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I spent the morning calling small high schools in East County, asking if our state-budget debacle has affected their sports programs. This led me to Calexico, California, the person of principal Dan Plough, and his paycheck, Aurora High School.

“We’re an extremely small continuation high school,” Plough says. “Our sports program is small, so [the budget impasse] hasn’t affected us that much. But, if you wanted to do a great story, you could do it on alternative education and CIF sports.” (California Interscholastic Federation runs California high school sports. There are ten sections; Aurora High is in the San Diego section.) “I think I’m the only continuation school, probably, in Southern California that offers CIF sports.”

“Okay, let’s talk. Which sports do you offer?”

Plough says, “Soccer, baseball, softball.”

“How many students?”

“Two-hundred twenty-five. When you get high-risk kids participating, it’s pretty cool.”

Plough and his wife attended San Diego State in the ’70s. They taught traditional ed. for two decades. Plough took the Aurora High School job ten years ago. I inquire about money.

Plough says, “My coaches don’t get any help from the [Calexico Unified School] district. We generate all the money. Other schools get budgeted for their athletic programs. I get my coaches paid for, and that’s about it.”

“Do you have fundraisers?”

“The kids do a few, helps offset the cost of transportation. We’ve gotten some donations for uniforms. We’re in the Frontier League, San Diego CIF, and compete against small private schools like High Tech High.”

“The commute over the hill must be fun.”

“It’s two hours each way. I don’t come back every night. I live in Ramona.”

“Do you have a gym and showers?”

“No, but I have a nice-sized field on campus that the kids can practice on and play soccer. When baseball season comes, we have to scrounge around to find a place to practice and play our games. Soccer, we sometimes get cooperation from Calexico High School — which is our feeder school — and use their fields.”

“How many continuation schools are there in San Diego County?”

“There are 521 in the state,” Plough says. “One of the things people don’t realize about alternative ed. — that includes continuation schools, community day schools, et cetera — is that they affect 500,000 kids a year.”

I am one of those people. “Let’s get back to your sports.”

“One boy ran cross-country this year.”

I laugh, “That’s great.” The Box offers sincere congratulations to that noble runner.

“It’s easy for us to be folded into cross-country meets because it’s just one extra kid running. We also have boys’ and girls’ soccer.”

“How’s that going?”

“It’s going fairly well. We went to a tournament in Yuma, and they placed third. They’re just getting ready for league play now. I think we have a soccer game on the 25th or 26th.” (Daily San Diego Soccer News projects the Aurora High School boys’ soccer team as finishing third in the six-team Frontier League. Aurora finished 2007 at 12-4.)

I say, “That sense of being a winner must be pretty thrilling for them.”

“Well, it is. The part that is shocking for folks — we didn’t [win] this year, but the last two years we won the Sportsmanship Award at the Yuma Tournament, which is put on by the Catholic school over there. These kids are supposed to be pains in the butts, but if you can get them to understand the dynamics of athletics, you can get them to take a different view on how to behave.”

“How do the other schools treat you? Do you get any, ‘Gads, we’re playing hoodlums.’?”

“No. Some of the private schools we play in San Diego are your rich kids. Their first thought is, Oh. And then they see our kids and they look like teenagers. They’re not thugs, and they play a good game of soccer. Athletes forget all that other stuff.”

“How do you recruit coaches? You only have a couple paid coaches, right?”

“Right. I got one of my young teachers to start the soccer program a few years back. We have a teacher that comes in and does a drug-and-alcohol program. That gentleman has volunteered to take over the baseball program.

“The kids would love to have a basketball team. I haven’t found anyone who wants to jump out and say they want to coach. We’re working on it.”

Something still bothers me. I ask, “Where do they shower and change clothes after practice?”

“They change in the classroom. They shower when the get home.”

Readers wishing to coach basketball can reach Dan Plough at 760-768-3940.

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