“We’ve got everybody coming together at a common ground of just sports. To me, there’s just a beauty in that.”Last September, on an expansive grassy field at Frank D. Parent School in Inglewood, the Foundation for Interscholastic Youth Athletics (FIYA) kicked off its first league game. 

The seventh and eighth grade players from the Inglewood public school jogged out to midfield for the coin toss against their opponent, St. Jerome School of Los Angeles. When the host team of junior high players won the toss, league co-founder Nick Galvan turned to the Parent School captain, saying, “Here, it’s your ball.”

The player glanced down at the brand new Spalding football before looking up at Galvan. “We get to play with this?” he asked somewhat incredulously.   

Half-smiling, Galvan nodded. 

Then after the game started, some 40 girls from Frank D. Parent in crisp blue jeans and white shirts cut through the crowd cheering the home team on as loudly as they could, before forming a perfect V-shape along the sidelines.

The scene still resonates in the real estate manager’s memory. “The football player was like he was holding gold when I handed him the ball,” Galvan says today. “And the kid wound up dominating the game. He was unbelievable. Plus, just the pride of the team and their parents and all the students was something to see. 

“That was the first day of FIYA,” he adds with a growing grin. “So we’ve have six months of those moments now.” 

Second season

Besides boys’ flag football, which was won by Frank D. Parent School, FIYA also launched a girls’ volleyball league last fall, with Culver City Middle School taking top honors. Twenty-five schools signed up for the two sports. 

The second season began in January, again with about the same number of girls and boys for basketball teams. Altogether, some 600 kids have participated from public, private, charter and Catholic schools. 

Basically a governing body, FIYA doesn’t provide coaches to teams, but offers them a structured league to play in plus some equipment. Games are bundled together at designated locales to assure that referees are truly professionals. For example, during the basketball season three games have often been held one after the other at either Park Century School in Culver City or Paul Revere Charter Middle School in Pacific Palisades. 

Schools pay sliding-scale fees, depending on the number of student athletes on a team. FIYA is also currently funded by the Porteous Family Foundation and Drollinger Family Charitable Foundation as well as private individuals. 

Many public elementary schools try to cobble together a league, but wind up with a “rag-tag” group with little structure or goals, including playoffs leading to a championship, according to Galvan. And many new charter schools simply have no league to join.

“So everybody’s got their own reason for being with us,” he says. “Some parochial schools are so big that they need second teams outside CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) sports, while others like to play public schools ’cause it’s a high level of competition. What our goal is ultimately is to strengthen schools through sports. We want to give these schools another feather in their hat: ‘We are part of FIYA.’ 

“And then the diversity is amazing. Park Century is set up for exceptional children with learning disabilities. Then you have Frank D. Parent that’s a public school in the middle of Inglewood, and St. Jane Frances, a parochial school from North Hollywood. And you’ve got all these charter schools that are popping up who need a sports league with regular games and a basketball playoff that winds up at the Staples Center. 

“So the diversity is really neat to see,” he adds. “It’s just awesome. With the diversity, it really is sports at its true meaning. I mean, it’s what sports should be. We’ve already got Christian schools, public schools, charter schools and private schools. These kids from Inglewood would never have met kids from more privileged areas. We’ve got everybody coming together at a common ground of just sports. To me, there’s just a beauty in that.”

‘Extremely well organized’

Students from Frank D. Parent School not only fielded a FIYA flag football team last fall, but also sponsored girls’ and boys’ basketball teams this season. (As The Tidings went to press, the boys basketball team played St. Jane Frances de Chantal of North Hollywood for the boys’ championship March 15 at Staples Center.) And the principal of the Inglewood elementary school has been impressed with the new league.

“I think it’s extremely well organized, and I like the way they focus on sportsmanship,” Garry Gregory says. “We had a really good time in the flag football league, going undefeated and then winning the championship. And even in the championship game, with kids coming from a lot of different places, I saw how they actually bonded. After the game, the kids got together, they took pictures together and shook hands. I just thought it was really positive, and it was nice to see everyone get along.”

The principal says members of the girls’ basketball team got just as excited as the boys, looking forward every week to the next game. Before joining FIYA, his school played in the Inglewood Parks and Recreation league, which was a lot less challenging with only four other teams to compete against. 

“Our kids just liked it, even the cheerleaders, because they got to play schools from all over the Westside area,” Gregory points out. “It gives them something to do and keeps them busy. It keeps them out of trouble. So it’s definitely a good thing. I’m trying to get more schools from Inglewood involved, so, hopefully, it’s going to grow and get bigger. And it’s good publicity for the school. We’re already getting ready for soccer.” 

Park Century School in Culver City has hosted most of FIYA’s basketball games this season and hopes to do so in the future. 

“It’s been an absolute pleasure for our school,” says Celeste Anlauf, director of development. “We have one of the finest, state-of-the-art elementary school gyms in the neighborhood. So it’s great to see other schools in the city be able to utilize the beautiful facility.”

The independent school serves nearly 100 exceptional students with learning disabilities, and sports are an integral part of the program with daily PE classes. She says sports are a “wonderful tool” for students with these educational problems, boosting their self-esteem and confidence.

“We just love the opportunity this new league gives our students to participate in organized sports,” declares Anlauf. “Because it builds character, it creates responsibility and provides students the chance to form friendships that they wouldn’t normally have. Our kids have gotten so much out of it.

“So we’re all for FIYA,” she says. “And we look forward to hosting the league again next season.”  

Positive feedback 

John Mueller, one of the other FIYA founders along with Galvan and John Farren, reports they’ve gotten a lot of this kind of positive feedback from principals, athletic directors and PE instructors. 

“They tell us by having this league and giving their kids an opportunity to play in a team environment with schedule games at certain places, it allows them as a school just to focus on their kids having practice,” he says.

“And the kids are accountable now: ‘We’ve got a game. We’ve got to get ready.’ So two really diverse schools said that having our league gives their students discipline. I worked in CYO for over five years, and a lot of these schools that are not Catholic would call and say, ‘Can we participate in your league?’ And just how CYO is set up, that wasn’t an option. So this is something Nick and I have talked about for four years. And we finally said let’s quit talking and do it. So that’s what we did.” 

Galvan nods. “Literally, since I was out of high school I’ve always wanted to do this, because I always knew that there’s a need, and the public and charter schools need it even more. So we’re very happy to say that our dream did come true.” 

So are two boys from St. Jane Frances de Chantal School, who at press time were headed to the March 15 championship game against Frank D. Parent School. Meanwhile, the lady “Spartans” of St. Jane Frances will face Culver City Middle School for the girls’ FIYA championship at the downtown home of the Lakers and Clippers.  

“This league is good,” says Ethan Moss, a seventh-grader at the North Hollywood parochial school. “We play a lot of different teams from all over. Lots of public schools with different skills, so there’s like a wider variety in this league.”

Michael Meadows, a sixth-grader, also believes the Foundation for Interscholastic Youth Athletics league is just more challenging. “I like to see different types of competition in Los Angeles,” he says. “There’s a couple of pretty good teams here with size. They can compete with us. I mean, we beat them but they gave us a run. They made us play.”

Both have their adolescent sights trained on playing the championship game at the Staples Center. 

“We’re excited about that,” Ethan says. “We really want to go.”

Michael already has on his steely game face. “That was our goal. We look at that as a privilege to play in; so we really played very hard to get to the big game there.”  

FIYA will host two tract meets this spring: Notre Dame High School, Sherman Oaks (March 31) and Junipero Serra High School, Gardena (April 22). Information: www.onfiya.org or (310) 562-4611. 

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