Former Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia delivered a quote I’ve never forgotten a few years ago.
“You only have one hometown,” he said.
Kylee Watson and Destin Lasco of Mainland Regional High School know exactly what Scioscia meant.
The 6-foot-4 Watson is one of the country’s top girls basketball college prospects. Lasco is one of the nation’s top scholastic swimmers.
The two Linwood residents could have attended a public, non public or prep school anywhere in the state or beyond. They could have gone to a prestigious training academy.
Instead, the duo decided to attend their neighborhood school.
The juniors were rewarded for their loyalty this winter.
Lasco led the Mustangs to their fourth straight state boys swimming championship. Watson led the Mustangs to the first state championship in Mainland girls basketball history.
It’s fun to win. It’s even more fun to win alongside the kids you grew up with.
“It’s so nice to share this with people you train with every day and you go to class with every day,” Lasco said after the boys swimming team won the South Jersey title. “We work hard and put all those hours in the pool. To see it pay off, everybody is happy. The coach is happy. It’s priceless.”
Watson held the basketball as the final seconds ticked off the clock in the state Group III championship game Sunday.
When the buzzer sounded, the Mustangs rushed toward her in celebration.
“This journey to the state championship really began 10 years ago,” Watson said. “I was really happy to do it with the girls that I love.”
Some elite athletes and their parents worry that playing for their hometown public or non public school won’t give them the exposure they need to get to the next level.
But there are plenty of places for elite athletes to get exposure in today’s world. Watson and Lasco have competed for high-profile club teams in national competitions. Lasco and Watson are proof that college coaches will find you no matter what high school you attend.
Lasco verbally committed in January to attend University of California, Berkeley on a swimming scholarship. California is one of the nation’s top programs. Golden Bears coach Dave Durden was just named coach of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Men’s Swimming team. The Golden Bears have produced some of America’s top swimmers, most notably Olympic gold medalists Ryan Murphy and Anthony Ervin.
Coaches from women basketball powers Notre Dame and Connecticut watched Watson play for Mainland this season. She is expected to make her college decision soon.
When he spoke about hometowns, Scioscia was referring to 2009 Millville graduate and Angels star Mike Trout.
A huge part of Trout’s persona and appeal is his relationship with his hometown.
Trout stayed home in high school. Friends and neighbors got to see him play. It meant something back then. It means even more now.
Watson and Lasco have built similar relationships with their community.
They’ve created a lifetime of memories with their friends.
“I know we’ll be friends 20 years from now,” Watson said of her Mainland teammates. “The basketball season may be over. But that doesn’t mean our friendship is over. We’ll always have this moment to share.”
Scioscia was right. You only have one hometown.
And in high school sports, it’s your last chance to represent it.
Michael McGarry’s Must Win column appears Fridays in The Press.