Playing against a team that had won the CIF conference nine times without a loss was daunting enough. Yet, when the 1981 Santa Monica High football team beat Long Beach Poly, a close bond formed among the coach and some team members that is still evident today.
Former coach Tebb Kusserow explained that in the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), there are ten different sections in the state and that the southern section has two-thirds of the schools.
The group recently decided to get together for a dinner hosted by Fernando Cornejo and Pia Escudero (1981 football team stat girl) to tell Tebb how his mentoring has affected them in their lives. Tony Todd explained, “Coach Kusserow always influenced part of our lives. The majority of us were in one-parent families. He was like a father figure to us. We always looked up to him.”
Fernando, who coordinated the dinner, added, “Even though all of us had gone in different ways, we stayed in touch. The purpose to get together was to honor the man who had a profound influence on us on many levels,” he explained. “Coach was a roll model, a mentor. He instilled in us discipline, confidence, and respect that enabled us to achieve what we have in our lives today. He made sure we stayed on track. We wanted to have the dinner to express our gratitude. Coach is a humble professional who takes in praise quietly. At our informal dinner we could speak from our hearts while we all reminisced.”
Tebb described his response to the memorable dinner. “To hear them state individually what they learned about themselves and others, how those things influenced their life to this moment in time validated all that we were trying to teach them.” Tebb’s wife Jeannie had also been invited, as she, too, was so much a part of the men’s lives.
As he continued to comment on the dinner, Tebb said, “I’m grateful for them. We were teachers of the game. We broke down football into the basic DNA and then we taught it. We knew if we could teach them to be the best that they could be on the field, they would learn how to connect, engage, and sustain to the finish. I have compassion for who they are and where they are today. The element of faith is somewhere. If you keep doing the right thing, good things will happen. It’s always about the process.
“When we beat Long Beach Poly, it was the first time in ten CIF title appearances that they lost the game!”
By Diane Margolin