Rookie skipper took Skyhawks to semis

Before Joe Monahan had his celebrated athletic crusade at Cathedral Catholic High School, his flourishing football campaign at the University of San Diego and a successful managerial career as a high school baseball coach, there was Curtis White.

When Monahan was growing up poor on the rough streets of inner city San Diego, he would hang out at a boys' club near his house — the only safe haven amongst the slew of gangs hassling the area. White was a plumber for Roto-Roofer who gave his time to the club by fixing leaky toilets and busted pipes. Monahan was White's sidekick, a 9-year-old rugrat nipping at the handyman's heels, carrying White's tools and doing all the nasty jobs required of him.

White wasn't so much a football or baseball coach to Monahan. He never showed the Southridge baseball coach how to field a chopper or follow the fullback on a halfback draw. White was much more of a life coach. by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge baseball coach Joe Monahan believes baseball is a life teaching tool for his players and coaches them not just about the game but life as well.

Guiding force

White, an African American man, taught Monahan, one of the few white kids in the San Diego 'hood, the value of hard work, how doing the little things the right way led to big-picture success. He instilled discipline in Monahan and taught him the value of being a good teammate. White preached showing up on time and being accountable for your actions.

In a world of imbalance, White was Monahan's rock. More than a ride to practice or a money bestower every now and again, White was the male role model Monahan lacked early in life. Monahan's parents divorced when he was 3. There were things that went on when at home that Monahan said he would “never allow” in his own family of five. Yet, he always had coaches, like White, who were around to provide mentorship and instill the testaments Monahan firmly believes in to this day.

Monahan went to 13 different schools before he got to sixth grade. Yet, every time the Monahan family moved — and sometimes they'd pick up and leave in the middle of the night — White tracked him down and connected him to the nearest Little League. White talked the counselors at the boys' club and Monahan's mother into letting the aggressive tyke with the hardy frame sign up for Pop Warner football in the third grade, and he didn't stop there. White was aware of the instability taking place in Monahan's home, so he dropped Monahan off at football practice, then baseball practice in the spring, and made sure he was on-time for all the games. From the time Monahan was growing up on welfare, shuttling from house to house and sometimes couch to couch with very little hope, there were Little League and football coaches who stepped into his life and taught him how to handle hardship in his home life.

“It goes to show you that one person can change one life and that responsibility I feel for me is to make a difference in these young men's lives who I coach,” said Monahan. “When we coach here, winning is the result of the little things. It's not the purpose for what we do.” by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge baseball coach Joe Monahan is a fierce competitor who sticks up for his players and wants them to get a fair shake with the umps.

When Monahan was 12, White was killed while crossing the street. To this day, the Southridge skipper said he's never gotten over White's death. But, what White did for Monahan in such a short time span, did more for him as a baseball coach than one can ever grasp.

“I said, 'If I ever make it in this world, I'm going to give back the same way people gave me the opportunity to live',” said Monahan. “It's the only reason I coach, for no other reason than to give back what was given to me.”

This conviction is the ground on which Monahan coaches and builds winning programs. He does it not for his personal glory, state championship banners or 20-win seasons, but because he believes in turning young boys into men with help from the game he loves.

Monahan believes baseball is the greatest sport in the world because it mirrors the game of life. It's a great tool to teach young men how to handle adversity when life throws a looping curveball when you were expecting a fastball down the heart of the dish. There's a direct correlation between the two, in Monahan's firm view. Case in point, in life one needs the fundamentals, just like a baseball player needs to know the basics of fielding a groundball. Being controlled at the plate is the same as acting in accordance to life's ups and downs.

“In today's society, you have to be disciplined if you're going to succeed, and in baseball, you have to be disciplined if you're going to succeed. If you work hard, good things will happen to you,” said Monahan. “If we do the little things right, more good things are going to happen than bad. If you work hard and do the little things you'll have success.

"Success isn't hitting .350 and being a .500 ball club. Success is doing the little things that put yourselves in the position to win a championship.”

Rules of the game

Winning seems to follow Monahan wherever he goes, though the Skyhawk skipper is quick to point out that's not what he's all about. Monahan moved to Oregon 26 years ago and was an assistant coach at West Linn — where two of his three sons played — for nine seasons.

Monahan said he could never be a head coach because of his desire to coach his kids, plus he ran the West Linn youth program for 15 seasons. When his youngest son Shane went to Horizon Christian, Joe followed as an assistant coach and helped the Hawks win the 3A state championship.

Once his sons were done playing high school and moved on to college, Monahan began exploring possible head coach opportunities. He came upon Southridge's opening and was instantly intrigued by the burgeoning talent pool in the Beaverton area. And, he knew this year's team had the makings of postseason power with Reza Aleaziz, Jacob Zanon and Chandler Whitney coming back as seniors.

“I felt like this was the best job in the state, and I was fortunate enough to get it. I count my blessings every day for that,” said Monahan. “Short-term I knew there was talent, but in the big picture, I knew there was so much upside here.”

Monahan aced the interview and inherited a team rich in talent but deficient of mental toughness, direction or accepting of the small of things — all of which White stressed to Monahan every day as a young boy.

That changed under Monahan's guidance. If a Skyhawk went 0-2 with two strikeouts but notched a sacrifice fly and stole two bases on balls in the dirt that gave a teammate a chance at an RBI, that was a success in Monahan's eyes. When an outfielder drops a ball, the pitcher picks him up by taking the blame and moves on to the next play. In the past, that didn't always happen at Southridge. Monahan celebrates the little things his players do because those lead to the championships.

“I think that was the reason for our success this year,” said Monahan. “Guys like Reza, our seniors, I don't think they had that same kind of approach in the past whereas this year they learned how to be leaders and how to handle themselves through adversity. They bought into it and executed it in a great way.”

In full swing

Third baseman Alex Beekman said Monahan set the tone for the season by getting the Skyhawks in the batting cages at the crack of dawn in the winter and making them tough mentally. Then, when spring rolled around, Monahan whipped Southridge into the kind of durable physical condition that paid off late in the season when the intensity in the playoffs ratcheted up.

“He told us, 'This is how we're doing things, everyone's running everywhere, taking cuts and grounders,' and from there, we just hopped on his back,” said Beekman. “Coach Monahan will work with you on how to get better and he'll help you constantly.”

In practice, Beekman said, everything is fast. There's little standing around. Everyone's either hitting, fielding grounders or taking instruction on the fly, and when that happens, there's no downtime.

“Everybody's doing everything all the time, and when that happens, it just makes a team so much better when you're constantly doing things” said Beekman. “Everything gets done faster, everyone's getting better.”

Junior David Knudsen said coming into the season with a new coach, he thought it'd be weird or different but found he liked Monahan's managing style.

“He's really good about teaching us and coaching us without getting too mad,” said Knudsen. “He's real aggressive. He wants things done, and it's good because it puts us in that feeling, too. It gives us a better attitude going into the game.”

Set the standard

Southridge came literally half an inning short of reaching the land of milk and honey — the 6A state championship game. But, in the process, Monahan and his group of gifted seniors instituted a program-wide standard for future Skyhawk squads. The Southridge program is designed to compete for Metro and state titles every year, Monahan said.

“Quite frankly, it's what I expected,” said Monahan. “I thought that was what our potential was, and we put ourselves in a position to be where I thought we had the ability to be.”

Monahan has worked hard to start a relationship with the Murrayhill Little League — a juggernaut feeder program that's based just minutes from the Southridge campus. He's put lights in the Skyhawks' batting cages so the young players can hit at night when the high school team is done with practice. Monahan wants the next generation of players to be part of the Southridge culture. Southridge has offered winter camps and coaching clinics all in an effort to build a joint partnership with the community.

Doing well in school and in how the Skyhawks conduct themselves comes first, baseball is secondary in Monahan's way of thinking. When kids make bad choices off the field, Monahan said his job isn't to run those players out of his program but to act as a support mechanism to the parents. Whether it's helping with academics or providing structure that helps them make better decisions in their personal lives, that's what coaches do. It's what Curtis White did for Monahan, and now he's paying it forward to his own team.

“Ultimately, it's all about building men,” said Monahan. “To do that, you have to have good mentors at all levels, starting at the youth programs all they way up to the high school. We partner with the parents and the school and community to have better people growing up around here.”

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