Buena Park's Jesse Baiza and teammates were treated to dinner by the La Habra football team. "It's good to get to know one another," he said.

Dinner for league opponent is class act

Miller column: La Habra players and boosters serve Buena Park's team dinner as support for the program spreads.


BUENA PARK – This is when a team is more than a team, an opponent more than an opponent.

This is when a meal is more than a meal.

Fifteen days before playing Buena Park High, La Habra is feeding the Coyotes. Tossed salad. Garlic bread. Pasta.

A team dinner Thursday, with two teams, two Freeway League rivals that share the same goal — beating one another.

"When I heard their story, I couldn't believe it," La Habra senior quarterback Cody Clements said. "It's crazy, the adversity they're going through, more than some kids will have in their whole lives. I just wanted to be a part of this."

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The obstacles facing Buena Park's football program — homelessness, broken families, years of losing — were detailed on a couple of weeks ago. This dinner is just one of the many warm responses that have followed.

Former students have pledged money. People from the neighborhood have dropped off clothes. New booster clubs are being formed. NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez made a donation.

Here's a typical story: A man phoned Anthony White, telling the Coyotes coach he lives in Buena Park but, given the condition of the football program at the high school, sent his son to Sunny Hills. Now, unable to give his son to White, he instead would be sending the school a $500 check.

"It's important for our kids to understand that these people aren't just giving things away," White says. "We have to earn everything. We're not a charity case. No one should feel sorry for us. We have to work hard and make these people proud."

This dinner was Pete Ybarra's idea. He, too, lives in Buena Park but sends his two football-playing sons — Austin and Alex — to La Habra. He's even a vice president of the Highlanders football booster club.

When he read the Coyotes' story, though, Ybarra realized he had to do something. See, he's also a former Coyote, a graduate of Buena Park, class of '85.

"I live here, this is my community," Ybarra said. "When I read about these kids, I started thinking about what we could do for them, how we could do our part. We needed to step forward."

Buena Park entered this season with five victories total the past four seasons. The Coyotes have opened 4-0 under White, who's in his first year at the school. On Friday, they play Katella.

Then, it's Sunny Hills. And then, on Oct. 22, the Highlanders return here, continuing their defense of the league title they have won in each of the previous three seasons.

"This is one of the programs we're trying to emulate," White said. "This is chance to teach our boys how to do things the right way, teach our coaches how to do things the right way. We're using La Habra as a model."

The Highlanders obliged Thursday night, doing things the right way by doing a very classy thing.

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