Hall of Fame ceremony celebrates the best of Monte Vista

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The open layout of Monte Vista’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony Saturday night amplified nostalgia-fueled laughter and the chandeliers were just dim enough to hide everyone’s tears.

Held at the El Cajon Elks Lodge, the ceremony had a reunion-like atmosphere. Generations of Monarchs reminisced over dinner as a slideshow cycled through photos of the inductees. A table propped against the wall to the right of the screen displayed their old jerseys, medals and trophies.

The open layout of Monte Vista’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony Saturday night amplified nostalgia-fueled laughter and the chandeliers were just dim enough to hide everyone’s tears.

Held at the El Cajon Elks Lodge, the ceremony had a reunion-like atmosphere. Generations of Monarchs reminisced over dinner as a slideshow cycled through photos of the inductees. A table propped against the wall to the right of the screen displayed their old jerseys, medals and trophies.

But former Monte Vista basketball coach and teacher Zach Peck, inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2016, was not interested in the glory days. As the Monarchs athletic director when the Hall of Fame was created in 2014, Peck was initially skeptical.

“I think bringing back old high school athletes who were real good when they were 17 is really a stupid thing to do, and I said, if you’re going to do it, bring back people who have done something since then,” Peck said. “And boy, they’ve just done a remarkable job of it.”

Giving back

All of the 2018 inductees gave back to the community after graduating from Monte Vista.

Dan Collins, class of 1979, served in many volunteer roles for the LDS church and accepted more than 20 foster children into his home. In 2016 he founded non-profit New Neighbor Relief to help refugees adjust to their new lives in San Diego.

“We thought that the best way we could help refugees become self-reliant is to first help them learn English, second help them get a job, and then third help them get a car,” Collins said.

Ken DeFries, class of 1981, was a CIF champion wrestler as a senior before attending the U.S. Military Academy. He served in the Army for six and a half years and was awarded the Bronze Star.

“My philosophy has always been not to spend so much time thanking people today, but I use the influence they have on me to try and pay it forward,” DeFries said.

Three-sport star Curt Howard, class of 1990, followed in his father’s footsteps and opened a family dental practice in Spring Valley. He has donated dental equipment and supplies to needy areas of Mexico and also donates toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss to the homeless.

Kalvin Barrett, class of 2000, left California to continue his football career at the University of Wisconsin. Barrett taught science at Liberty Christian School in Argyle, Texas before moving back to Wisconsin and serving as a Dane County Deputy Sheriff for three years and Sun Prairie Police Department officer for five. He now teaches in the Criminal Justice program at Madison Area Technical College.

Hailey Mayer, class of 2009, survived a traumatic brain injury after being pushed off a second floor balcony in 2017. She said she had to relearn how to walk, talk and even eat. She created
the Hailey the Great Scholarship, which was first awarded in May, and volunteers with the Monarchs cross country team.

“I will always love Monte Vista,” Mayer said. “I will always give back and I will always move them towards their future because they’re our youth and they need that support just like I got.”

Science teacher Karen Bowers worked at Monte Vista from 1984 to 2016. She served for many years as Science Department Chair and won the 2005 American Chemical Society Teacher of the Year, 2014 Golden Apple Award, 2015 San Diego Science Educator Association Excellence in Science Teaching Award and received the Grossmont Union High School District Golden G.

Marvin Lacey, better known as Marv, started working at Monte Vista when the school opened in 1961 after a stint in the Navy. He was the Monarchs’ first baseball coach and is the namesake of Marv Lacey Field. He also coached football and taught P.E. before getting a master’s degree so he could teach ninth grade math.

The Alumni Hall of Fame recently revived the Marv Lacey/Owen Gardner Scholarship. Last year was the first year it was funded and presented to a graduating senior.

Lacey lost his battle with cancer in 1990. He was represented at the ceremony by his wife Judy, his children Mary, Bill, Tom, Megan, Anne, and grandson Michael. His other daughter, Cathy, was unable to attend.

Mary Lacey Powell said she could not have picked a better group to represent the school her father loved so much.

“I just think it’s very special,” Lacey Powell said. “Monte Vista was a very large part of my dad’s life, our lives as you can imagine. I think it’s just wonderful that all these people who are being recognized have such a huge heart to give back to youth and the community.”

Education

Bowers’s and Lacey’s careers combined to cover most of Monte Vista’s history.

Bowers said she was proud to see former students recognized for their accomplishments.

“What I’m amazed at is that we have an opportunity in education to watch kids grow from those goofy kids into distinguished men and women that accomplish such great things,” Bowers said.

Barrett said it was an honor to be inducted the same night as Bowers. He credits her as a major influence on both his decision to teach and on his teaching style.

“Why am I always active? Why am I always moving? Why am I always doing class outside? And it’s because Ms. Bowers did that for us,” Barrett said. “I didn’t realize that until coming back here and realizing these are the ones who set that foundation. It was enjoyable for me and now I’m making that enjoyable for future students.”

Bowers said seeing former students in the community means just as much as, if not more than, any of the awards she has won.

“There’s not many jobs where you get to see that over the years,” Bowers said. “My daughter used to think that I was the most famous person because you go out and somebody would go ‘Hi Ms. Bowers!’ and you get this connections with so many different people.”

Still, some lessons had to be learned the hard way.

Collins finished his senior year at Skyline Continuation School after his involvement in a senior prank gone too far. A “very understanding” Monte Vista staff allowed him walk at graduation.

“Yes, I was there back on that dreadful day when the tree went down and I learned a very important lesson in life about not being in the wrong place with the wrong people at the wrong time,” Collins said. “So I personally didn’t do it, but, however, ‘guilty by association,’ and so I take full credit.”

Although Collins graduated before Bowers started at the school in 1984, Bowers said she appreciates the Hall of Fame honoring the people former students have become rather than just rehashing the past.

“I’m very thankful for that, and excited that Monte Vista chooses to honor all types,” Bowers said. “It’s not just a sports thing. It’s not just a grade point thing. It’s about where have you gone with your life and what have you gone on to do and who have you touched. And that I think is a really exciting and wonderful thing they do for our community.”

Good times

Collins was the first inductee of the night and his speech set an intimate tone with a series of jokes to cut the tension. He talked about his low self-confidence in class and how he mainly attended to meet his parents’ requirements.

“You’ve got to get at least a B average because it keeps our auto insurance down,” Collins said with a smile.

Derek Marso, inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2016 and one of Barrett’s wrestling and football teammates, got a chorus of laughter when he called out Barrett’s tactics.

“One of the most impressive records, and the thing that I’m probably most jealous of, is that Kalvin holds the record for most faked asthma attacks during a wrestling match to catch his breath,” Marso said.

Lurking behind the punchlines, however, were life lessons.

DeFries recounted time he broke arm his arm as a sophomore. He remembered how longtime wrestling coach Bill Clauder, a 2015 inductee into the Hall of Fame, said they would just have to work out his healthy arm and turn him into “The Claw.”

“It just convinced me that I could do something, and actually that’s kind of a motto that I’ve carried throughout my life,” DeFries said.

The healing power of sports

Marv Lacey believed in the power of sports and the lessons athletes learned. Former teacher, coach and athletic director Phil Poist, who joined the Hall of Fame himself in 2017, read what Bill Lacey wrote on his father’s application.

“[Marv] focused not only on athletic development, he also emphasized that the playing field and the discipline associated with individual and team success would transfer to life in general and prepare them for all that they may be confronted with,” Poist read.

Mayer’s recovery from brain trauma proved Lacey’s philosophy. Mayer was in a coma for a month after her fall and spent another month rehabbing in the hospital before being discharged.

She spent more than six months attending therapy and said her athletic experience at Monte Vista powered her recovery.

“I remember the first time I finally saw myself in the mirror, I was missing half of my skull and I was just like, ‘What?’” Mayer said. “It was the weirdest thing to see and I was just in a weird state where I didn’t quite understand. But it didn’t bother me. I felt like I was at athletic practice. I was in the hospital for about two months, but every day it just felt like it was practice. I was just like, I need to go to practice, I need to just be able to get up and walk five steps.”

Peck was out of town when Mayer was injured. He visited her in the hospital as soon as he returned.

“She was still comatose and I faced the very real possibility that she might not make it,” Peck said. “But I also thought that if she survived, she had the experience, and the toughness, and the heart to deal with the struggle to come.”

Peck said he was most impressed by Mayer’s rapid return to helping others, both with the Hailey the Great Scholarship and volunteering with the cross country team.

“No Olympic participation, or major league career or academy award winning performance can ever exceed your effort when you were entered into the most intense contest in which one can participate — the race for life,” Peck said. “The fact that after winning that race you immediately began to think of others, whether it was funding a scholarship or coaching young runners, is just par for the course.”

Barrett also knows tragedy. When he was 12, his father, Herman, developed a blood clot that moved to his heart.

“The first time I ever did CPR was with the instructions of the 911 operator on my dad,” Barrett said.

Herman died that day.

“At that time,” Barrett said, “there’s so many different ways you can go as a young African-American male in a community, in a big city like San Diego and I would not be here if it wasn’t for everybody in this room right now.”

In 1999, Barrett won the CIF San Diego Section heavyweight wrestling championship. He was the best wrestler in the county, but when he saw his opponent after the fight he realized something was missing.

“He was crying and his father was with him,” Barrett said. “His father put his arm around him and I could hear his father talking to him about things they can work on, things to make him better. I was on top of the world, I was ranked number one, I won this medal — but all I wanted was a man to put his arm around me and say ‘It’s OK.’ And just as I was ready to break down, [former Monte Vista wrestling coach] Steve Bulette came out of nowhere and gave me a big hug.”

One big family

From the beginning, Marv Lacey wanted to make Monte Vista one big family. Mary Lacey Powell said her father would take her to campus all the time when she was growing up..

“We were always at Monte Vista High School,” she said. “I know I, as a child, worked in the office during the summer. I’d go up there one day a week and work in the office, hang out, go on the field. We’d ride the bus with the team.”

Lacey had already been teaching at Monte Vista for a decade when Poist joined the staff. Poist was a late hire that year, so he did not attend any pre-semester meetings or introduce himself any colleagues. He walked into the teachers’ lounge on his first day and made eye contact with Lacey.

“He got up and walked across the room and stuck out that big paw and said, ‘Well you must be a new guy,’” Poist said. “I said, ‘Yeah,” and he said, ‘Well welcome to Monte Vista, and I think you’ll enjoy it here. It’s a great school. I’ve been here since the school opened in ’61.’ And I said, ‘Geez coach, how can anybody be here for 10 years?’ And we both ended up being there for over 30.”

Even though Barrett became a Monarch long after Lacey’s death, the community supported him the same way Lacey supported Poist.

“Whether it was pants for baseball, cleats for baseball, hats, shoes, Sarita’s mexican food once in a while — all of the things that I missed that I didn’t have, it was provided for by the community, by all of you,” Barrett said. “Monte Vista, the school, the city, Spring Valley, really was a father. It really does take a village to raise a man.”

Lacey was there at the beginning and passed the torch to the next generation of teachers and coaches like Bowers, and Bowers in turn passed it to students like Barrett. Howard’s office is just a mile and a half down the road from Monte Vista. Mayer, the youngest Hall of Fame member, volunteers with the athletic department. DeFries took the lessons he learned as a Monarch to the Army. Collins helps refugees integrate into the community.

The 2018 Monte Vista Hall of Fame class embodies everything Lacey envisioned when he started working at the school in 1961.

“And that’s why Monte Vista is so special,” Barrett said. “Because even though I didn’t have that father in my life, everyone here is what provided me the foundation to be where I’m at today.”

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