John Alvarez is as much a life coach as a football coach at Lancaster Baptist.
For the second time in three years, he has his Eagles (9-2) playing in the CIF-Southern Section 8-man Football Division 2 Championship Game, at Bloomington Christian Friday night.
So that means, practicing on Thanksgiving morning.
But it’s so much more than that.
“I told our boys you get to be part of American Thanksgiving,” Alvarez said. “Football is such a big part of Thanksgiving and our players are participants, not just spectators.
“It’s more than just tossing the football around down at the park, or in the yard. It’s special.”
It’s history, it’s culture, it’s sports — and Thursday, it was the Weather Channel, too.
The Valley’s Thanksgiving blizzard chased the Eagles off the suddenly snowy tundra of their practice field, and into the gym for final preparations.
“Cold and wet isn’t what we wanted to be the night before our biggest game,” said the Lancaster Baptist coach. “So we were warm and dry.
“But the snow, it did add something to how special the day was. They’ll never forget this.”
John Alvarez is living proof.
He can still recite vivid detail of his own Thanksgiving morning practice 28 years ago, a few miles west on Lancaster Blvd. at Antelope Valley High School.
Richard Lear, who’s coached Highland into its second straight CIF title game, was a ’Lopes teammate that day.
As the name of his school suggests, there’s a higher purpose to everything at Lancaster Baptist.
Alvarez fits perfectly into that template.
He doesn’t just teach the X’s and O’s.
The other 24 letters of the alphabet get a workout, too, in lessons his players will one day apply far from the football field.
“I read a quote the other day that said, ‘It’s exhausting to be great,’” Alvarez said. “That is so true. And it applies to anything you do in life.
“Practicing on Thanksgiving means you’ve had a great season. Only two teams in our (CIF) Division get to do it. And this is it — there won’t be practice on Monday.”
The success Alvarez and Lear have enjoyed professionally confirms the priceless life lessons that only football can provide.
The Eagles’ coach told his players they won’t fully appreciate how special Thanksgiving’s snow day was until later in life.
The Blizzard of 2019 now takes its place in Valley history.
And high school football lore.
How the Eagles handled it will shape their place in that future.
“To me,” mused Coach Alvarez, “football is a great descriptor of what life is. You’re going to face your challenges. How do you get up when you’re knocked down? How many times do you get up?
“You’re not in it alone. You’ve got teammates, family and friends who are there to help you in difficult times. There’ll be times when you’ll be a cheerleader for someone else, and times when you’re going to need a cheerleader for yourself. The opportunity to play football really teaches you something about yourself, about what you believe and what you’re going to stand for.”
Mother Nature doesn’t have a history of Thanksgiving adventurism in these parts.
But history, football and otherwise, is filled with the heroism of trudging through the snows to reach the mountaintop.
The snow will melt.
The memories never will.