In the early days of Encina Preparatory High School, most of the kids were white and came from wealthy families. That all changed in the 1980s. And even though there are cultural differences, students and alumni come together each year for the school’s biggest fundraiser – the Alumni Challenge basketball game.
The game pits the men’s varsity team against adult alumni. Bob Goosmann is from the Class of 1974; a tall guy with salt-and-pepper hair. Goosmann gives a pre-game pep talk to his teammates, guys who are closer in age to their young adversaries.
“I’m guessing they’re going to be competitive just because they’re so fast and they’ll run,” says Goosmann. “And so they’re younger, we’re smarter.”
“We got, like, 300 years of experience,” one of his teammates jokingly replies.
“Yeah we do, about 300 years,” says Goosmann.
In a few seconds after the game starts, it’s clear this will be a physical battle – friendly – but very competitive.
“Each team really, really wants to win. They’re not just playing around, they’re playing hard,” says Steve Palmer, another alum from the Class of ’74. He helped start this fundraising event.
“The Alumni Challenge was started 17 years ago to raise money to help the school,” Palmer explains.
It pays for athletic equipment and uniforms, field trips and art supplies – things that schools in more affluent areas typically expect parents to pay for.
“The students of today at Encina are often times coming from economically disadvantaged homes,” says Palmer. “Many of them have parents that don’t speak English. They are often times homeless. We didn’t have that when I was here.”
When Palmer was here in the ‘70s, Encina was in its heyday and the Arden-Arcade neighborhood, where it’s located, was affluent.
The school opened in 1958 when much of suburban Sacramento was still open fields.
Encina’s population changed radically in the 1980s. That’s when suburbia moved eastward, people moved out of Encina’s neighborhood and open enrollment began.
Encina Principal Richard Judge says you can see how the school’s demographics transformed just by looking at the student body president portraits hanging in the main office hallway.
“All white males,” Judge says. “Maybe a few white females. And then you get to like the late '80s and early '90s and you start to see some nonwhite faces up there. That's right about the time that the district started making it easier for parents to transfer their students to other schools. And Encina saw a huge flight at that point.”
Today, 92 percent of Encina’s students qualify for free and reduced lunch. Encina also has a high rate of English-language learners, which affects test scores. About 14 percent of the kids are refugees from places like Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.
Judge says alumni come back to help with the basketball challenge for reasons beyond the tradition of “be true to your school.”
“They're not just coming back to relive their glory days,” says Judge. “It goes more towards the idea of philanthropy and in a way looking after their own.”
Another alum from the Class of ’66 is Pam Costa.
“Encina is different and it’s the same as when I went here,” says Costa. The same, she says, because of youthful optimism.
“There is just such a hope that they’re going to be the first in their family to go to college and that they are going to have opportunities that their families didn’t have,” says Costa. “And I think that sort of passion is something that is very similar to what was there when I was going to high school.”
Encina sophomore Jalen McGlothen has a lot of passion…for basketball. The six-foot-tall, 16-year-old played in the Alumni Challenge game. He hopes to go to college.
“Go to UCLA with my brother,” says McGlothen. “That was kind of like our dream since we were little. Although McGlothen may not have much in common with Encina alumni, he respects them.
“If you care enough to leave the school for about 10, 20 years and come back and still help out the school," says McGlothen, "I see that as a good quality person."
McGlothen says he sees himself playing in the Alumni Challenge when he’s an adult.
The final score of this year’s game: 61 – 46 alumni. And more than $45,000 raised for Encina Prep High.