Look good, feel good. Feel good, win.
La Cañada High School is well-regarded for many things: academics, choral arts, speech and debate. Football isn’t one of them.
Only twice since 2005 has the LCHS football team had a winning record. Last season, the Spartans went 4-6 overall and missed the playoffs.
But, by the looks of it, that could be changing. When the team takes the field Friday, Aug. 26, for its season opener at Hawthorne High School, Spartans players will be wearing new helmets, new uniforms, new shoulder pads, even new mouthguards.
And when they open the gates for their first home game, against Glendale High School on Sept. 9, they’ll be unveiling a new field that also is more comfortable, safer and more stylish.
Coach Ryan Zerbel believes the upgrades will help the team’s morale, which will only help its on-field results.
“Obviously, the most important thing is to believe in yourself,” said Zerbel, who became the Spartans’ fifth head coach since 2008 when he relinquished his role as LCHS 7/8 principal to take over the football program last June.
“But when other people are believing in you and investing in you, then those days that maybe you’re struggling a little bit with doubting yourself or something, it’s a lot easier when you have some reassurance from others.”
This major offseason overhaul is courtesy of both the La Cañada Unified School District and the Spartan Booster Club.
The district budgeted $1.5 million to replace the worn-out field with state-of-the-art artificial turf and an infill of ZeoFill and Silica Sand over a one-inch Brock PowerBase padding. (The track was also resurfaced.)
The Spartan Booster Club served as the conduit for donations of a combined $46,855 by three generous parents, funds that paid for the new helmets, uniforms and shoulder pads. Team members also raised $5,000 last year via the Boosters’ help-us-help-you raffles.
“We’re proud of them and we’re awfully excited about what’s going on in the football program, and we hope this makes them feel good,” said Christopher Clarkson, president of the organization that last year raised more than $257,000 for more than 60 programs at the high school, efforts that went toward funding things such as a new kiln for the ceramics department and travel for the speech and debate team.
“Football is only one of the programs we support, and it’s a very important one because it engenders school spirit among all the students. And it also provides a nice venue for kids who are involved in pep squad, marching band and color guard, as well as being a great outlet for the community in general to enjoy.”
Players said they appreciate the gestures.
“No excuses,” senior lineman Tyler Rubendall said. “We have all new gear so we can’t complain about anything. The coaches have set us up perfectly and now it’s our time to shine.”
The new helmets all come with a top-of-the-line, five-star safety rating, which is supposed to reduce concussion risk as much as any helmet on the market. The players will be wearing their new shoulder pads in place of the hand-me-downs that hadn’t been replaced for years.
And then there are the noticeably new jerseys, uniforms that are longer than the previous model and more easily tucked in, with shorter pro-style sleeves that give the players more mobility. They had input on those things, said Raffi Hairapetian, who described Zerbel’s regular check-ins with the guys before the design — a small Spartan logo is on one shoulder and an argyle pattern runs up the side — was finalized.
There have been other improvements: Zerbel will have use of a new video room, with a new projector and new screen that will serve as a vast improvement over having guys crowd around a computer screen.
The varsity locker room has also been refurbished, which is good news to the players: “Half the lockers were broken, and there was Tupperware from my freshman year left in there,” versatile senior David Vardanian said. “You can put your pads everywhere now and not have to worry if there are rats or something in there.”
The field, of course, is the biggest, most obvious improvement.
Reports from players, who started practicing on it Aug. 1, are that it’s softer so it doesn’t hurt when they fall. It’s also said to be cooler and cleaner — there are no more rubber pellets coming home in cleats, which dig in better and provide more traction than before.
It’s functional, and like the uniforms, it looks good with its two-tone turf and bold school emblems: “The cardinal red end zones with ‘La Cañada’ and ‘Spartans’ in each, along with the LC at the 50-yard line, really mark the field as ours,” athletic director Kristina Kalb wrote in an email, noting also that the school purchased new goal post pads and new portable fencing to keep the track and field secure during games.
“The aesthetic is really top-notch,” Zerbel said. “It gives the impression that we should be giving, you know? We’re one of the top-performing schools in the state of California, and our facilities should match our performance.”
All the physical changes complement what players described as a change in attitude that stems from their head coach.
“He came in late last year, which wasn’t his fault at all, but he couldn’t put a lot of changes in. He had a thin balance of things he could change,” Hairapetian said. “But this year he put in the system he wanted and it’s all falling into place. We practice at a higher tempo, everything is more efficient and we go harder for more time. Every day we’re practicing 100%.”
“[People] are investing in us so we could have the best season possible,” Vardanian said, “because they believe we can do it.”
For more information about the Spartan Booster Club, visit lchsboosters.org.