I had planned to write a few things about the end of the high school football season and the beginning of basketball, but news Sunday of Palma High athletic director Steve Clayton’s death changed everything.
To me, Steve Clayton stood tall for everything good about Palma High. Every game, every sport — nearly every event that included a Palma High team — you could be sure he was going to be there. He was there for the students, coaches, players, parents and, bless his soul, he was there for sports writers.
The media is not always the most popular part of a high school crowd but Steve always made us feel welcome, sometimes with a sarcastic comment, followed quickly by a smile.
During football season I could always count on him to have the rosters of both teams ready to be handed over without even asking. It may not seem like much, but trying to track down names and jersey numbers can sometimes be a daunting, if not downright frustrating task.
I always enjoyed covering Palma basketball games because I knew Steve would have a seat at courtside for me. This, too, may seem like a small thing. But when you go to games in various gyms that occasionally attract big crowds it’s usually every man, woman, child and sports writer fending for themselves when it comes to finding a seat, or in most cases, an empty space in the bleachers.
If I needed a question answered, a fact checked, a rumor confirmed or denied concerning Palma (never a shortage of those), one call to Steve Clayton was all it took.
Thanks, Steve. I only wish I would have said that long ago.
Small things mean a lot in this business of tight deadlines, reduced staff, slashed budgets and an often maddening schedule and Steve Clayton always seemed to be a step ahead of it all.
Palma High, being the only private school in town for boys, will always be closely watched by many and monitored by a few. Its athletic program has done things no other school in Salinas has done — a state championship in basketball and back-to-back basketball state title game appearances, a football program that is annually ranked among the best in CCS and a baseball team that is a perennial contender, just to name a few.
As such, the school has been the target of criticism and skepticism among the public school sector for decades.
But the school’s image has undergone a dramatic change since the arrival more than two decades ago by then principal Brother Patrick Dunne and Steve Clayton, who was hired by Brother Dunne in 1993. Palma will always have its critics — I’ve certainly been one of them — but with those two individuals at the top calling the shots I can just about guarantee nobody is getting away with anything, intentionally or unintentionally, any longer.
When crowd behavior at Palma-Salinas basketball games started to get a little on the wild side a few years ago Clayton was one of the first to take a strong stand. From that moment on he became the official enforcer. If the Palma student cheering section started to get a little loud, my first reaction would be to watch Steve to see how he’d respond. The students were no fools. I think they kept one eye on Steve as well, and in most cases, could tell by his expression when enough was enough.
Steve Clayton was there to protect and to serve, but not pamper Palma and its students.
What Steve did behind the scenes may have been what led to his being the 2012 California Interscholastic Federation Athletic Director of the Year and the 2011 CCS Distinguished Service Award winner.
“During the realignment meetings for football (there have been three major changes since 1993), they all came to fruition because he could see the large picture,” said Brother Dunne. “He would say we have to do this for the benefit of the kids.”
The last time I saw Steve was Friday at Rabobank Stadium. He offered Palma to be the host school for the Hollister-Milpitas D-I title game.
But before I could say hello — actually I was probably going to be a smart-alack and tell him something like ‘Hey buddy, in case you haven’t heard your team got beat last week and isn’t playing tonight ” — I got to talking with a Palma assistant football coach. Next thing you know it’s time for kickoff, so off to the field I went without saying a word to him.
So I’ll say it now.
“Steve, thanks for all you’ve done — for the students, for Palma, for high school athletics in general, for the Salinas Valley Athletic Hall of Fame committee and for a certain sports writer always in need of a roster.”
P.S. Here’s a note that was posted on the CCS website before Clayton’s passing.
“Our football team played Palma this weekend (Nov. 22) at the Rabobank Stadium and it was a great experience. The stadium was terrific and it made for a nice playoff environment. More importantly, everyone associated with Palma High School made us feel very welcomed. Athletic Director Steve Clayton did a great job running the event and the Palma players, coaches, and fans are completely first class.”
Director of Athletics
Archbishop Mitty High School
We’ve received the lists for the all-Monterey Bay League Gabilan and Pacific division football teams. We’ll run the entire lists of both leagues in Wednesday’s paper.
As reported here last week the Monterey County high school all-star football game is returning to Salinas. Kickoff is 6:30 p.m. Friday at Rabobank Stadium.
Here are the players who have been invited to play school-by-school. The coaches of the two teams — Steve Zenk of North Salinas and Steve Goodbody of Salinas High –will determine what players go on what teams. That roster is expected to be announced today.
* Salinas High: Jordan Torres, Jon Santos, Robert Denison, Benjamin Gomez-Soto, Justin Pleasont, Elijah Kirkland, Taylor Mandujano, Charles Chamberlain, Chris Hernandez, Bobby Cerda, Ryan Castaneda, Scott Calender, Sergio Guzman, Vince LaSala.
King City: DeAndre Sharif, Abram Nava, Thomas Flores.
Marina: Brian Hunt, Ismael Pugh, William Robinson.
N. Salinas: David Dorr, Jacob Robante, Carlos Prieto, Alexis Camel, Justyn Gutierrez, Josh Wilson, Mario Gonzalez, Salvador Romero, Paul Rivas, Branden Pena.
Palma: Mitch Kidd, Jake Gavin, Ben Laycock, Zack Zender, Terry Lee, Dominic Fusanotti, Cole Rianda, Chris Varges, James Meeks.
Trinity: Michael Alcaraz, Matt Novak, Dre Perez.
Alisal: Lorenzo Novoa, Adrian Chavarin, Ezequviel Hernandez, Eduardo Valencia, Michael Ortiz, Javier Lopez.
Alvarez: Steve Otherson, Kendrick Brown, Jose Jimenez, King Lanier.
Carmel: Holden Smith, Shane Lackey, Emiliano Quevedo, Jack Clark, Francisco Osornio.
Seaside: CJ Olivaries, Kordell Reed, Ronnie Turner, Darryl Choates.
Pacific Grove: Jake Speed, Luke Lowell, Matt Berry, Dylan Chesney, Forest Compton, Zack Brown.
Monterey: Gilbert Scott, Brandon Finona, Logan Hunter, Sebastian Munoz, Joe Pryor, Chris McNeil, Sean Burns.
North County: Peter Best, Adrian Garcia, Jonathon Servin, Julian Quintero, Josh Barnett.
George Watkins is a sports writer for The Salinas Californian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 754-4264. He can also be followed on Twitter at watkins_salnews.