The dictionary defines “phenom” as slang for “a phenomenon, especially a young prodigy.”
There may be no more than one or two athletic phenoms in the Imperial Valley right now, but we have been host throughout the past year of some truly gifted athletes — all of whom have been underclassmen.
Clayton Bowler ran the rock all year long as a sophomore, helping Holtville High win league in football.
Donovan Buck worked hard to match skills to his impressive height as a sophomore for the Brawley Union High basketball team.
Evalyn Cota consistently bolstered her Southwest High basketball team as a sophomore.
Jakob Salgado leaped with the best of them as both a football and basketball player during his sophomore year at Central Union High.
Antonion Perez led the way on the wrestling mat both as a freshman and this year as a sophomore at Central.
Paulina Pantoja was critical to the Central girls’ soccer team, despite being a freshman this year.
Martha Escobar, a freshman, and Nancy Clark, a sophomore, led Calexico High to be co-champs of the Imperial Valley League in girls’ basketball.
Then there’s Imperial High, which started Royce Freeman as a freshman in basketball and later football last year, as well as Dajon Staton as a freshman and Dexter Bell as a sophomore in basketball last year.
Freeman and Staton started as sophomores on the football team this year, along with Chris Carter, Evan Pumphrey, Robert Colace, and Joseph Gawat.
All were stellar, as have Imperial underclassmen Andrea Sotelo (softball), Bryan Garrett (baseball), and Daxton Gordon (wrestling).
By no means is this list exhaustive, and that should raise some questions in your mind. Aside from the obvious, “what was being put into hospital nurseries 15 or 16 years ago?”
Instead, let’s ask the following: What are our schools doing to protect these young players?
The Washington Post’s Lenny Bernstein has been among many to write about this subject the past two years.
Bernstein’s article “Sudden death during exercise: How we fall short protecting young athletes” should serve as a wakeup call for those who forget these are just high school kids.
Ligament tears, blown knees and neck injuries are the more benign, yet are common especially among freshmen and sophomores, whose bodies are not fully strengthened through maturity until later in high school.
Cardiac arrests and concussions are also prevalent with teenage athletes.
These teens do not receive monetary compensation for their athleticism. They do not get millions of dollars that can cover hospital visits, injuries or surgeries.
What these phenomenal young players can receive from their success in local sports is an opportunity for postsecondary education, and that’s what coaches and trainers need to keep in mind.
These young men and women are a blast to watch and root for, but coaches need to balance the line between allowing their players to exhibit their considerable talents and keeping them safe from injury.
I want to see these Valley stars reach the next level, and so should you, whether you’re a coach, parent or school supporter.
Let’s give these kids the best opportunity to receive higher education.
Let’s protect our phenoms.