVP honor on all three years. In 15 games this season, Kaylee has scored 18 goals and assisted on six more.

As is true so often for elite athletes, Kaylee possesses tremendous character. “She has always been a positive and encouraging student athlete who wants the best for her team” Smith noted. “Whether Kaylee is on the field or on the sidelines, she is in it for her team 100%. She worked hard to welcome the 9 new players to the team this season; making them feel they are an important part of the program. She has organized activities for the girls so that they can grow closer as a team which helps improve their performance on the field.”

That character, coupled with her athletic excellence has made Kaylee Hauck an irreplaceable part of the King Soccer program, a program that is in a very different place than when she arrived.

2020 Athletes of the Year Leo Mendez, Olivia Moran

2019 Athletes of the Year Morgan Sjoerdsma, Reyte Rash

2018 Athletes of the Year Adrian Salgado, Madison Stamen

2017 Athletes of the Year Bradley Kleven, Kathryn Hammar

2016 Athletes of the year Claire Fisch, Tyler Janes

2015 – LUCAS RITTER
2014 – JOSUE SOTO
2013 – JOSEPH MOORMAN
2012 – JUSTYN PEEPLES
2011 – LANE WERLEY
2010 – JUSTIN DeCOUD
2009 – KAWHI LEONARD 2018 Inductee to King Hall of Fame
2008 – MARQUES LEA
2007 – CARLON BROWN
2006 – SPENCER PARDON
2005 – IAN PEEBLES
2004 – MICHAEL MYERS
2003 – PIETRO MARTINEZ
2002 – MARVIN LEA 2019 Inductee to King Hall of Fame
2001 – AUSTIN THOMPSON

2015 – HALEY MONTGOMERY
2014 – ALEXIS OSORIO
2013 – TAYLER FLEMING
2012 – CYDNIE JONES
2011 – HANNA PETERSON
2010 – KELSI TIPPETS
2009 – KELSI TIPPETS
2008 – LOTOLELEI FRANKLIN
2007 – JENNIFER HOLDERMAN
2006 – HEIDI GARRETT 2019 Inductee to King Hall of Fame
2005 – STEPHANIE ERDODI
2004 – MEGAN FAIRLEY
2003 – MARKISHA LEA
2002 – HEATHER BOOTH
2001 – MARKISHA LEA

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There’s an old cliché that goes, “All’s well that ends well.”

In this year of pandemic, quarantine and a nasty virus that has littered the last year with so much uncertainty and upended high school sports, the cross country teams entered their delayed season last November with far more questions than answers. Even as they were poised to start competing, COVID intervened yet again and pushed the first race back by yet another month.

But they finally did start racing in early February and despite a season of differences and disappointments (the post-season CIF Championships, for one, was cancelled last month) when it ended on Saturday against Santiago, the King teams came away with hard-fought victories and the boys earned the Big 8 league title.

And just for good measure, the face off with the Sharks turned out to be the best two races of the season.

Both Santiago and King were undefeated on the boys’ side and the race would decide the champion. In a pre-race computer mock-up, the two teams were tied. But you don’t race in a computer, and so the Sharks and Wolves would race — and race hard — on terrain to determine the winner.

In a very exciting contest, the two teams matched place for place over the first six spots. Francisco Zavaleta (Sr) closed strong over the third mile, gapping Evan Hild (Jr) of Santiago to conclude his undefeated season. He became the first King runner to earn the individual league title (and MVP) since Lane Werley did it last in 2010 and 2009.

“I knew I was going up against someone faster than me” Francisco said, with a respectful nod to a time Hild notched earlier in the season against Roosevelt. “So I had to play it smart … after passing him, I kept an adequate distance (between us) for him to tire out, but not for me to burn out.” It worked, as he sprinted home with a course record of 15:17, earned the title and started the scoring train for King.

Edgar Ortega (Sr) was next for King in third, and closed his stellar career with his fastest ever 3 mile time at 15:30. “I believe that I really put everything I could to finish on a high note, just fought hard but not for me, in all honesty, that last mile was for my team.”

Gray Mavhera (Jr) was next, in 5th place, a key scoring spot that kept King through the first three scorers ahead by 3 points. “It was stressful” Gray said later, of the knowledge that both teams had their eyes on the title and one last chance to get it. “I gave the team a pep talk and told them all to just race your heart out and that’s what we did.”

Jack Slavin (So) got the message and ran his best race of the season, finishing sprawled out on the other side of the finish line in exhaustion. At the half-way mark, the talented sophomore was behind a large group from Santiago but was able to break free and beat all but one of his opponents, finishing 7th. Bohdin Rush(Sr) saved his best race for last. Never has he scored in a varsity race, until today. And while six Santiago runners were ahead of him, it was his gritty effort that anchored the final scoring spot and put King into the win, 27-29. Jonathan Weaver (Sr) and Julian Morgan (Jr) were 6th and 7th for King.

It was a close race, and the first league title for King since 2015. “You really couldn’t tell who the winner was” said Ortega. “As soon as we found out we won, the excitement on everyone’s faces was bright. “this honestly feels better to me than any PR because we all contributed, for months and months.”

The girls’ race, which preceded the boys, had high stakes resting on it as well. Santiago, the defending league champions, and King entered at 3-1, so the race was for second place in the conference. Like the boys, both teams were evenly matched and both teams knew it could come down to one point.

Well, it came down to two points, and King would ultimately secure the win with a 27-29 score. Their attack differed from the boys, as they clumped up the front spots in the race, taking 2-3-4. Audrey Brunken concluded her breakout season with the runner-up spot, followed closely by Andrea Guadian and then Justine Marshall who closed furiously over the last mile to flip a spot with an opponent.

“Sometimes you just know when you need a point” she said after race, referencing a spot with a half-mile to go when she was told by this coach that her team was 1 point up and her position critical. “I know” she mouthed as she went by.

Evenie Fuentes improved on the course by 39 seconds and was 7th overall. “I knew this race was the race to put it all out there and give it everything I had, so the results were a sweet reward” she commented later.

King’s 5th would be Andreya Goodson,(So) who employed a new strategy which paid dividends with her fastest time of the year on the course and secured the win for the Wolves. Two freshmen – Leah Pendleton and Kaylee Magno were in King’s top 7 and 14 girls ran PR’s on the day.

“Everyone raced extremely well” Justine said. “We were so blessed to have Santiago as our competition for our last race.”

Audrey added praise, saying “I’m so proud of everyone, especially all the freshmen and rookies. Everyone raced their heart out and it was a great way to end the season.”

Such exploits in both races may have seemed unlikely a few months ago. Months and months – to use Edgar’s words – have gone by, and most were full of challenges and disappointments to overcome. But with great fortitude, these kids found a way.

And while it may be cliché, it is true nonetheless: No matter what the past looked like, all’s well that ends well.

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91 Candles

Posted by KING HIGH CROSS COUNTRY at Jan 16, 2021 10:46AM PST
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91 CANDLES
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

January 15, 2021

Martin Luther King, Jr would have been 91 today had an assassin’s bullet not ended his life back in 1968. I wonder sometimes about what would have, or could have been over these last 53 years if April 4 of that year went differently.

By now, would Father Time have moved Dr King from the streets where he marched to a home for the elderly? Maybe King would be attended to by caregivers a third his age. Maybe Martin’s wrinkled hands would tremble. Would his hair be gray and scattered? Or would there be worn vigor left in his bones and in those sterling vocal chords that lifted a people and a nation so long ago?

We cannot know, we can only wonder. He’s permanently carved in granite and memory as a younger man.

In a normal year, we’d pause today at practice and have some cupcakes to celebrate the birthday of the man for whom our school is named. I’m bummed, like many things in this past year, chalk that tradition up to another COVID casualty. Hopefully we can pick up the tradition again in 2022.

Birthdays mark the passage of time. The first, the 16th, 18th, 21st, 30th; each is a milestone, a time of reflection and celebration. Family and friends gather, candles adorn the top of a cake, we sing the birthday song (usually off key) and mark the light another year of a loved one’s life beholds. The more candles there are, the brighter the cake and that life seems to shine.

91 candles are not lit for Dr. King; his were snuffed out at 39.

But in a way they burn on in memory and legacy. Like a flame, his life and message still shines in the darkness. Though he is no longer with us, we should continue to mark the day he arrived, remembering what he gave to the nation in those abbreviated years. Among many themes, one played on repeat through his speeches and sermons. It was the challenge to pursue a Beloved Community even as he and the African American community faced terrible hatred and violence.

After his home was bombed one night by the KKK, he stepped out onto the fractured porch, the crunch of broken glass beneath his feet, shards of shattered wood lay lifeless, their purpose gone. A pulsing crowd gathered on his lawn, angry and quickened for revenge. There King stood illuminated by distant street lights and said:

“If you have weapons, take them home; if you do not have them, please do not seek to get them. We cannot solve this problem through retaliatory violence. We must meet violence with nonviolence. Remember the words of Jesus: “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo across the centuries: ‘Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.’ This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love.”

The fortitude and strength he showed as he marched straight into the battle lines preaching a revolutionary message of love is inspiring, it’s worth remembering and celebrating, and birthdays call for such things.

Though he is not here today to blow out his candles and hear the familiar tune, and though we can’t have cupcakes in his honor like we normally do, nonetheless, we can try and practice what he preached. Gratitude for the message and his example, fortitude to carry it on.

Happy Birthday Dr. King!

Our media department at school produced a wonderful, short video and I encourage you to watch it today; you’ll need to use your Riverside Unified email account to access it: https://youtu.be/radsiec5wt8