Big Game Symbolizes JSerra’s Journey

The following column runs in the current edition of the Capistrano Dispatch.

By Tom Waszak

Would it be just another football game?

Mr. Waszak

Few beyond campus thought we had much of a chance leading up our Trinity League opener against cross-town rival Santa Margarita Catholic High School.

Heading into the game, our varsity football program was 0-for-14 in league play.

But we had reason to be optimistic on Oct. 16.

Coach Jim Hartigan had led our Lions to an undefeated preseason. A few sportswriters even said this was our best team yet.

Could this be the night?

Before the game, hundreds of members of the JSerra community gathered for a tailgate party at Saddleback Community College. As we enjoyed barbecue, a few of us reflected upon JSerra’s journey – and how far we’ve come in seven short years.

It wasn’t too long ago when some wondered if JSerra could compete against the powerhouse teams in the Trinity League.

As we teach our students, the ingredients of success include perseverance, a positive attitude, character, and faith.

We are nationally recognized by the Catholic High School Honor Roll – a distinction we’ve earned for three consecutive years. More than 500 JSerra graduates are in college; some attend the nation’s most prestigious universities. Our students dedicate thousands of hours each year to community service at home – and abroad.

Community, sports and faith-based groups hold events regularly on our $110-million campus.  And, despite the challenges of the ongoing recession, we’ve maintained enrollment without cutting important extracurricular activities.

As I looked around the parking lot, I saw a growing and robust group we call Lion Nation. There are thousands of us. Moms and dads. Kids and grandparents. Friends and neighbors. The JSerra community is a tight-knit collection of civic-minded people dedicated to God, family and community.

Although the kickoff was an hour away, I already felt a deep sense of victory. Don’t tell that to Coach Hartigan and the team.  They put in hard work during the summer and preseason. These young scholar-athletes wanted to make a statement to the regional football world.

Their preparation and character showed. We got off to a quick start, scoring the first touchdown. The Eagles answered. We scored again. It was a thrilling game that came down to the wire.

Late in the fourth quarter, Santa Margarita scored a touchdown. A two-point conversion would tie the score.Capo Dispatch

Our defense broke up the play – and we secured our first Trinity League win. As the final seconds ticked away, some excited seniors doused Coach Hartigan with Gatorade. In a wonderful moment of spontaneous jubilation, the JSerra fans stormed the field to congratulate the players and celebrate the historic moment for our young school.

Sure, it was just a football game.

But it also symbolizes something much bigger.

Football Team’s Historic Victory the Latest Exciting Development at JSerra

The following letter was distributed to members of the JSerra community this week:

There's a lot to celebrate at JSerra
There's a lot to celebrate at JSerra

When the final whistle blew, the scoreboard read: JSerra 14, Santa Margarita 12. It was our varsity football team’s first Trinity League victory in 15 tries.  The reaction at Saddleback Community College was spontaneous and wonderful. Players doused coach Jim Hartigan with Gatorade. Lion Nation stormed the field to congratulate the players. It was an historic accomplishment for the team, our young school and the community.

To read more about our undefeated football team (6-0), please visit JSerra Blog. We invite you to join Lion Nation at our next home varsity game on October 30 at 7:30PM against Mater Dei at Saddleback. To view the varsity football schedule, click here.

Football isn’t the only activity generating excitement on campus. Our boys’ and girls’ cross country teams are ranked among the best in the state. The team is coached by Martin Dugard, an author of nine books whose current non-fiction piece, “The Murder of King Tut,” debuted fifth on the New York Times list of best sellers.

Our ice hockey team, led by former Anaheim Ducks David Karpa and Guy Hebert, is also off to a strong start with an 8-2-1 overall record.Varsity Team

And the campus is anxiously awaiting the start of the girls’ water polo season. The team is coached by Julie Swail-Ertel, captain of the 2000 silver medalist U.S. Olympic team. Julie also represented the U.S.A. last summer in the triathlon at the Beijing Games.

For more on our fast start to the new school year (which includes a National Merit Scholarship Finalist and 34 Advanced Placement winners), please read CEO Frank Talarico’s most recent column in the Capistrano Dispatch.

Parents, want to support JSerra athletics while enjoying a great night out? Attend JSerra’s annual Casino Night on November 7 at the JSerra Pavilion. For just $50 you’ll enjoy great food, live music, a hosted bar, casino-style gaming and a fabulous auction (just in time for early Christmas shopping). Visit for more information.

If you haven’t had the chance to view our beautiful campus in person, view it virtually at Don’t miss our Open House & Campus Tour on November 12 from 6:00-8:00PM in the JSerra Pavilion.

Friday’s Trinity League Opener Cox Cable’s ‘Game of the Week’

The Lions undefeated football team’s Trinity League opener against rival Santa Margarita Catholic High School will be the featured “Game of the Week” Friday night on Cox Cable Channel 3, officials announced today.

The Lions are 5-0, but each victory came against teams outside the prestigious Trinity League. Since fielding its first varsity squad in 2007, the Lions have yet to win a Trinity League game. Will the streak end Friday?

You don’t want to miss the action.

Lion Nation encourages family, friends and members of the broader JSerra and San Juan Capistrano community to cheer for the Lions Friday night at Saddleback College. Kick-off is 7:30 p.m.

But if you can’t make it, now you can catch it on Channel 3.

JSerra Hires Former NHL Stars to Coach Ice Lions Hockey Team

JSerra Catholic High School announced today that David Karpa and Guy Hebert, two long-time stars of the Anaheim Ducks, will lead the Ice Lions coaching staff during its second season.

David Karpa
David Karpa

David Karpa, the veteran defenseman, is the squad’s new head coach. Retired NHL all-star Guy Hebert will serve as goalie coach. Joining them on the coaching staff is strength and conditioning coach Joshua Aycock.

“It’s an honor and thrill for me to be involved in sharing my passion for ice hockey with the next generation of players, and I’m particularly excited about leading the sport’s growth in Southern California,” said Karpa, who lives in Newport Beach. “We have an outstanding group of scholar-athletes dedicated to their sport and their community.”

Hebert  who was Karpa’s teammate on the Ducks, said he was impressed with the values JSerra instills in its students and scholar-athletes.

“My hope is that I can help teach the scholar-athletes not only to a better player on the ice but to be a better person off the ice,” he said. “Many challenges that athletes face in competition help mold their character. He also said he looks forward to working with the goalies.

Guy Hebert
Guy Hebert

“Goalies are often overlooked so I hope I can help give them a good base for their further development,” he said.

JSerra made history last year when it partnered with the Ducks to become the inaugural team in the first-ever Orange County high school ice hockey league. The team travelled to compete in tournaments as far away as Canada, Ohio and Chicago, plus competed against Southern California Amateur Hockey Association teams. It was the only high school team.

This year, the league expanded to include JSerra’s Trinity League rivals Santa Margarita Catholic High School. The Ice Lions will face off against their Santa Margarita rivals for the first time on September 26th at The Rinks at Anaheim at 7:30pm.

The game will mark an important step in the sport’s evolution. Another step will come at Thanksgiving when the Ice Lions compete in the prestigious Loyola Academy Thanksgiving Tournament in Chicago and travel to south Florida to face the defending state champion North Broward High School on October 4th.

In other sports news at JSerra, Julie Swail-Ertel, of Irvine, a rare two-sport Olympian, was hired to direct the aquatics program and coach the girls’ water polo team. And Joedy Gardner is the new head boys basketball coach. He was a private trainer to elite players, including several NBA stars.

“We remain committed to providing all our students with a world-class educational experience,” said Frank Talarico, JSerra’s CEO.

Karpa played for the Ducks from 1994-98. Among the highlights of his career was his decisive goal in the seventh game of the 1997 Western Conference semi-finals against Phoenix Coyotes.

Hebert, of Newport Beach, was the first pick in the 1993 expansion draft. He retired in 2001 and still ranks first or second among Ducks leaders in every goalkeeping category.

Just six years old, JSerra’s $110-million facilities and $40 million athletics complex are regarded as among the finest in the region. Last year the school won its first Trinity League championships in boys soccer, boys lacrosse and baseball. Baseball coach Brett Kay was the Orange County Register’s Coach of the Year.

For more about JSerra Catholic High School, please visit

Varsity Team