Their biggest rebound

For students at PUHSD alternative school, basketball team presents an opportunity to have a normal high-school experience
By: Eric J. Gourley Journal Sports Writer
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NORTH HIGHLANDS ” Richard Miranda never went to school when he lived in San Jose. I was just totally rebellious against my parents, Miranda said. They were really bad into drugs. It made me not want to do anything for them. Miranda, who now lives with his aunt and uncle in Loomis, found new motivation to earn his high school diploma at Chana High School, where he is a three-year veteran on the Coyotes' basketball team. Chana, a Placer Union High School District alternative school, plays in the 12-team Sacramento Athletic League. The league holds games every Thursday from January through April and features alternative school teams from across Northern California. A lot of kids come here and they just don't have a lot of fun things to look forward to, said Cameron Layton, who teaches at Chana and coaches the basketball team. It gives them that athletic outlet, but it also gives them something at this school outside of school they can call their own and be proud of, the high school experience. The students from Chana pile into two white vans for the trip down the hill to Pacific High School every Thursday. They've compiled a 3-6 record against teams from American Legion, Kinney, Rio Cazadero and Adelante, among other alternative schools in the league. The players who aren't scrambling for loose balls on the court follow the action closely from the bench, clad in shorts that don't match and jerseys that deviate in shades of blue. They cheer louder than two dozen parents and siblings in attendance during a teammate's soaring block and frequently stand to applaud impressive plays. In four years I've seen guys who are not as into it, guys who are way into it, guys that have the dedication and guys that don't, Layton said. The guys that I have this year are just really into it. The clock stops only for timeouts during running 20-minute halves in Pacific's dimly lit gymnasium. Games are officiated by some of the same referees who work Pioneer Valley League high school basketball contests each winter. A lot of the kids on our team are really competitive, said Paul Johnson, who started attending Chana to make up enough credits to transfer back to Placer High, where he injured his ankle playing football two years ago. We don't like to lose. We go all out every game to try to make (winning) a possibility. Boys basketball is the only sport still offered to Chana's 220 students. The PUHSD pays for Chana to play in the league. The school used to host all the games for the SAL, according to Layton. Chana also fielded teams in local recreational softball and adult volleyball leagues in past years. Now this is the one thing they can attach that school spirit to, with one team and one sport, Layton said. A lot of people come up to us and say, ˜Are you guys going to win today and make Chana look good?' Miranda said. Chana's team, which practices every Wednesday and Thursday during the season, is also open to neighboring Maidu High School. Layton said this is the first year he hasn't had one or two players from the school. The opportunity is great because if we weren't able to play basketball, we'd be in a situation where we'd have other opportunities, not necessarily positive, Johnson said. It's a motivation thing, Miranda said. If you do good in school, you get to play on the basketball team. It does remind me of a regular high school. I'd always wanted to be on a sports team. Miranda scored 17 points in Chana's 49-42 loss to Cache Creek, the only undefeated team in the SAL. The Coyotes sank several clutch 3-pointers to keep pace with the Wolverines for much of the game. It really is a rec-league atmosphere, but I want those guys to want to win like they're playing for any other high school, Layton said. Miranda and Johnson, like many of their teammates, are on track to earn their diplomas in June. Miranda plans to look for a full-time job, while Johnson hopes to continue playing basketball at Sierra College and maybe even revive his football career.