Lopsided loss spoils Denair’s trip to San Francisco

The trip to San Francisco was memorable for Denair High’s football players. The actual game, not so much.

The Coyotes, playing in one of the most picturesque high school venues in the country against George Washington High, trailed by only a touchdown at halftime on Saturday afternoon. Turnovers, penalties and a lack of depth torpedoed Denair in the second half, however, as the Eagles ran away to a 41-0 victory.

It was a game Denair Coach Anthony Armas had been trying to schedule for three years, if only because Washington’s field sits in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge and only a stone’s throw from Golden Gate Park. 

A scheduling mix-up on Washington’s end scuttled the game in 2019 and COVID wiped out last fall’s matchup.

Saturday afternoon, then, finally was an opportunity to fulfill one of Armas’ goals each year – to play a game outside the Central Valley, sometimes in a place some of his players have never seen. That certainly was true of San Francisco.

“Some of them had never been there,” Armas said. “As we were crossing the Bay Bridge, we pointed out Oracle Arena. Here’s where the Warriors play. There’s where the Giants play. Alcatraz. There’s Coit Tower. It was kind of cool for some of the guys.”

Denair’s bus wound through the heart of the city before arriving at Washington High, which sits on the northern edge of Golden Gate Park with the famous orange bridge plainly in sight from the field.

Unfortunately, the game wasn’t as memorable as the view.

“We played awful,” Armas said. “We took the opening kickoff and drove inside their 5-yard-line and then fumbled at the 1. They scored and led 7-0 most of the half. We had a chance right before the end of the half but had a touchdown pass called back because of a penalty.”

Denair self-destructed in the final two quarters, giving up touchdowns on both an interception return and a fumble recovery in addition to being unable to slow the Eagles’ offense. 

“They were fast and athletic,” Armas said. “They had some bigger kids than we’re used to. … I thought it was going to be a cool day, but it turned out to be a rough day.”

The loss was the second in three preseason games for Denair (1-2), who fell to Modesto Christian 47-29 in its opener before dominating Riverbank 45-0 in its second game.

If anything, the three non-league contests underscored what Armas already knew about his team – they’re going to be underdogs in almost every game because of their small roster (fewer than 20 players) and they won’t have much margin for error if they don’t play well or have too many players get dinged up.

For instance, when running back and linebacker Anthony Pineda aggravated a hip injury Saturday, the ripple effect was felt on offense and defense. 

“We had some guys out of position,” Armas said. “In the second half, the wheels just came off.”

Things don’t get any easier this week as the Southern League schedule kicks off. Up first for Denair? Always tough Ripon Christian (2-1) on the road.

“They’re good. They’re big. They’re fast. They’re physical,” Armas said. “They’ve got some kids who can run. They’re probably the best team in the league along with Orestimba.”

If the preseason is any indication, the Southern League is loaded this year. Le Grand, Mariposa and Delhi all are 3-0 while RC, Orestimba and Gustine each are 2-1.

“I like our kids a lot, but it’s going to be a tough year for us,” Armas said. “We’ve got some young guys in spots who are doing pretty well. We just need to do the things we do, cut down our mistakes, make sure we know our assignments and take better angles when we’re trying to tackle.”

Denair could add a few players who will be eligible after first-quarter grades come out in early October, but the real hope for the future may rest with this year’s junior varsity team, which has won two of its three games this fall even though Armas already has five sophomores playing on the varsity.

“They beat Washington 34-14 Saturday and were up 28-0 at halftime,” Armas said. “They also played well against Atwater’s freshman team, even though they lost.”

Following this week’s game, the rest of Denair’s schedule looks like this: Home games against Gustine (Sept. 23), Le Grand (Sept. 30) and Mariposa (Oct. 7), then at Delhi (Oct. 14), home vs. Orestimba (Oct. 21) and the regular-season finale at home against Waterford (Oct. 28).

Denair leader provides update on key district goals

Every public school district in California must create a Local Control Accountability Plan, or LCAP. It is intended to be a road map, one that lays out specific goals and measurable ways to track their progress over a three-year period.

At Thursday’s monthly meeting of the Denair Unified School District board, trustees and the audience listened to an update from Superintendent Terry Metzger about the district’s LCAP, which went into effect in the 2021-22 school year. 

The LCAP was created with input from staff, parents and the community. At its heart, it is an action plan to carry out the district’s vision, which proclaims: “Denair Unified School District empowers tomorrow’s leaders through exemplary instruction and powerful innovative programs. Our exceptional school environments are the best educational choice for all students.”

Those are more than words printed on a banner that hangs on a wall in the board meeting room. They are meant to be the north star that guides every decision the district makes.

The LCAP’s broad goal addresses the first part of the vision. It states that every Denair student will have the foundation for post-secondary success – meaning, after graduation from high school, they will be academically prepared to attend college, a vocational school or step into an entry-level trade profession.

To that end, part of the district’s focus this year, Metzger told trustees, is to better explain to parents “how to help your child be successful in school and get them to college and career.”

“Not only getting parents involved, but helping them understand what it takes to be successful after graduation,” she said.

The district has set an ambitious target to measure success — by the end of the 2023-24 school year, at least 80% of students will demonstrate literacy (reading, writing, and speaking) in all content areas.

Metzger said that requires honest evaluation of “what we are teaching, how we are teaching it and how we know students are learning it.” 

“We’re being very intentional in each content area,” she said. “What does it take to demonstrate you are literate in that area?”

That districtwide effort includes setting up support systems that target students at each grade level who need extra academic help. It also includes attention to students’ social emotional learning and mental health.

“Those are the ‘soft skills’ in life,” Metzger said. “Academics are the hard skills. Do you know how to read and write.”

The second part of the district’s vision – creating an “exceptional school environment” – seeks to assure parents and students that all children, regardless of background, ethnicity or culture, will have an equal chance to thrive in Denair schools.

Metzger laid out six principals that will help move the district toward what she calls “cultural proficiency:”

  • Focus on the moral purpose of the work.
  • Develop and manage support structures and practices with a lens of equity.
  • Invite, require and value multiple perspectives.
  • Focus on student engagement as well as achievement and results.
  • Develop a critical mass of equity stewards (people who feel responsible for taking on this work).
  • Be willing to ask critical questions.

For their part, board members agreed to evaluate progress by keeping in mind the “two B’s” – increasing belonging and reducing barriers to participation by students, whether in class or via extracurricular activities.

“You can have a mindset that’s open, but if you don’t think about the barriers that prevent some kids from participating, you’re missing something,” said Trustee Carmen Wilson.

In other action Thursday night, trustees:

  • Voted 5-0 to approve an updated facility use form and fee structure for the first time in nearly a decade. Groups such as parents or booster clubs, the FFA and others affiliated with the district will continue to pay nothing to use the district’s facilities, but outside groups can expect to pay 30% more from now on to rent a gymnasium, meeting space or athletic field. “We’re not out to make money, but we can’t lose money,” said Metzger, adding the fees are in line with or lower than other nearby school districts. “They’re still a value.”
  • Unanimously approved a motion to allow the district to continue contract negotiations with the two unions representing most employees – the Denair Unified Teachers Association and the California School Employees Association. Labor contracts with both unions expired June 30; once finalized, the new agreements will be in place until June 30, 2025.
  • Listened as Metzger described partnerships with outside groups focused on helping teachers plan for retirement, work on their mental health through individual and group coaching, and to know if they qualify for the public service student loan forgiveness program.
  • Congratulated Food Services Manager Kim Fuentez and her staff for their recent efforts to feed more than 300 Hickman students for a week and a half after that district’s food vendor ran into issues. Fuentez summed up her approach to student nutrition and helping this way: “If they’re in our county, they’re my kids.”

New Employee Profile: Gabrielle Bennett

This is one in a series of Q&A’s with employees new to Denair Unified in 2022-23.

Family: My family is spread out all over the U.S. 

School: Denair Middle School

Subject taught: English

Experience and education: I graduated from Stanislaus State University in 2021 with a BA in English. I am entering my final postgraduate semester at Stanislaus State. Before being hired by Denair Middle School, I worked as a substitute teacher for Stanislaus County Office of Education, Merced County Office of Education and Modesto City Schools. I have had prior experience assisting students with special needs as well.

What attracted you to Denair? The goals and beliefs of DMS align with my core values and student-centered teaching style. It felt like a perfect fit. 

What most inspires you about teaching? The thing that inspires me the most about teaching is the knowledge that I have the ability to make a lasting difference in my student’s lives. 

What is a challenge you look forward to tackling this year? Online schooling has caused a lot of students to fall behind. This year I want to catch students up and fill the gaps. 

What is your favorite teaching tool or activity? The best activities are student-led and meaningful. If I had to choose something specific, my favorite activities would be creative writing and journaling. It’s important to me that my students can have their own voice and feel heard. I believe that writing is a great outlet for emotions and self-expression. 

What do you want your students to remember?  I want students to remember to hold onto their creativity and curiosity even as they get older. 

How can parents support what you do? Please don’t hesitate to contact me. I will reach out to you within the first two weeks and I am more than happy to keep an open line of communication. You know your child better than anyone else. Let me know what your child needs and what works for them. I want to work with you to give your child what they need to succeed. 

What would surprise people about your job? Believe it or not, I have had a lot of people express sympathy when I tell them I’m a middle school teacher! They’re often surprised to hear that I really enjoy working with this age group. There isn’t anything else I’d rather be doing! 

What do you do for fun? I do a lot! Some things I enjoy are reading, writing, all sorts of crafts, making music, filming, traveling, hiking, visiting museums, spending time with my pets, cooking, going to the movies, scouring second-hand shops and collecting all sorts of things. 

Low on numbers again, Denair kicks off
football season Friday at Modesto Christian

As has been the case during most of his eight years as Denair’s football coach, it’s a numbers game for Anthony Armas. Rarely has he had more than 25 players on the roster, even during the magical 2018-19  season when the Coyotes shocked everyone by going 12-1 and winning the state Division VII championship.

Heading into Friday’s season opener against Modesto Christian, Armas counts 17 players on this year’s team. Given that football requires 11 players on both sides of the ball, that means Denair can’t even conduct a full 11-on-11 practice. Instead, the Coyotes rely on drills and individualized coaching.

“They get lots of reps because of the numbers,” Armas said of his players. “It’s kind of the hand we’ve been dealt. We’ve been there before.”

Armas certainly would like to have more players, but he doesn’t stress on it. This year’s squad features seven seniors, five juniors and five sophomores. He often tries to convince his players to recruit their friends to join the team.

“Other than that, there is no recipe,” he said. “It’s not just winning. Sometimes, it’s where their friends are.”

Last year’s team finished 2-4 in the Southern League and 2-6 overall, missing out on a couple of games because of COVID quarantine rules. The pandemic also forced Denair to consolidate the varsity and JV teams last fall.

“It hurt our development not having a JV team,” Armas admitted. “We do have a couple of transfers, plus a couple of kids who should be eligible after grades come out (for the first quarter), so our numbers should improve a little.”

Until then, the Coyotes will persevere with what they have. Armas describes his players as “resilient” and “close.” The Coyotes have had many chances to bond through off-season workouts, weight training, scrimmages against other schools and an annual trip in late June to one of their coach’s favorite places – Disneyland.

“They’re hard workers. They spend a lot of time together,” Armas said. “It’s a good team atmosphere.”

Armas expects five experienced players to lead Denair this fall. Three of them are seniors – lineman Chris Hernandez, fullback and linebacker Isaac Villa Martinez and running back and linebacker Anthony Pineda. The other two are juniors — quarterback and free safety Landen Borges and offensive lineman and linebacker Jordan Rubio.

Armas also has his eye on two newcomers – junior running back and defensive back Emanuel Renteria, who played soccer last year, and sophomore running back and linebacker Jayden Hensley. Both will help Denair executive its traditional Wing-T offense, which relies on misdirection and speed to be effective.

What are Armas’ expectations when the Coyotes kick off Friday night on the road against Modesto Christian (1-0)?

“I want to see them go out and execute,” he said. “Play fast and aggressive. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Not be afraid to let go. Know your assignments. If we go out and do what we do and they’re better than us, fine. If we make mistakes, that’s not good.”

The remaining preseason schedule includes a home game Sept. 2 against Riverbank and an intriguing away game on Sept. 10 at George Washington High School in San Francisco – a team Armas has tried to schedule twice before.

“They were double-booked (with games) in 2019 and last year we got quarantined,” he said. “Their field is one of the coolest places in the country to play high school football. The backdrop is the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m looking forward to it. We’re always trying to do something special with the kids and get them out of the area for games.”

On Sept. 16, the Southern League schedule begins with an away game at Ripon Christian. That’s followed by home games against Gustine (Sept. 23), Le Grand (Sept. 30) and Mariposa (Oct. 7), then at Delhi (Oct. 14), home vs. Orestimba (Oct. 21) and the regular-season finale at home against Waterford (Oct. 28).

New Teacher Profile: Genesis Delgado

This is one in a series of Q&A’s with teachers new to Denair Unified in 2022-23.

Family: Husband, Luis, and our daughter, Zoe

School: Denair Elementary Charter Academy

Subject taught: Transitional kindergarten

Education and experience: I received my bachelor’s degree from CSU Stanislaus. I am currently enrolled at Humphreys University; I am working on my credentials and master’s degree. At DECA, I have been a long-term substitute teacher in kindergarten and fourth-grade dual immersion as well as a bilingual paraeducator in the language lab.

What attracted you to Denair?  I love the Denair community and small-town feel. I attended school in Denair K-12 and have worked for the district since 2013 as a bilingual paraeducator. Denair is simply home.

What most inspires you about teaching? I know it sounds cliché, but my students inspire me the most. I  love the “ah-ha” moments that students have when they master a new skill or a new task. It motivates me to try my best for them.

What is a challenge you look forward to tackling this year? I am looking forward to the challenge of transitioning from paraeducator to homeroom teacher. I have experience working with students in grades TK-5, yet there is a lot left to learn.

What is your favorite teaching tool or activity? I love to use GLAD strategies because I can incorporate all learning styles in my lessons.

What do you want your students to remember? I want my students to remember that I care about them. I will always foster a positive and safe learning environment. 

How can parents support what you do? I believe that it is important for parents and teachers to work together. Parents can support their children by encouraging active learning at home, making sure they arrive at school on time and keeping open lines of communication.

What would surprise people about your job? I think that people would be surprised by the amount of time that it takes to prepare for one school day. It is a lot of work, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What do you do for fun?  My family and I enjoy traveling. We take a big trip every summer. I also enjoy taking dance classes and reading.