May 22, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Sunny Hills High School writer reported on a crisis that affected him and many athletes

Sunny Hills junior Andrew Ngo interviews Lancers’ football coach Peter Karavedas after a playoff game this season. (Photo courtesy, The Accolade, Paul Yasutake)

Sunny Hills High School student Andrew Ngo has experienced the coronavirus crisis from two perspectives the past month: as a tennis player and a journalist during the past four weeks.

The junior and other athletes in the county and have seen their seasons suspended until at least April. But Ngo and his teammates on the Sunny Hills tennis team saw their seasons end abruptly.

Ngo, like many other athletes, have been waiting to hear the fate of spring sports. On Thursday, Ngo, who is the sports editor of The Accolade, the school’s campus newspaper, found out that spring sports would not return. In fact, Ngo broke the news on Twitter that the Fullerton Joint Union School District had decided to keep schools, including Sunny Hills, closed until May 1, ending the possibility of spring sports returning.

Other on-line sites, including OC Sports Zone, followed with stories on the announcement but Ngo was the first one to break the story.

One of Ngo’s friends in a group chat found out that school would not return so he checked it out. Ngo’s mother was driving him to his destination so when he got the news he started working getting interviews once he arrived.

“I checked the (district) website because I didn’t know if it was real or not,” he said. “I showed up on the website and I thought, ‘oh my God, I’m not going to go back to school for another month.’

“Then my second thought was where sports was all in this so I scrolled down to the bottom and it said sports are suspended through May 1. And this is my job, I’m supposed to be reporting on this.

“I thought the best I could do is get a screenshot (of the press release) and put it on Twitter, tag people I need to tag and see where it goes from there,” Ngo said. “We thought it (the coronavirus) would be our story of the year last week but this is probably going to be our newest story of the year.”

Ngo then began to contact Sunny Hills coaches, including football coach Peter Karavedas and athletic director Jon Caffrey and spring sport athletes by telephone to get their reaction and post it.

The next issue of the campus paper is scheduled to come out in two weeks. Ngo said students are also posting the latest stories on the paper’s website. All of the students on the staff are working from home.

“I don’t know if we’re even going to have an issue the rest of the year, so all of our focus is on our website and putting out a story because this has been our best week in terms of viewing,” Ngo said. “It’s our duty as journalists, whether we be student journalists or beginning journalists to try and get the news out and share it with the student body and the parents and the teachers, maybe they’re a little confused too.”

Ngo said he and other students had an idea more decisions were coming.

“When we first heard that the school was closing down and our friends in college being sent home, we thought, ‘we’re not going to get a full season this year’ and our goal was to kind of keep playing until they told us we couldn’t,” Ngo said. “And then last week we were rained out and we didn’t get to play at all that week.

“And that’s when things started to get really, really real with districts all over Orange County suspending sports indefinitely, but we didn’t get any news until last Friday when we found out school would be suspended through spring break which was two weeks. We thought there was still a little chance we get out, and the now once we got the news today, it’s over. We only had one senior on our team and we feel really bad for him. But this is all about safety and keeping the health of the public so we understand the decision, we might not like it, but it’s for the greater good.”

Ngo has already had quite a school year with the paper. He covered the season for the Sunny Hills football team, which won the CIF Division 8 title.

“This is like the best year to be a sports editor because our football team won CIF and I got to cover them personally, which was the best four weeks of my life,” Ngo said. “And without being bias, I think we’re the best section in our paper right now and obviously this news comes out, which is big all-around. It’s unprecedented. We’re all trying to figure out what to do. It’s a learning experience.”

Student newspapers are meant to serve as a laboratory for aspiring journalists, and Ngo has shined in his first year of being on the paper, according to Sunny Hills football coach Peter Karavedas.

“Andrew’s great,” Karavedas said. “Andrew is wise beyond his years, other than Jim McCormack (of OC Sports Zone), he had the best coverage of Lancer football all year long. He’s only a junior, but he really takes a lot of pride in his work. He’s very professional, he will go the extra mile and I told him, ‘I don’t know if you’re going to be a journalist or what you’re going to do, but taking pride in your work, being willing to go the extra mile those are things, no matter what you do, you’re going to be successful.’ I’m really proud of him.”

Ngo has also earned the respect from The Accolade’s adviser, Tommy Li, who is an English and journalism teacher at Sunny Hills.

“I first met Andrew Ngo when he was a freshman in my honors English class,” Li said. “When it came time in the spring semester for me to recruit students to take my beginning journalism class, Andrew was among those on the top of my list because of what he had demonstrated in my class in terms of his strong writing and speaking skills. I spoke with him personally about it, but he respectfully declined,” Li said.

“But I didn’t give up. Since Andrew was on the boys tennis team, and some of my current newspaper staffers were also tennis players, I encouraged them to talk to Andrew more to see if he’d be willing to sign up for Journalism 1. “

Ngo changed his mind, much to Li’s delight.

“He impressed us with his first article so much that the editors offered him a second one to write for the same issue,” Li said. “Ironically again, these were news stories, not sports ones.

“Then when we decided to offer him and another student the co-sports editor positions, he continued to dedicate his time after school hours to find various ways to make sure our sports teams got the coverage they needed on our online website as well as our print newspaper issues. By the time our football team caught fire and made its CIF playoff run, Andrew was also motivated to cover them, and so with my blessing, he created a Twitter account just for sports updates, and he was willing to travel wherever the football team traveled for its CIF playoff games.

“With my guidance of his written sports stories, he was also able to catch the attention of not only the head football coach, but many other coaches for our sports programs as well, especially the athletics director. I can’t tell you how many times in the school copy room or in the hallway did our school’s head football coach, Peter Karavedas, stop me to tell me how great Andrew has been, noting how his Twitter handle sports updates are being followed by him and several other coaches and student athletes on campus.”

Later, the coach invited Ngo to be his guest at the football team’s awards dinner, where he was given a special award.

“That’s how much impact he’s had in less than a semester as a co-sports editor,” Li said. “Andrew is also the only section editor who’s allowed to post stories onto our online website after I’ve reviewed them, and that’s because of how much work he’s put in to make sure sports stories are posted regularly on our website.”

Despite the challenges this season, Ngo said he strongly believes in what he’s doing and knows the importance of journalism in an uncertain time.

“Anyone, young or old, who gets the opportunity to study journalism should take it,” he said. “I never predicted that I would be in the position I am now, but I was able to take my passion for sports and transform it into something that can really make an impact on people’s lives.”

-Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com